Walmart Files Patent for Eavesdropping Tech


If you don’t want your personal data tracked, it’s no longer enough to just “go off the grid.” More and more, we’ve become aware that just because you might take steps to limit your data’s exposure to online forces like social media, it doesn’t mean you’re not being observed.

Recently, Facebook filed a super-creepy patent application that details technology that can enable your smartphone’s microphone and record your conversations. Yes, this is real.

And major sporting venues are increasingly implementing facial recognition technology into digital boards as a “security measure” that watches attendees as they stream through the gates.

Now Buzzfeed has published an article identifying Walmart’s latest patent application and both workers and customers might find it a bit intrusive.

It seems America’s #1 employer is looking for ways to improve the efficiency of its retail workers by capturing performance metrics through audio surveillance.

As detailed in the patent application, the technology might work like this: a series of sensors would be positioned at cash registers, allowing them to pick up sounds to help determine things like bagging efficiency and the length of lines. But it will also be able to capture the conversations of the those working the registers, something Walmart says could help them determine whether certain scripts are being used and if workers are successful in facilitating “guest satisfaction.”

And the scary part is, experts say that there’s no law out there preventing it – though most call centers who record phone conversations tell you about it up front. Whether Walmart would post this information to customers is up in the air, but the employees would almost certainly know – and that’s probably not a good thing, one labor export told Buzzfeed.

Ifeoma Ajunwa of Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School said the psychological impact of this type of surveillance could result in workers viewing their employers are dictators, actually leading to more employee resistance. She also said that “excess surveillance” can cause workers to move more slowly and work less creatively when they’re conscious of being observed.

At this point, we have no way of knowing whether this is technology Walmart truly wishes to pursue, or if the company is merely attempting to put a lock on the approach to prevent competitors from using it. But one thing is for certain – as Walmart and Amazon battle it out to be the #1 go-to source for everything under the sun, they’re both under an extreme amount of pressure to be as automated and efficient as possible.

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