Walmart Is Watching

The WSJ goes in depth today about Walmarts intense surveillance operation. According to the recently fired employee who intercepted calls and text messages from a New York Times reporter (and a few other Walmart employees) Walmart’s surveillance tactics include:

•Scanning employee’s email

•Logging all employee key strokes

•Using monitoring software to detect vendors viewing pornography on their computers

•Using monitoring software to read employee personal email such as hotmail or gmail

•Investigating outspoken critics of Walmart

•Sending “a long-haired employee wearing a wireless microphone to Up Against the Wal’s Fayetteville, Ark., gathering, and eavesdropped from nearby.”

•Locating Nu Wexler’s vacation photos, “Wal-Mart has far bigger concerns than my vacation photos,” said Mr. Wexler, after being informed of the surveillance. “Someone would have had to dig for quite a while to find that link.”

The 20 person “Threat Research” team operates from Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters in an office known as the “Bat Cave.” Sounds like fun. Not that we consider ourselves a “threat,” but if Walmart is really that interested maybe they should start following us on Twitter. They’ll see how incredibly boring we are. And that we like tea and muffins. —MEGHANN MARCO

Inside Wal-Mart’s ‘Threat Research’ Operation(Subscription) [WSJ] (Thanks, Nu!)
(Photo: Clean Walmart)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Coder4Life says:

    Wow, Doesn’t surprise me…

    But most of its legal, by using their computers. Keystrokes & Reading email, not so sure about if I would be comfortable with that.

  2. mopar_man says:

    Wal-Mart sounds like that crazy paranoid guy wearing the tinfoil hat.

  3. DrTweeker says:

    Story sounds great…would love to read it, but I hate it when I’m teased enough to click the link and it’s subscribers only :

  4. tozmervo says:

    Given that Target runs a famous forensics service lab that Federal agencies work with, I’d be curious to know how that corporation conducts internal surveillance. Hopefully they would be a little more selective & smart about it.

  5. mopar_man says:

    @JasonInNashville: is down right now but I’m sure if you go back later, it’ll be up and have a username and password to get the rest of the story.

  6. SkaldGrimnir says:

    The first four points are legal, and have been upheld in multiple court cases. All business have a right to protect themselves by reviewing all employee actions. If an employee uses personal email on a work system, the employee has a right to view it.

    Investigation is legal, if done by legal means, but can be unethical.

    Infiltration, again, is legal, unless that person incites others to break the law, or breaks individual laws themselves…such as stealing information in the case of sending an employee to another business. But, again, not ethical.

  7. rodeobob says:

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this list.

    If you’re using company computers, then anything you do on that computer is subject to scrutiny by the company. Most companies are pretty relaxed about use, or they use software to limit use to “business acceptable practices”, but the fact remains that the computer is company property, and its use is regulated by the company.

    Checking email? Yep.

    Logging all employee key strokes? Sure. (though most key-loggers generate a lot of raw data with very low value)

    Using monitoring software to detect vendors viewing pornography on their computers? I have no problem with that, though frankly I’m surprized that they don’t simply use blocking software to prevent anyone from using their computers to view pornography.

    Using monitoring software to read employee personal email such as hotmail or gmail?

    Again, if you are uncomfortable with an employer reading your gmail, don’t check it while you’re at work!

    Investigating outspoken critics of Walmart?
    Sending “a long-haired employee wearing a wireless microphone to Up Against the Wal’s Fayetteville, Ark., gathering, and eavesdropped from nearby.”?

    Can’t say I’m shocked at that, though I do wonder why they bothered with “a long-haired employee”. Most companies research their opposition; it’s hardly nefarious.

    If you work for a company that has computers with internet access, you simply need to remember that the company owns the computers, and has all the rights therein. If you don’t want them reading something, don’t use the computer for that purpose!

  8. sonic0boom says:

    I’m thinking the “long-haired employee” bit is implying that Up Against the Wal is run by a bunch of college student/activist types. You know — the type with long hair. I’m just surprised they didn’t say “unwashed, long-haired employee”.

  9. s35flyer says:

    I say so what? Its a business, this is America, they can do what they want as long as they don’t break the law. I’m tired of the walmart bashing, I dont really like it either but like most people-I will shop there at times. If nothing else they force the other stores to be more competitive and isn’t that what capitalism is all about? If somebody doesnt like Walmart, then don’t shop there.

  10. eross says:

    For anyone wishing to read it, the article is freely available here:….

  11. Zach Everson says:

    The next time you are in a Wal-Mart look at the ceiling and be awed by the number of cameras there.

  12. CruelCritic says:

    Wal*Mart can kiss my shiney white hiney. Indeed, one of these days you may very well see my butt on the news. I don’t go into them often, but when I do (generally, I’m accompanying a friend who, believe me, I’ve tried to talk out of the trip) I find a camera and either flash tits or ass.

    No, really.

  13. Mp3dog says:

    Wow, Wal-Mart is starting to sound like Scientology-Mart.

  14. chemman says:

    I read an article sometime back (I can’t find the link now) about how Walmart was testing new uses for RFID tags on high dollar, small items like lipstick and such where once the shopper picks it up from the shelf, the store cameras would photograph the shopper and they would track the shopper throughout the store to make sure the item makes it to the register and is paid for before it leaves the store. That’s a lot of data to store and track but it seems like they are getting pretty serious about loss prevention.

  15. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Part Two: “Krempasky on Krempasky: Inside WM’s Top Secret ‘Douche-Bag Advance Team”

  16. etinterrapax says:

    @Zach Everson: Those cameras aren’t all real. They don’t tell you which ones are and which ones aren’t. Jeremy Bentham would have approved. But at least some of the black globes are empty.

  17. any such name says:

    I’m not so sure thet person monitoring those cameras really pays attention, though.
    At least they didn’t in 2002 when 5 friends and I spent 24 hours in our college town Wal-Mart.

  18. DonLaFontaine says:

    This makes me so outraged I’m never gonna shop at Walmart again!!!!! . . . oh, wait a minute, that’s right . . . I never shopped there in the first place . . .

  19. ExVee says:

    Well, for one thing I don’t think that of the stores with dedicated security, the ones that do have more than one or maybe two people at the most for that job. Where I work it’s just one guy. Now, he’s very good at his job, but obviously he can’t be everywhere. So while he’s patrolling the floor, there’s typically nobody in the security office to monitor the cameras. And of course while everybody Assistant Manager and up has a key to that room, they generally have better things to do than sit and stare at monitors for hours for something that probably won’t happen at that time anyway.

    It is partly true that not all the cameras you see are real. But even so, every area – salesfloor and in back – are controlled by more than enough working cameras that anybody can see what was going on virtually anywhere in the store at any given time, if they so choose, so it’s not really of particular consequence which cameras work or not.

    To the main subject here, I pretty well agree with an already stated view: The computers available for Associate use are Company property, and they can monitor them to whatever extent they wish. I personally feel it unwise to use them for any purpose but work-required functions (such as the training programs or begging for a job change ), and whether I thought they had monitoring software or not, I’d certainly never check my personal e-mail or view any public websites on them. Note also that you have to be on the clock to even be allowed to use the computers, which can create additional problems in and of itself if you’re using them for personal stuff. In all, Wal-Mart isn’t doing anything that any other company would do while providing computer access to employees. The key is to just use caution and common sense, like everything else.

  20. tcabeen says:

    @CruelCritic: You’re probably in their “Loss Prevention Recruitment” videos.