Uh-Oh! Walmart Could Start Spying on Employee and Customer Conversations

(AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

Walmart was recently awarded a patent for a new “listening system” for its stores, that reportedly has the ability to capture various sounds, like the beeps of a checkout counter and the rustling of bags, which would help stores assess the effectiveness of employee performance at checkout.

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Of course, a technology that can identify and analyze the rustling of bags could also be used to eavesdrop on the conversations of Walmart staff and customers. Theoretically, that seems pretty useful. Companies gather data on consumer habits, opinions, and whatnot to get a better idea of what to sell and how to market.

In practice, though, Walmart is going to end up sifting through a whole lot of this…

“Dangit Brayden quit playin’ with them bras. They ain’t for you.”

“When’s your break? Kyler from the Fuddruckers at the end of the strip mall is gonna smoke me out behind their dumpsters. You wanna come?”

“Somebody took a crap in the dressing rooms. I ain’t cleaning it.”

“Oh my God, you gotta check out the sea beast waddling through hardware right now.”

“Someone peed their pants on our shopping scooters again oh wait that’s just a whole lot of sweat. Go get me an entire jug of bleach.”

“Hide this bottle of vodka under your shirt.”

“There’s some teenagers trying to steal liquor. Yeah, I don’t care either.”

“Ma’am you’ll have to use the other door, there’s a stabbing in progress in the parking lot just outside this one.”

“My legs hurt so much. Can I please greet people in a chair. I’m 92-years old.”


I write all of that as someone who, because they went to college in a small, midwestern college town, shopped at Walmart frequently for four (okay fine, five) years. I think I have a good handle on what goes on there.

Though Walmart has not said it will use the technology — it may not use it at all — even possessing it has troubling implications in this current age of corporate privacy invasion and data collection (Facebook being the most notable example).

Then again, maybe we need to just all accept our fates that one day we’ll be live streamed while using the toilet.

This post was originally published on July 13, 2018.

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