May 24, 2024

Walmart wants to know your heart rate and temperature

A patent for a biometric trolley raises questions

About 324 million people live in the United States. About 140 million of them visit Walmart in person or online every week, many of them pushing shopping trolleys. Is there an opportunity for gathering Big Data here?

Probably. The retail giant has applied for a patent which can track a shopper’s heart rate, temperature, grip strength and walking speed through the handle of the trolley. The patent, published in August, is called a “System and Method for a Biometric Feedback Cart Handle”.

Walmart intends to us the data it reaps to care for the health of its customers, according to the patent. the internet-connected trolleys would alert employees when a customer falls sick. Tech blog CBInsights says the device will not track personal data:

Without extracting any personally identifiable data, information collected could be used to assess trends across multiple customers in real-time: Clusters of alerts, such as several shoppers appearing to need assistance at one time, could be used to anticipate problems like arguments among customers or broken items in an aisle.

However, it’s not difficult to imagine that the information could be used for marketing purposes. A blogger at commented:

Internet retailers already excel at targeting us for products they know we want to buy based on our online shopping behavior. It's not so easy to gather data about your preferences while you shop in brick and mortar stores.

But what if Walmart could see if your heart rate increases when you pass a new display? What if they could see it drops when you walk by another? This technology would essentially monitor how customers are feeling while they shop. Walmart could then use that data to optimize the design of their stores for ultimate feel-good vibes. Or to entice people to stay in their stores for a few minutes longer, which is the tried-and-true way to get people to spend more.

Though the creepy shopping cart handle doesn't exist yet, it's not hard to imagine it quickly coming to fruition if the patent is approved. Similar technology already exists on treadmills, which have sensors in handles that can gather your heart rate.

Is our privacy vanishing?

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