Monday, June 19, 2006

Wal-Mart's Watching You

Many of you have heard of the infamous Area 51 military installation, the super-secret base 90 miles north of Las Vegas rumored to house wrecked UFOs, alien bodies, and most certainly state-of-the-art high-tech weaponry in development. But have you heard about Wal-Mart's similar secret base?

Introducing...Wal-Mart's Area 71.

In Jane, Missouri - right on the Missouri/Arkansas border - is the 125,000 square foot facility. Shielded by razor barbed wire and security cameras all over the place, the building is known to house information. A LOT of information. The data center contains information on all of us, the consumers, and our buying habits. How much information?

460 terabytes of data.

Is that a lot? Imagine this: the entire internet contains less than HALF that much information.

Experts speculate that Wal-Mart stores billions and billions of hours of security camera footage, data on what we buy, when we buy it, how we pay for it, and where we go to buy, and data from RFID tags - or spychips - from the items we buy.

(Here's a Google Maps satellite photo of the huge data center).

So Wal-Mart is watching you. The mega-retail giant is watching you mull over which type of contact solution to buy. You're being watched as you impulsively grab that bag of candy before you head to the cashier. And a lot of the stuff you buy is being tracked via spychips.

Pretty freaky, huh?

The data center is also known to house all of their predictive software and data. In other words, if a Hurricane were to hit the Gulf, Wal-Mart is prepared to know what products consumers will buy when such an event takes place. I don't mean the normal flashlights and gas generators either. In 2004, as Hurricane Francis made it's way towards the Carribean and then eventually headed for Florida, extra shipments of Strawberry Pop Tarts were racing down Highway 95. Why? Because the Wal-Mart predictive analysis found that the sales of Strawberry Pop Tarts increased seven-fold after a hurricane.

What other kinds of data does Wal-Mart store at this secret data center? Personal information for sure. Ever pay for stuff at Wal-Mart with a credit card? A debit card? Personal check? All that data is stored, you can bet your smiley face it is.

Obviously, there are some privacy issues with this collection of data. Signs posted inside tell you that surveillance cameras are in use, but that's to catch shoplifters. The cameras mounted on the roof, capturing footage of the parking lot is for our safety, they say. But on the other hand, the information gathered is information Wal-Mart uses to figure out purchasing patterns. The vast amount data collection is mind boggling.

And Wal-Mart officials are extremely secretive about the data center. When Carrie Thum, a Wal-Mart senior information officer, was asked about the building. She replied, "This is not something that we discuss publicly. We have no comment. And that's off the record."

I wonder if they're keeping Sam Walton's frozen body at the data center with the hopes of ressurecting him someday.


DaBich said...

Oh Lord! Now I have to start flipping off cameras at Wal-mart! :grin:

ozymandiaz said...

So, big brother's got a job. About fucking time the lasy prick. All he used to do was lie around watching us and listening and eating all of the food in the fridge and not cleaning up after himself. Now maybe he will chip in a little around here.

Denny Shane said...

I knew it, I knew they were conspiring. Thanks Phoenix for bringing this to the forfront!

Josh said...

I need to remember to wear my invisibility cloak the next time I visit Wallyworld.

Or I could just start wearing my Phoenix disguise!

O Ceallaigh said...

Well, shoppers, we had to figure out how to do those Price Rollbacks and still stay in business somehow. It's not all about gouging our suppliers and screwing our employees ...

And this is different from Our Beneficent Host, Google, how?

Kay said...

Holy cow... and I thought the daily, pre-opening, all-staff chanting in Wal-Mart was creepy (seriously, they hold hands and recite a mantra in unison - you've got to see it to believe it!)

Jon Cox said...

AWESOME POST!!!!! VERY WELL DONE! :o) Thank you so much for yout comment, haha, I didn't realize that about Redcap, thats funny! Thank you again!! :o)

crallspace said...

Wow.... glad I don't shop there.

