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Save Money, Be Spied On By Business Technology?

by | Aug 10, 2018 | MyTek Blog, Security


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Can business technology keep your data safe? Unfortunately, not every time. With increasing security concerns, it is necessary to safeguard your data from business technology lapses in the present era.

Recently, Walmart filed a patent that could pose a potential security risk for shoppers and employees if implemented.

In this article, let’s explore an in-depth understanding of the Walmart patent and the concerns associated with it.

What is Walmart’s “Listening to the Frontend” Business Technology?

Walmart’s patent US010020004 “Listening to the Frontend” aims to make its warehouses more efficient by tracking employee productivity. Also, Walmart believes that enhanced efficiency could result in higher customer satisfaction.

Here, based on the number of customers, the checkout aisles vary. For example, if there are more shoppers, there is a need for multiple checkout counters to process a transaction effectively. This process is sought to reduce time and costs, thereby increasing shopping efficiency. Also, the employees are constantly monitored against a set of standard metrics to understand their operational efficiency.

So, what metrics does the  “Listening to the Frontend” technology track? These metrics could be:

  • The nature of employee-customer interaction like how effectively customers are greeted.
  • The average length of the queue is calculated using the distance between the different customers and scanning machines.
  • The actual process of scanning the bags, identified by the beeping sound from sensors.
  • The number of items processed or bags handled. 

So, why is this patent under scrutiny? What are the security concerns highlighted?

The “Listening to the Frontend” technology is not meant to infringe on the employee’s Right to Privacy. No worker prefers to function in an atmosphere of snooping. People like to be trusted and cared for. But, the patent clearly contradicts this stance by listening in to employee-customer conversations. There are even chances that an employee’s discussion with a co-worker or a customer could be misunderstood. Going ahead, this situation can badly affect an employee’s career prospects.

Why Is Walmart Listening?

With the “Listening to the Frontend” business technology, Walmart aims to cut costs and revamp its business infrastructure.

For example, this technology helps Walmart serve more people at a given point with no additional cost. Based on the sensing environment, there can be more point-of-sale for customers. While customers can finish their shopping quickly, Walmart can make huge profits.

But, Assistant Professor Ifeoma Ajunwa (of Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School) points out the potentially harmful effects of “Listening to the Frontend” technology.

Walmart installed the new technology by highlighting the advantages of improved work efficiency. But, upon closer observation, one can find that it intrudes the ‘Right to Privacy’ of the workers. That means the employees cannot openly voice their concerns against the employer, Walmart. Also, with no trade unions to uphold the workers’ rights, the workers cannot turn to any organization for grievance redressal. 

In addition, Professor Ajunwa, in the paper Limitless Worker Surveillance, points out an emerging phenomenon, “Mission Creep,” in business technology.

What Is “Mission Creep” in Business Technology?

Mission creep is a situation when an organization expands beyond its set goals or objectives. When you consider the patent “Listening to the Frontend,” it could overshoot the simple goal of enhancing workplace productivity. In addition to understanding how workers interact with customers, this technology could intrude on employees’ privacy by tracking their daily conversations. For example, if employees talk too much with a customer, they could be seen negatively and fired.

Other Ways In Which Surveillance Can Affect Your Staff

According to Professor Ajunwa, in addition to intruding on employees ‘Right to Privacy’, surveillance can negatively affect employees in multiple ways. For example, surveillance can make your employees more conscious of being watched. An atmosphere of distrust gets built up. Also, employees feel unappreciated and uncared. These factors lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement at work, leading to a drop in workers’ efficiency.

Way Ahead

To create a mutually transparent work environment, you need to be honest with your employees. Tell them upfront about workplace monitoring. Onboarding is the best time to tell your workforce about the surveillance aspect. In this way, they are mentally prepared to deal with surveillance. Also, they will trust you more. For example, Walmart is not open about how “Listening to the Frontend” technology data will be used. This move can spark distrust and non-cooperation from employees.

Every employee is aware of a definite reason for tracking, though employers are not ready to talk about it. Be it personal shopping or the use of social media, these distractions are unacceptable to employees. Hence, you need to create a balance between workplace efficiency and employee trust.

If you want to put a transparent surveillance system at the workplace, MyTek can be your best ally. We have the best solutions for maintaining a secure network, increased efficiency, and eliminating distractions. Feel free to reach out to us at 623-312-2440.


Tim - Team

Tim Tiller, LMSW

Tim Tiller, MSW brings a deep service background to his role at Mytek, having graduated from McDonald’s management training program, fresh out of high school, and working his way up through the ranks in the hospitality industry. He has led two prior companies – Multi-Systems Inc., an IT-focused organization providing technology to hospitality companies (where he was named President at age 36), and most recently, as Chief Operating Officer for Jewish Voice Ministries International.


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