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Walmart patents audio surveillance tool to listen in on employees conversations with customers

Walmart has raised the ire of privacy advocates with a new patent for an audio surveillance tool.

The freshly filed patent describes the need for ‘sounds sensors’ and ‘listening to the frontend’ technology in its stores that can pick up on conversations between employees and customers. 

Using these recordings, Walmart would identify employees in the audio and study it to measure their performance at the company. 

Walmart has raised the ire of privacy advocates with a patent for an audio surveillance tool. Pictured is a sound sensor (labeled as 102) that would eavesdrop on employee conversations

‘A need exists for ways to capture the sounds resulting from people in the shopping facility and determine performance of employees based on those sounds,’ Walmart explains in the patent, which was filed April 20, 2017 but only made public this week. 

According to the patent, Walmart would use a sensor that picks up on interactions between employees and guests, as well as common sounds near a checkout, like beeps from a scanner, sounds created by bags and more. 

The sensor would then analyze the audio and use it to calculate a score on certain performance metrics. 

These performance metrics range from whether an employee made small talk with a customer to even things as creepy as analyzing the contents of the conversation, looking to see if the employee used a specific greeting or followed a script, the patent explains. 

Walmart couches the ‘listening to the frontend’ technology as a way to cut costs by improving employee efficiency in its stores. 

‘Employee efficiency and performance can help decrease costs for a shopping facility as well as increase guest satisfaction,’ the patent states. 

The freshly filed patent describes the need for 'sounds sensors' and 'listening to the frontend' technology in its stores that can pick up on conversations between employees and customers

The freshly filed patent describes the need for ‘sounds sensors’ and ‘listening to the frontend’ technology in its stores that can pick up on conversations between employees and customers

Walmart would use a sensor that picks up on interactions between employees and guests, as well as sounds near a checkout, like beeps from a scanner, sounds created by bags and more

Walmart would use a sensor that picks up on interactions between employees and guests, as well as sounds near a checkout, like beeps from a scanner, sounds created by bags and more

‘Tracking performance metrics for employees to ensure that the employees are performing their jobs efficiently and correctly can aid in achieving these cost savings and increases in guest satisfaction.’ 

It would also pick up on audio like how far customers voices appear to be from the cash register, allowing Walmart to gauge how long the line might be. 

This would indicate the cashier’s speed of moving through the line of customers, as well as signal whether they need to open more registers to accommodate for the flow of customers. 

The system can also determine the number of bags used per each cashier, to evaluate ‘bagging efficiency.’ 

Still, the most invasive use of the technology by far would involve using the sensors to listen in on guests’ conversations.   

The sensor would then analyze the audio and use it to calculate a score on certain performance metrics, which could range from whether an employee made small talk with a customer to even things as creepy as analyzing the contents of the conversation

The sensor would then analyze the audio and use it to calculate a score on certain performance metrics, which could range from whether an employee made small talk with a customer to even things as creepy as analyzing the contents of the conversation

It would also pick up on audio like how far customers voices appear to be from the cash register, allowing Walmart to gauge how long the line might be

It would also pick up on audio like how far customers voices appear to be from the cash register, allowing Walmart to gauge how long the line might be

Walmart would use the audio surveillance system to measure multiple employees’ conversations at a time, as well as multiple metrics at one time. 

The patent has drawn concerns from privacy advocates who say listening in on employees’ conversations and constantly monitoring their activities often backfires.

‘Several studies have shown that there is a psychological impact of pervasive surveillance,’ Ifeoma Ajunwa, an assistant professor of Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, told BuzzFeed. 

It can also result in slowing down workers by making them feel nervous, leading to less efficiency, BuzzFeed noted. 

On top of that, Ajunwa told BuzzFeed that she worries it could spiral out of control, with Walmart using it to study whether cashiers talk too much with guests and penalizing them as a result. 

The patent has drawn concerns from privacy advocates who say listening in on employees' conversations and constantly monitoring their activities often backfires

The patent has drawn concerns from privacy advocates who say listening in on employees’ conversations and constantly monitoring their activities often backfires

As with all patents, it’s unclear if Walmart ever intends to turn the technology into a reality. 

‘We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers, but we don’t have any further details to share on these patents at this time,’ Walmart said in a statement to BuzzFeed.

It’s certainly not the first time Walmart has been awarded a patent for technologies that could upend its stores. 

In 2016, Walmart patented self-driving shopping carts that were equipped with disks that have sensors and cameras to help them navigate around the store. 

The patent presents an illustration of a ‘motorized transport unit’ that is a disc-shaped robotic device designed with motorized wheels.  

IS WALMART BUILDING SELF-DRIVING GROCERY CARTS?  

Walmart was awarded a patent called ‘Shopping Facility Assistance Systems, Devices and Methods’ is the patents title which was filed on March 4, 2016.

The pages describe a ‘motorized transport unit’ that is a disc-shaped robotic device designed with motorized wheels, which transports and navigates the shopping carts through the store. 

Customers could summon the robots by pushing a button.

When the cart arrives, the person would either push the cart or have the robot drive.

It could also be controlled with a mobile device or voice commands. 

The document describes components of inventory tracking and parcel retrieval process using a multitiered inventory system.

Illustrations suggest the shopping cart would be navigated to specific locations where items could be placed, swept or blown into the car. 



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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