I would guess that they have at least a few days worth of footage of the morbidly obese slinking around the snack aisle, just for kicks.

Good article as always, Phoenix.

The Phoenix said...

dabich, That'll throw their predictive software in for a curveball!

ozy, Big Brother wants us to be fat and lazy pricks.

denny, Get thee to a Target.

josh, The Phoenix disguise might scare them.

o'ceall, Google, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Target - they all are watching.

kay, I've seen them do that at a Sam's Club. I thought it was a joke, but nope - it was real.

jon cox, Thanks. I love the smurfs!

crallspace, I don't shop there either. The place is full of trashy dirty people. And it's always crowded. I've only been to a couple nice Wal-Marts.

grrrbear said...

I like how they built it right on the border between MO and AR, too. Probably in case the state bureaucracy starts getting too heavy-handed with things like personal liberty they can just slide it over into the other state on a hidden network of underground rails, like the new Arizona Cardinals football field.

Bruce said...

Now I have another reason to never go to Wally World, as if I needed one...

Metal Mark said...

I guess this means that they know that I blow my nose on their polo shirts.

Karen said...

saw this comment over at Mike V.'s place and it could have been written by me!

"Hate hate hate Walmart.
I live in GM-land (SE Michigan.) All the GM workers who get so bitter about people buying imports....?
Yup, the local Walmarts are full of them, shopping away.

Jim said...

it's where the Walton keep their money, in ones, and roll around in it, like Scrooge McDuck.

--metal mark, so that's you in the picture next to the registers at all the stores??

delmer said...

I remember reading a story about their data tracking in one of the mags I get. The story was how the data tracking helped them keep their shelves full of what customers need.

They were compared to K-Mart or Sears ... I'm pretty sure K-Mart ... and how that store never had what the story writer needed in stock because they did such a crappy job in tracking what they'd sold.

I'm not defending Wal-Mart. But the IT-nerd in me does admire their data center.

I'm more of a Target Shopper, myself.

Nice post.

KC said...

I have to admit that I do shop at Walmart (and Target... I love Target). My mom has worked at Walmart for many years and has never mentioned the chanting that kay commented about. If they were chanting, my Mom would probably take it as devil worship and would quit her job. However, if the chanting were actually a prayer, she'd be all over that. Yep, I come from a religious family, which is why I am not at all religious.

Jennifer said...

I feel dirty.

Yawn said...

I don't see what the big deal is. Wal-Mart's just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone's doing data mining these days. Some of us do it for not only profit, but for fun, hobby, and sport as well. There's something irresistable about imagining a concept, creating a program to pull out all the parts of that concept from your giant database, then formulating a strategy around that data. Quite honestly, I feel sexual arousal from the process, but don't tell anybody about that. There aren't any clubs or e-communities for data fetishists...yet.

David Amulet said...

Just watch out if Wal Mart starts sharing consumer info with Microsoft and Starbucks. Then we'll have a virtual police state to contend with.

-- david

Etchen said...

I just knew there was something fishy about walmart! ;-)

Pixie said...

I knew stores kept track of their customers buying habits but I never imagined that they would need a facility this big!

FLAMINGO1 said...

Hopefully they will eventually use all of these captured video images to create a new television show called - "White Trash Do The Funniest Shit."

I would tune in to watch that program as long as it meant that I didn't have to go inside the store.

You would get to see dirty kids, wearing only diapers (no shoes or shirts) roaming semi-unattended throughout the store while their giant stretch-pant wearing mothers and grandmothers shriek at them to "stop touching them God-damned Pork Rinds."

Oh, I can't wait for the first season!!!

:P fuzzbox said...

I bet they could make one hell of a white trash wonderful movie from all that surveillence footage.

Tai said...

Big Brother indeed.

Double plus ungood, I say.

Mimi said...

Wal Mart is going to be the real Umbrella corporation from Resident Evil!

kim said...

