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Walmart files patent for audio surveillance technology to monitor employees and customers


Walmart Tuesday filed a patent for audio surveillance technology to record customers and employees to proposedly focus on minute details of the shopping and checkout.

America's largest retailer claims the audio would help cut costs and improve the shopping experience, while also monitoring "if employees are performing their jobs efficiently and correctly," according to the patent filing.

Privacy activists, on the other hand, are raising questions on the use of the technology, including if it would even be legal in states that require two-party consent for audio recordings.

"This is a very bad idea," Sam Lester, consumer privacy counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, told CBS News. "If they do decide to implement this technology, the first thing we would want and expect is to know which privacy expectations are in place." 

Walmart's Director of Corporate Communications Ragan Dickens told SC Media the patent is a concept that will help his firm 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.

"We file patents frequently but that doesn't mean the patents will actually be implemented," Dickens said. "We're always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers.” 

Dickens told the news agency that his company has made perfectly clear all of the sounds that will be picked up in the recording and that his firm has also made clear the intent of the technology.

Dickens added that audio would be mostly reviewed by computers that would analyze words picked up. However, the filing does state that there will be some type of performance metric that will screen for specific greetings or scripts.

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