Walmart is enduring criticism this morning after reports surfaced over new patented software that would allow one of America’s most iconic consumer goods store to spy on customers and employees.
The surveillance technology allows Walmart to fluidily collect audio recordings throughout their store, raising concerns that one of America’s largest corporations is slyly getting into spying.
“This is a very bad idea,” Sam Lester, consumer privacy counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., told CBS News. “If they do decide to implement this technology, the first thing we would want and expect is to know which privacy expectations are in place.”
The technological patent implies that the technology’s focus would be on “sound sensors” that occur while a shopper and checker are checking out of the store. The patent seems to focus on sounds, such as the beep you’d hear when an item is scanned, but the technology will be robust enough to record entire conversations.
In fact, Walmart isn’t hiding such future compromises to both consumer and employee privacy. Ragan Dickens, director of corporate communications for Walmart, said that the store has “made it perfectly clear in the patent that all sounds will be picked up, including voice.”
The situation gets worse when you consider the patent claims the technology will be “distributed through at least a portion of a shopping facility.” What portion that remains to be seen, but Walmart would not be limited in any capacity to limit the reach or placement of such surveillance technology.
Walmart claims they want to “determine employee performance,” which is a consistent theme with most government agencies or corporations that pitch lessened privacy for common citizens.
Walmart claims such surveillance would also help them cut costs. Dickens claims that the sound will be interpreted by computers and the goal would not be to extract typical conversations. But alas, that’s always the claim.
How long would Walmart keep such conversations in storage? No one knows.
How would Walmart respond to a subpoena for portions of conversations? No one knows.
Some states have laws that force consent over recording conversations in businesses. This is a hurdle Walmart would likely lobby to change in those specific states. That said, privacy advocates are likely to be more motivated than ever to push for more comprehensive privacy freedom for citizens on the heels of Walmart’s patent approval.
The state of spying in America, particularly by government agencies, is as polarizing a matter as there is. In fact, Trump’s latest SCOTUS selection is likely to endure a severe amount of scorn from the likes of Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul, among others, for his lackluster record of siding with NSA agendas.
Additionally, corporations such as Amazon and Facebook have been the subject of vast criticism over potential spying capabilities and activity in their devices and applications. For Facebook, their messenger listens to conversations as a way to increase advertising relevancy. With Amazon, the same situation exists with their popular virtual home assistant, Alexa.
Many citizens either don’t care about privacy, or feel they “don’t have anything to worry about.” However, allowing government agencies and corporations to compromise our freedom to privacy is a slippery slope that will likely end poorly.
Photo by JeepersMedia
Author: Jim Satney
PrepForThat’s Editor and lead writer for political, survival, and weather categories.
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