Walmart Implements AI-Based Check-Out Monitor; Another Privacy Concern?

The Missed Scan Detection program can identify if an item was placed in a shopping bag without going through the register's scanner. Photo: Walmart | | CC BY 2.0

Walmart may have a solution to stop shoplifting. 

Walmart is using AI-based technology to identify if an item moves past a scanner without an actual scan. Once triggered, the Missed Scan Detection program will notify attendants to assist a customer or cashier with the item. 

The program uses computer vision technology to help identify checkout scanning errors in both the self and regular checkout aisles. The cameras track items for when it’s checked out and placed in a shopping bag. 

According to the National Retail Federation, approximately 1.33% of revenues were tagged as losses by US Retailers in 2017. This puts Walmart with more than $4 billion of losses due to theft and other incidents. 

In 2018, Walmart also experimented with cashier-less check-out counters called “Scan & Go,” which is similar to Amazon Go’s physical stores. However, according to Joel Larson, a former Walmart employee, the program was a failure with 60% of items not being paid when it was tested.

The Missed Scan Detection program has been implemented to more than 1,000 stores in the US, to improve on lessening the losses due to theft, whether it’s intentional or unintentional.

Everseen, a technology company based in Ireland, has supplied Walmart with the AI-features. According to the company’s website, Everseen’s mission is to see the unseen. 

Walmart and Technology

In recent years, Walmart has improved its facilities and services by upgrading the technologies used in their stores. Since 2017, Walmart has been testing the integration of using tech assistant robots instead of human employees

Simple tasks such as scrubbing the floors or checking stocks of products on display shelves are some of the tasks the robots were programmed to do. The “Auto-C” floor cleaner frees up 2 hours of a Walmart employee in a day. The shelf-scanner robots are called “Auto-S.”

In April, Walmart has announced that they will continue rolling out robots within the year. It will add 1,500 floor-cleaners and 300 shelf-scanners in its US stores. A total of 1,860 floor-cleaners and 350 shelf-scanners will be operating by the end of the year. 

Aside from these robots, Walmart also invested in Fast Unloaders and Pick-up Towers to improve the convenience of moving items. 

These robots are supplied by Brain Corp. and Bossa Nova Robotics.

Walmart also made improvements with their mobile applications. Aside from “Scan & Go,” a new feature that shows the nearest Walmart store and the items available or promos specific to the store was launched this year.

Another feature of the mobile app lets users create shopping lists. What’s great about it is that once you type an item, the app will suggest brands and products related to the item, letting the user decide on what to buy even before stepping inside the store.

Issues with Automation

Aside from concerns on job shortage, concerns on overall privacy are being questioned with the increase of technology Walmart has brought it. 

Privacy issues related to possible misuse of personal information has been raised with the recent improvements in technology. In 2017, Walmart filed a patent for its facial recognition program to track the costumer’s age, ethnicity, gender, and mood. 

In theory, the facial recognition programs can help in improving a customer’s shopping experience. For example, the store’s music could be adjusted to suit the majority of the customers’ mood within a given section of the store. 

However, with all the customer’s data getting stored in the company’s database, how can the company ensure that it would not be leaked

Related: 2019 Could Be The ‘Worst Year In Record’ As The Number Of Reported Data Leaks Reached ‘New Level’

Aside from data leak, the concern of driving customer actions using biometric data is considered unethical. In a report from Forbes, Walmart’s facial recognition program is planned to be expanded from the improvement of customer service to detection of customer’s purchasing habits. 

Another issue regarding such programs is that there is no opportunity for customers’ to opt in or out of the program. Once implemented in a store, the only way to not join it is to step out of the store.

As of this time, Walmart has not yet confirmed that it implemented the facial recognition program it patented last 2017. With its Missed Scan Detection program, Walmart reiterates that it does not track humans, only items and its bar codes.

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