Walmart’s opponents are a creative lot when it comes to thinking up new ways to vilify the company. The most recent example involves data collection and Walmart’s use of personal information which is designed to feed into the real and imagined concerns American’s have regarding the NSA’s spying on American citizens.
The main assertion in a report titled, “Consumers, Big Data and Online Tracking in the Retail Industry: A Case Study of Walmart,” is that Walmart collects personal information to invade peoples’ privacy and fuel hidden discrimination.
Ironically, Walmart lacks the type of loyalty program common at other major retailers such as Kroger, Target and CVS where the collection of personal information is more extensive and actually thought to put Walmart at a competitive disadvantage. Historically, Walmart has shunned loyalty programs with purchase incentives funded by suppliers because they were deemed inconsistent with the company’s every day low pricing philosophy.
“Walmart is gathering massive amounts of information about Americans’ personal lives and sharing that data with more than 50 third parties,” said Malkia Cyril, one of the report’s authors and executive director of the Center for Media Justice who along with ColorOfChange and Sum of Us created the document. “You could be discriminated against, based on that information, and never even realize what happened, with no chance to protect your privacy or correct inaccuracies.”
The groups contend the report is the first independent, comprehensive analysis of Walmart’s efforts to collect personal information on consumers on and offline. In essence, the report holds the view that Walmart has too much information and can’t be trusted with it because the company isn’t trustworthy.
“Walmart is collecting information on millions of Americans who are disproportionately low-income black folks and other communities of color. We have a right to know what information is being collected, how it is being used,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange. “Internet and smartphone users should be able to easily and effectively opt out of being tracked online so we can exercise meaningful control over who has access to our personally identifiable information.”
Walmart has capabilities to collect information that can be used to predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes that would be of interest to potential employers and others, including sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, health conditions, food habits, personality traits, pregnancy status, leisure and recreational pursuits, parental separation, age and gender, according to the report.
“Walmart has repeatedly shown a disregard of the law, including discrimination against workers, violation of consumer product safety regulations at home and abroad, and disregard of laws against foreign corruption,” said Rob Wohl, a campaigner with Sum Of Us. “Given the already weak framework for regulatory oversight of consumer privacy, we have reason to be cautious about trusting Walmart with our data and that of hundreds of millions of Americans.”