Retail Wars: Walmart Patents Audio Surveillance Device To Monitor Employees

The fight: Walmart versus Amazon. 

It is a fierce fight between the retail giants, with no end in sight. Walmart, the vulnerable emperor of brick-and-mortar discount stores, is dueling Amazon, an e-commerce powerhouse with automated warehouses, and operates its retail segment at a loss to crush the industry as a whole.

In a world where Amazon is forcing inefficient big-box stores out of the picture, Walmart is under intense pressure to increase labor efficiency. Walmart is plagued with large overhead expenses, including retail real estate and full-time employees; while those overhead expenses are not as much for Amazon, which relies heavily  upon automation in warehouses and an extensive network of subcontracted delivery workers.

Amazon measures employee productivity by the minute, uses mass surveillance networks in its warehouses, and even has patents to track the movements of its workers’ hands through smart wristbands.

As the retail war intensifies, it seems as Walmart has followed Amazon’s lead, and is now making moves to incorporate emerging technologies to improve labor efficiency.

Who will win? 

On Tuesday, the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office approved Walmart’s patent for surveillance tools that audibly track their employees’ productivity.

It seems as both retailers [Walmart and Amazon] are progressing towards the Orwellian era of mass surveillance in the form of microchipping their workforce to improve labor efficiency.

According to the patent, the audio surveillance technology would include various sensors strategically placed around the check-out area of the store that would secretly collect and analyze audio data.

The “listening to the frontend” technology, as it is called, could include the sounds of employees bagging items to the conversations between patrons. Through artificial intelligence, Walmart could then use the data to evaluate an employee’s performance automatically.

As BuzzFeed News notes, the most startling feature is the audio surveillance system’s ability to comprehend conversations and use them to assess an employee’s performance:

“If however the performance metric is based on the content of the conversation (e.g., was a specific greeting used or script followed), the system can process the audio detected by the sound sensors 102 (e.g., using speech recognition) to determine the performance metric,” the patent description explains.

In other words, a talkative cashier with low labor efficiency could find themselves reprimanded for being too chatty — or even fired.

While it is unknown if Walmart will ever pursue this technology, the patent shows the company is serious about using mass surveillance techniques to manage and make its workforce more efficient, which is the largest in the United States.

Walmart believes the new audio system could help it save lots of money and increase customer satisfaction.

“We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers,” a Walmart spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

However, there is one labor expert that is not convinced the new audio system detailed in the Walmart patent would produce the desired effect of increased labor efficiency. “Several studies have shown that there is a psychological impact of pervasive surveillance,” Ifeoma Ajunwa, an assistant professor at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, told BuzzFeed News. “[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.”

Ajunwa also cited a study that discovered that mass surveillance could slow the productivity of employees, who are less efficient when they are nervous or feel they are being watched.

In other words, the audio surveillance system could backfire on the retail giant who is struggling to keep up with Amazon. If Walmart decides to install it, though, employees could be powerless: Ajunwa says the technology is legal, so long the company says it is for business purposes. Thus, this technology would help to usher in a corporate Orwellian era where mass surveillance networks monitor employees at America’s largest employer to improve labor efficiency, as the retail war intensifies with Amazon.


ssnova Mr. Universe Fri, 07/13/2018 - 19:30 Permalink

I recently  had a discussion with a Liberal about this, I was telling him how we're adding these useless "smart" features to all our appliances that add no value other than spying on the consumer, then he kept cutting me off with, "it's progression, it's technological progression, if you're against it you're against technology! Don't question it, just accept it! I'm smart because I'm a Liberal and I know everything somehow!" ... like some drone repeating what he was programmed to parrot without thinking critically about the situation... yes, technology can be used for our good, but sometimes you gotta question the true functionality and purpose behind putting certain elements to a device... does it add real "value" and functionality to the consumer?

