Walmart Inc. faces a proposed class action over its alleged practice of collecting warehouse workers’ voiceprints without first obtaining their written consent to do so and providing certain disclosures concerning the collection and retention of their sensitive biometric data.
According to the lawsuit, Walmart has required Illinois warehouse workers to use headsets equipped with biometric technology capable of recognizing their voices and recording their progress in fulfilling orders. In the process of collecting workers’ voiceprints, however, Walmart has allegedly failed to satisfy the strict requirements of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), a law that governs private entities’ collection of residents’ biometric data, such as fingerprints, voiceprints, and iris and retina scans.
“Despite this law, Defendant, knowing full well what the law is respecting the collection and use of biometric data in Illinois, disregards its workers’ statutorily and common law protected privacy rights and unlawfully collects, stores, and uses their biometric data in violation of the BIPA,” the complaint charges.
More specifically, the lawsuit claims Walmart has run afoul of the BIPA by failing to:
Publish and comply with a written policy governing the collection, maintenance and destruction of warehouse workers’ voiceprint data;
Inform workers in writing of the specific purpose and length of time for which their biometric data would be collected, stored and used;
Provide a publicly available retention schedule and guidelines for the permanent destruction of the data; and
Receive a written release from warehouse workers to collect, capture or otherwise obtain their voiceprints.
The plaintiff says he worked at Walmart’s Elwood, Illinois distribution center from March 2019 to May 2021. In his position as a picker, the plaintiff was required to provide his voice template by repeating into a headset certain words, phrases and numbers—such as “next pick,” “repeat pick,” “trip summary,” “say again” and “repeat label”—that would be relevant to his job, the suit says.
Once Walmart’s voice recognition technology learns a picker’s voice, they are then trained on interacting with the headset to receive orders and respond with where they are in the warehouse, which product they are pulling, the amount of the product they have pulled, and which order they are filling, according to the lawsuit. The use of headsets allows Walmart to track its inventory in real time and prevent waste and employee theft, the case adds.
The plaintiff claims, however, that he was never properly informed of Walmart’s purpose, intentions or policies concerning the collection of his biometric data and when it would be destroyed. Moreover, the man never signed a written release allowing the retail giant to collect and store his voiceprint, the suit alleges.
Per the complaint, the plaintiff and other warehouse workers have been “continuously and repeatedly” exposed to the privacy risks, including identity theft and fraud, associated with the collection of their sensitive biometric data.
The lawsuit looks to represent anyone who, within the applicable statute of limitations period and while residing in Illinois, had their voiceprint collected, captured, received or otherwise obtained or disclosed by Walmart in the state.
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