Why it matters: Excessive data collection has become a major problem in modern society. Walmart's biometric shopping cart handle patent is the perfect example of a company going too far under the guise of doing something good.
Shopping carts are a utilitarian asset meant to help haul goods you intend to purchase to the checkout lanes. Walmart, it seems, believes carts should be capable of far more.
The big box retailer filed a patent earlier this year for a connected shopping cart with a biometric feedback handle. As per the patent, the cart’s handle could measure a shopper’s heart rate, temperature, their grip strength on the handle, their oxygen saturation, how long it has been since they last grabbed the cart’s handle and even the cart’s speed.
Walmart asserts that the system could help the sick or elderly by dispatching an associate to perform a wellness check. Other embodiments describe linking cart data to a smartphone app to track calories burned and other fitness metrics.
It’s one thing if you want to track the speed of a cart or its route through a store for marketing purposes but a desire to collect a user’s vital signs under the guise that you’re doing so to help sick or elderly shoppers or otherwise improve customer service is outright disturbing.
Imagine how easy it would be to build profiles of shoppers based solely on their detailed vital signs. This is creepy on a whole new level. What’s next, blood samples and DNA swabs?
As long as a shopping cart rolls in a straight line and doesn’t squeak, it’s doing its job. Similarly, Walmart’s job is to provide goods to its customers for purchase. Outside of proving a safe shopping environment (cleaning up spills, that sort of thing), Walmart isn’t responsible for the health of its customers.
Fortunately, it's just a patent at this stage meaning there's no guarantee the tech will make it into public stores.