The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted Walmart a patent on a surveillance technology called ‘Listening to the Frontend’ that could allow it to record sounds within its stores. The patent is basically for some sound sensors that the company is said to be planning on installing at checkout counters in its stores, and is raising serious concerns about the privacy of shoppers and workers. The patent was originally filed-for last year, and granted last Tuesday, according to CBS.
According to the patent filing, the sensors will be “distributed throughout at least a portion of a shopping facility”, potentially recording the voices of both workers and customers, which could then potentially be used to determine “if employees are performing their jobs efficiently and correctly”. The technology may also apparently aid in cost savings and ‘guest satisfaction’ going forward.
Walmart looked to allay the fears by saying that it may not even use the patent to actually start a surveillance program on its employees and customers. According to the company, if it ever chooses to use the program, it will do so to “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”.
The company further said that just getting a patent doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology will actually be implemented. “We file patents frequently but that doesn’t mean the patents will actually be implemented. We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers”, said the company.