Walmart Gains Patent For Surveillance Tool That Will Record Employees’ And Customers’ Conversations

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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Walmart officially earned a patent Tuesday for an audio surveillance tool designed to monitor employees, among other uses.

What Walmart refers to as “sound analysis” in the filing originally submitted April 20, 2017, the stated purpose is “to capture the sounds resulting from people in the shopping facility and determine performance of employees based on those sounds.”

Audio sensors will be placed near and around the point of sales (POS) terminals, and will try to detect and record noises coming from scanners, bags (the rustling, and the turnstile dispenser), and dialogue.

The retail giant says such analysis could be critical for ensuring customers are happy, and decreasing costs, which can directly help the former.

But while Walmart claims that it will be utilized to measure competency and improve efficiency for the company overall, others will surely interpret it as a way for a big corporation to spy on its employees, which could arguably stoke an uneasiness among the workforce.

And it’s not just workers that Walmart wants to know more about. It has reportedly been developing facial recognition technology to help identify shoppers who appear irritated or generally unhappy.

Walmart originally filed a patent to use similar biometric functionality for spotting shoplifters, but apparently has since changed the technology, or added to its intended purpose.

Not all patents are ultimately used, however, and rather are a way to box out competitors from employing the technology, or explore its tangible possibilities afterward. (RELATED: Amazon Looking To Block Store Customers From Checking Prices On Their Phones)

“We file patents frequently but that doesn’t mean the patents will actually be implemented,” a spokesman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers. This patent is a concept that would help us gather metrics and improve the checkout process by listening to sounds produced by the bags, carts and cash registers and not intended for any other use.”

Walmart has been battling with Amazon in recent years as the Seattle-based tech conglomerate has steadily grown as a retail powerhouse. Fostering efficiency for human workers in an industry that is gradually going online seems to be critical for Walmart, as it feels the pressure to keep pace.

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