Holy. Crap. 400+ TERRABYTES OF DATA?! That is INSANE. If they ever join up with Google (have you seen what they are collecting lately?) we are all screwed.

The Phoenix said...

grrrbear, I think you're right. The building is right on the state line.

bruce, Stay away...unless there's a sale on socks.

metal mark, You're probably Public Enemy #1. Watch your back.

karen, I went over there. Thanks for the info.!

jim, They are very greedy people. Bill Gates gives over half of his income to charity. The Walton Family gives almost 1%.

delmer, The IT professionals should be very impressed. The data storage units they use are made my NCR. They also make ATM machines. How appropriate.

The Phoenix said...

KC, I never saw any sort of rah-rah chanting at Wal-Mart. Just at Sam's. Target is so much more pleasant.

jennifer, Just go to Target right away.

Yawn, Whatever floats your boat. Naked women, data mining, whatever.

Amulet, Seriously - something like that is going to happen.

etchen & pixie, They know their stuff. That's how they make money.

flamingo and Fuzz, I'd watch it too!
It's be perfect for Spike Channel.

tai, mimi, and kim, When you stop to think about all the data they are collecting on us, it's VERY creepy. Retail has been doing it for years, though. Stores would put high profit margin stuff at eye level, for example. But Wal-Mart takes info. gathering to a new level.

Jenna Howard said...

Oh geez, I love walmart.

I love the perky greeting "Welcome to walmart" when I'm in a pissy mood, in that store because it's my last desperate bid to find something I need and Zeller's and Superstore are out.

I love no tills being open despite the fact that they have a billion.

I love that they never have my brand of shampoo on the shelf. Stockboy, get to work!

I love that their toy section is a disaster waiting to happen if I remove that one little bear from the pile.

I love that their underwear falls apart after the first washing.

I love that their customer service people can't fix any problem.

Oh how I love Walmart. It makes me all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Kinda like a homicidal maniac feels all warm and fuzzy.

kim said...

You know what though, I just ran the number by some IT friends who build storage networks and they say it's not out of line with what credit card companies and other big corporations would be storing.

I work in retail and see collection stuff all day long but seeing and and then knowing that a bajillion terrabytes on my life are somewhere are 2 different things.

And yet, my dog gets mail so you'd think they'd all be better at this by now.

FLAMINGO1 said...

Kim, I have been writing to your dog for some time now. That bitch never writes back.

Keshi said...

there's nothing called 'Privacy' these days..


The Phoenix said...

jenna, I remember walking into my first Wal-mart Supercenter. It was jaw-dropping. Everything under one roof. Maybe six months later, the local family grocery store closed down.

kim, Think about the data, though. Hurricane Francis is slamming into the Carribean, and Wal-mart sends Strawberry Pop Tarts???

flamingo, She's playing hard to get.

keshi, It seems that way.

Michelle said...

Did you know America has an Area 51 here down under? It's supposed to be hush hush...stuck out in the middel of nowhere, been there since i was a kid........spooky!

LBseahag said...

I bet they also have a damn bomb shelter underground, like Disneyland does, and someday, when the US gets blown to hell, those mullet-wearing, toothless bastards called "sale associates" at Wal-mart are gonna inbreed their brains out and create a whole new mankind...

phred said...

I wonder, if Sam was thawed out, would he approve of the way the company is being run now ??
I avoid Walmart like the plague. It`s always crowded and crazy in there. I don`t like to shop in that sort of atmosphere.
Maybe they should '' study '' that.

Cari said...

My inlaws are boycotting Walmart bc of the way they treat their employees. And bc of the "sweat shops" they have. This info. came from my father in law's union newsletter. They say that Walmart is making their employees pay hi insurance costs, w/out giving them any base pay to live on.

My opinion? Who knows if Target isn't doing the same damn thing. Maybe Walmart has been exposed. I am sure there are MANY companies out there doing this very same thing. We just don't hear about it as much. Doesn't mean I agree with what there are doing. I don't think good ol sam woulda either.

