Walmart Patents Surveillance Tech For Eavesdropping On Workers

By Sahid Fawaz

Walmart’s latest technology is creating privacy concerns among its employees.

Buzzfeed reports:

“Walmart just won a patent for audio surveillance technology that measures workers’ performance, and could even listen to their conversations with customers at checkout.

The “listening to the frontend” technology, as its called, is one of many futuristic ideas Walmart has sought to patent in recent years as it competes with Amazon for domination of the retail industry.

While there’s no guarantee that Walmart will ever build this technology, the patent shows the company is thinking about using tech not just to facilitate deliveries or make its warehouses more efficient, but also to manage its workforce, which is the largest in the United States.

Walmart declined to comment on whether it plans to use audio sensors to measure the productivity of its staff in the near future, but said in a statement, “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.”

Based on the application, Walmart’s patented surveillance system would use a series of sensors in the cashier area to collect audio data — everything from “beeps” to “rustling noises” to “conversations between guests and an employee stationed at the terminal.”

It would then analyze this information and use it to calculate various “performance metric[s]” for the employee.

‘Employee efficiency and performance can help decrease costs for a shopping facility as well as increase guest satisfaction,’ the patent reads. ‘Tracking performance metrics for employees to ensure that the employees are performing their jobs efficiently and correctly can aid in achieving these costs savings and increases in guest satisfaction.’

But Ifeoma Ajunwa, an assistant professor at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, told BuzzFeed News that surveilling employees can actually have the opposite effect. ‘Several studies have shown that there is a psychological impact of pervasive surveillance,’ Ajunwa said. She cited the work of Harvard professor Ethan Bernstein, who found that workplace surveillance ‘can lead to this opposition feeling, where employees view the employer not as benevolent, but as dictators. And it can impact that attitude toward the higher-up and can lead to resistance.'”

For the rest of the story, visit Buzzfeed here.

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