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Beware: Wal-Mart’s Orwellian data collection methods

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As I’m sure you know, Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue with over $548.7 billion.

They are also the largest private employer in the world with over 2.2 million employees.

But Walmart is always trying to compete with Amazon.

One of the ways they are doing this is by bringing more technology to their physical stores.

The theory is that Walmart can lower prices by using cameras instead of humans.

For instance, with bananas, the camera can check the ripeness without an employee needing to do it.

It‘s supposed to improve the shopping experience. If employees know their stock and inventory in real-time, it will help them better manage the store.

Inside some of Walmart’s busiest stores are the company’s Intelligent Retail Lab. This is how Walmart is bringing artificial intelligence to their physical stores.

The stores with these retail labs include cameras that point all over the store.

This includes cameras that focus on specific products – again, let’s use the banana example…

The cameras are so precise that they can tell how ripe the bananas are from their color.

When the bananas start to go bad the camera sends an alert to a worker to remove the bad items.

The cameras also alert workers to shelves getting low on particular items.

According to the company, they use these cameras to monitor stores in real-time. This helps workers quickly address problems.

The cameras even track when shopping carts are running low. They also detect when lines are getting long and when another register needs to open.

There are signs throughout Walmart stores alerting customers to the use of artificial intelligence. “I am not bothered by it,” one shopper said. “If technology saves me money, I would be interested.”

Walmart claims it only uses the data that AI gathers to determine inventory levels.

However, the company admits to collecting 1.6 terabytes of customer-behavior data per second in an on-site data center.

The company says the cameras aren’t currently tracking shoppers.

But you and I know that’s likely not true.

Next time you head to the grocery store here are a few things to keep in mind when you wonder who is watching.

Lab rats:

Walmart is conducting behavioral science experiments, and customers are their lab rats.

Like anything else, Walmart started doing this in select stores to test the AI technology.

According to a computer science professor at Columbia University, “Machine learning fundamentally finds and matches patterns.”

This can include matching behaviors to specific customers.

Walmart is also using robotics, virtual reality, and deep learning.

This is a lot of advanced technology for it not to gather some sort of information on customers.

What could they gather?

Artificial intelligence can learn a lot about customers.

It can analyze patterns of customer behavior.

For example, it can tell Walmart what specific products customers buy.

Also, the company could learn what groups of people buy certain products.

Or it could tell them if an end cap on a specific aisle is getting shoppers’ attention and people are buying from it.

Of course, it could also help identify shoplifting, vandalism, and other crimes in the store.

The information gathered by AI is endless. It could be used in many ways for Walmart to entice customers to spend more.

Could Walmart share the data?

Companies like Google and Facebook are some of the wealthiest companies for a big reason…

They have a ton of customer data.

If Walmart collects data on customer shopping habits it would be valuable to other companies.

For instance, a company like Proctor & Gamble might be willing to pay Walmart for information about who buys their products.

P&G could tell Walmart they could get a share of increased sales if they collect and provide the data on customers’ habits.

The reality of today’s world is this:

You don’t only have to worry about your privacy shopping online…

Now, you need to be concerned about the privacy of your physical shopping habits as well.

Unless something changes, consumers are at the mercy of retailers, no matter how they shop.

The data brokerage industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

And companies – like Walmart – who peddle your information, could make a lot of money with your data.

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