The Phoenix said...

michelle, The US has a secret military installation in Austrailia???? Can you get me pictures? I'm going to do some digging on that. Thanks for the tip.

LB, The data center is actually fortified much like any sort of data center. Tall cement columns placed all around the perimeter (should some crazed idiot want to ram their car into the building), low profile building in case of tornado, and I'm sure a bomb shelter.

phred, I'm not sure if Sam Walton would approve or not. Wal-Mart is well known for sex discrimination and not being fair to its employees for a slew of other reasons.

cari, People want low prices. That's the bottom line. So they sell stuff made for $0.18 from South America and sell it for $14.83. Don't you love how they use odd prices like that? It makes you think you're getting a bargain. $18.64 sounds cheaper.

jay lassiter said...

Ugh, this is worth passing on.
i've been to walmart once in the past 2 or 3 years, so i am probably in the clear.
But maybe i should worry about all those dubies i rolled in the walmart parking lot.

Perplexio said...

keshi: There is such a thing as privacy but it doesn't exist for those of us who are so "connected" to the system. Those who aren't "connected" tend to be invisible to the system, they're the only ones with any privacy. The homeless, the Amish, the dirt poor who live in squalor in Africa and India... they're actually better able to find privacy than the rest of us.

Grafs said...

I knew it! Walmart is EVIL. I shop at the slightly lesser evil Target.

Jamie Dawn said...

When we moved to AR, we were forced to sign a secrecy agreement.
I have no comment about that super secret Walmart data center where they store gobs of footage of me trying on shoes and looking at earrings and comparing this shampoo with that one and standing in line at the pharmacy.
I have no comment about how they use brain imagery to actually read their customer's thoughts and feelings towards certain products. How do you think they know what products to put out in the center of the aisles and at the end of each aisle? I'll never tell.
AND, you DON'T want to know about the cameras in the restrooms. No... you don't!

The Phoenix said...

Isn't there a Wal-Mart in India???

The county assessor had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before going through the facility. Amazing.

I might just have to go down and visit.

angel, jr. said...

Point Pleasant is about an hour away. Is that where you are going, to investigate?
Those stories terrify me to this day. I always kept my eyes shut when we drove thru there, just in case I would accidently see it.
There are also ghost stories that are suppose to have occurred on the drive to Logan, West Virginia. In fact, I remember one of them being documented in a children's activity book I had gotten as a child--something called Kid's America.

The Phoenix said...

I am in Charleston on business, but I was hoping to go there (gulp) in the evening.

Come 'on, we need to go! You can take me. I'll bring a recorder and we can turn it into a podcast.

Either that, or the Mothman will scare us shitless and we'll have two grown men crying and screaming for our mommies as the winged phantom swoops down on us.

Phats said...

I think they are hiding Jimmy Hoffa at this wal mart too.

I enjoy this post! I am a meijer fan myself. Screw Wal Mart

cube said...

Do you really think WalMart is the only store doing this kind of data mining? Everyone is doing this, but WalMart is getting the brunt of the MSM's fury over it.

vani said...

i guess they're IS taking over the world, one town at at time....

Laurie said...

So I guess "they" know that I love their discount thongs...

Elmer's Brother said...

Where is the NSA when you need them?

The Phoenix said...

Walmart is definitely NOT the only company doing this kind of stuff. Credit card companies are notorious as well.

But it's the sheer size and the amount of data stored at this facility that is so mysterious. It's really a wonder in it of itself.

Walmart sells discount thongs???

The NSA will steer clear of this stuff.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how centralized they are. As a volunteer firefighter, I sometimes respond to calls at our local Wal-Mart. All the alarm systems are monitored back in Arkansas or at this MO site ---it's also where they control the lights to the stores and the HVAC systems.

mckay said...

am i the only one creeped out by the 666 chip in the hand???


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