The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Tim Rusch, 917-399-0236,

CJ Frogozo, 310-570-2622,

NEW REPORT BY GROUP COALITION: Walmart Gathering 'Big Data' That Can Be Used to Invade Privacy, Fuel Hidden Discrimination

Report by Center for Media Justice, Color Of Change, and Sum of Us


"Our ability to pull data together is unmatched."
- Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon, September 2013

"We want to know what every product in the world is. We want to know who every person in the world is."
- Walmart CEO of Global E-Commerce Neil Ashe, May 2013

Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, is also becoming a leading collector of "Big Data" that can be used to invade the privacy of a majority of Americans and facilitate undetected discrimination, a new report finds today. "Consumers, Big Data and Online Tracking in the Retail Industry: A Case Study of Walmart" documents the risks associated with Walmart's increasing online data collection, and is the first independent, comprehensive analysis of Walmart's efforts to collect personal information on consumers on and offline.

"Walmart is gathering massive amounts of information about Americans' personal lives and sharing that data with more than 50 third parties." said Malkia Cyril, Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice, one of the authors of the new report. "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."

Like most big companies, Walmart has a nearly 4,500 word privacy policy that virtually no consumer reads or understands, and which permits a wide range of data collection and use. The company can unilaterally amend the policy as new opportunities arise to share private information about individual Americans.

The report, with technical analysis by privacy and security specialist Ian Davey and issued by Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange, and Sum of Us, found that Walmart:

  • Shares consumer data with more than 50 third parties when consumers use its apps and websites.
  • Is compiling information on tens of millions of Americans. We estimate that the company has collected data on at least 145 million Americans - more than 60% of U.S. adults. The company refers to having "petabytes" of data on consumers. One Walmart partner who receives consumer information from Walmart boasts about having data associated with 80% of U.S. email addresses.
  • Collects the real-time location of consumers using mobile devices.
  • Gives consumers no avenue to have their information held by the company deleted.
  • Does not permit consumers to completely erase app data from their phones, even when the app is uninstalled.
  • Has no real mechanism to prevent data collection from children. (The company's privacy policy says that if parents request, Walmart "will work to delete it.")
  • Collects the same kinds of data that retailers have used to charge higher prices to customers from areas with less competition, such as poor communities and rural areas.
  • Compiles information, together with its many third party partners, on millions of Americans that could be shared with the National Security Agency with no oversight or checks and balances, as other companies have done.

In addition, the retail industry appears committed to preventing public officials from establishing strict standards that it must follow. Walmart has deployed more than 100 lobbyists in Washington, DC, and has reported lobbying on online privacy issues every quarter for the past five years. In September, Walmart was invited to speak before a closed-door meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives privacy task force.

The report calls on Walmart and other retailers to:

Be transparent

  • Explain, in a clear and accessible fashion, how Walmart and their many third party partners are using the consumer information they collect.
  • Implement common sense limits to the company's ability to profile users, similar to many of those recently adopted by the European Union Parliament.

Give us choices.

  • Give users the right to have their data deleted and allow consumers to comprehensively "opt-out" of future online tracking. This includes honoring Do Not Track signals.

Be fair.

  • Explain how the company's use of predictive intelligence shapes marketing and other business practices, and what safeguards are in place to ensure that it does not result in digital redlining or other forms of discrimination.

"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."

In a November 2011 blog post, Walmart's Silicon Valley team wrote that they "intelligently tease out meaningful patterns" from data collected about individual consumers.

According to research cited in the new report, such analysis 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.

"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."

Color Of Change is the nation's largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over one million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.