In reply to by Mr. Universe

ted41776 Nuclear Winter Fri, 07/13/2018 - 17:53 Permalink

good, maybe it'll cut down on number of savages who go down every isle opening and sampling products before shoving them back in the box (if even) and walking away. this is why i buy online most of the time. can't even tell you how many times i had to sift through packages because seals were broken and some quantity was missing or something was damaged. i personally witnessed on many occasions individuals "sampling" things that were not at the sample counters. why do i care? because if i'm paying for something new i want it to be new. because if a bunch of scum goes around destroying merchandise, those who purchase it will have to pay higher prices to make up for the cost. fuck those savages and whatever culture deems that behavior appropriate

In reply to by Nuclear Winter

I am Groot ted41776 Fri, 07/13/2018 - 18:44 Permalink

Yep, same problem here too ! My house is in a $300K neighborhood. Very average 2 story, 4 bedroom colonial. Nothing special, but it's not a shithole. About 4 city blocks away, a Section 8 housing apartment complex got pooped out. This fucking horseshit was started with Obozo sending the poor to nice neighborhoods. I just paid my house off a few years ago. Why should I be the one that has to move ? The fucking freeloaders got those apartments for free.

In reply to by ted41776

ssnova I am Groot Fri, 07/13/2018 - 19:38 Permalink

Your story reminded me of this guy here speaking about "personal responsibility" to the Black community :

"if you live in a messed up neighborhood, lemme give you some advice, stop messing it up!"  It's a good watch from a few years ago.  Years ago I heard a man say, "they took all the good stuff for themselves and left the bad stuff for us..."... it's not the full story, those people worked hard to keep that neighborhood nice and tidy, then you have certain neighborhoods where people keep messing it up, litter everywhere, and you ask, why are neighborhoods the way they are?  

In reply to by I am Groot

new game TeethVillage88s Fri, 07/13/2018 - 18:27 Permalink

shock collars. every 15 minutes a zap to remind employees to work faster...

mennards in mn here has a dig device that clocks you out in certain ares, such as bathroom. take a piss and you on your own time. no pay for taking a dump. yup, it is here, cradle to death monitoring. now to get the peeps chipped, vaccinated and reprogrammed to vote for killary, opps, sorry, underway. killary for death squads, 2020. communist party, former dnc party...

In reply to by TeethVillage88s

I am Groot Fri, 07/13/2018 - 17:52 Permalink

Why not just put leashes on them ? So the guy who's jacking off in the bathroom for two hours is going to be the most productive employee because they'll think he was stocking shelves the whole time.

helloimjohnnycat Fri, 07/13/2018 - 18:02 Permalink

My local Walmart killed the Albert's and a long-running independent.

I don't like it but that's life in CommieSA.

Moving along, there's one particular greeter who is anything but friendly.

Do feel for the guy, but fuck him. Always frowning & scowling at people ( like me ) , can't stand up,  and this welfare case needs to be somewhere else. Put the MF'er in the back watching spics & dope-smoking niggers  ( edit : and watching the nigga' from above who was jacking-off for hours and is now catching his breath before his next 2-hour session ! ), but quit giving me the dirty looks.

Glad to read about this modern tech. Now, I won't be telling him to go take a flying fuckk. Uh, correction, make that a sitting-on-his fat-ass Flying Fuckk !  I've been awfully close.  lol  Can't have the Walleye Ear eavesdrop and have me arrested for verbally assaulting the POS employee. Again, I feel for the guy but tired of his crap.


Fantasy Free E… Fri, 07/13/2018 - 18:03 Permalink

Walmart will eventually win because their earnings are more stable.

Amazon is totally dependent upon central banks supporting its stock price. All it will take is an accident or a change in consumer behavior and Amazon is in trouble. Walmart will be able to withstand a storm. Walmart is not stupid. At the first sign of trouble at Amazon, Walmart will get very aggressive and will persevere.

Yen Cross Fri, 07/13/2018 - 18:03 Permalink

 Is it legal to record a shoppers conversation in a business? I'm thinking there should be some expectation of privacy, as a business isn't a public place.

 Wally World would probably have to post some sort of authorization, and disclosure at the check out counters.

 Personally, I would not set foot in one of their stores with that type of surveillance in use.  Additionally, the consumer cashier experience, and customer service would ultimately suffer, as people choose to remain silent.

  AMZN is a piece of shit, and their time in the barrel, is coming.