Walmart has been granted a patent for a listening system in its stores. According to the filing and claims, it’s “an example system for capturing and analyzing sounds in a shopping facility.”
Described within is a system capable of using audio data captured by sound sensors to determine a variety of performance metrics for employees.
So, basically “audio surveillance”
An example of how this would be used is that it could detect the rustling of bags and beeps at the counter. It could serve as an aid to determine queue length at checkout, and serve as an anti-theft solution to determine if the right number of items were in the transaction and the number of bags that were used at checkout.
The creep-factor is that the system could ostensibly be used to eavesdrop on employee and customer conversations. It could monitor in real time what a customer is saying about specific products, or eavesdrop on an employee talking to other employees about who knows what.
“Additionally, the sound sensors can capture audio of conversations between guests and an employee stationed at the terminal,” the patent reads. “The system can process the audio of the conversation to determine whether the employee stationed at the terminal is greeting guests.”
All of this audio data could allegedly be used to automatically evaluate employee performance and generate a performance evaluation for each individual employee.
According to the patent, “Employee efficiency and performance can help decrease costs for a shopping facility as well as increase guest satisfaction. 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 guest satisfaction.”
We now live in a surveillance age, and being watched is now part of the transaction. For example, the very premise of the Amazon Go store is the reliance of cameras and sensors to monitor your every move.
As with most of these weird Walmart patents, there’s no plan as of yet to deploy this system in any of its stores.