Walmart gained patent to eavesdrop on shoppers – Where are the benefits?

The retail giant Walmart gained the patent to eavesdrop on shoppers and record audio signals in their stores. In a time where data privacy and and scandals around Facebook are really common, this development is not surprising. But what are the benefits after one year?  And in addition the question comes up, where might businesses and employees draw a line?

The benefits for Walmart are quiet clear. The system is capable of detecting almost all sounds: Voices, signals and sounds at the checkout. The the goals is to improve the evaluation of checkout and to increase employee performance and customer satisfaction. The whole system should improve the shopping efficiency

Anyway the discussion should not end at this point. The protection of privacy in public is once more heavily disturbed. And there seems no way to stop the big machinery. Where should employees and customers draw a line? Is there no other possibility to gain higher customer satisfaction rates. Is it not possible to simply ask for customer satisfaction in surveys? But the technological machinery seems unstoppable. It seems much easier to record instead of asking directly. Furthermore the recorded customer opinion might be way more authentic then a biased survey. The question is, if this kind of observation is still compatible with privacy rights. 

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But this is not the only step where Walmart is coming really close. The next part is the most convenient delivery of food and grocery directly to the customers fridge. The usage of body cams is modern but really a sensitive issue to data privacy if you enter customer’s homes. The problem is how Walmart can guarantee data privacy and protect it. And can customers still feel good in an environment where every sound is recorded?


The retailer might be able to track customer conversations about products and also the number of bought products. The real time possibilities might enhance the capability to react on certain market flows and customer streams in a more adequate way. The prediction of shoppers and the way they purchase might become easier.  In addition employees might improve their performance as well. 


Although new patents and new technologies and processes are sometimes effective and innovative, sometimes the question comes up if the cost of giving up on privacy is not to high. The patent Walmart just received to eavesdrop on shoppers is interesting. But it is undoubtedly intrusive to customer privacy. The effects on optimizing are clear as well. The question might be if Walmart is able to protect privacy data the right way.

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