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Security & privacy

Walmart granted patent for store eavesdropping device

You probably haven’t really thought much about privacy when shopping in a place like Walmart. Why would you? All you’re doing is walking in, finding what you need and leaving, right?

That’s probably how it works for most people, yet we may not be too far away from needing to wonder about our Walmart experience just a bit more. At least, that’s the case based on a patent the megastore was awarded.

The patent has nothing to do with a new register or product or anything like that. Instead, it’s for something that would let the store listen to everything that is going on inside.

Why is Walmart spying on us?

According to the patent’s filing, Walmart wants to create a system that will capture all sorts of sounds, including the rustling of bags and register beeps, which could be helpful in keeping track of how many items are bought per transaction and the number of bags being used.

However, the filing also notes that the system could be used to listen into guests’ conversations in order to determine the lengths of checkout lines.

That doesn’t sound good, does it?

In the filing, Walmart explains that the ability to listen to conversations will help to tell whether or not employees are greeting guests and while that may be true, it certainly opens up quite the can of worms.

In an era where people are more concerned about privacy than ever, it’s interesting that Walmart would go this route. It’s important to mention that the listening technology is not yet in any Walmart store and there is no telling when, if ever, it will be.

With more than 5,000 Walmart stores in the United States, along with nearly 600 Sam’s Clubs, if they do install them, there will be a lot of observed conversations.

In a statement, Walmart said the patent is a concept of theirs that would help to gather metrics and improve the checkout process. It is not, they pointed out, intended for any other use.

That’s even if it ever turns into something they use. Walmart regularly files patents, but just because that step is made does not mean they will ever be implemented.

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