Wal-Mart Learns The Hard Way Not To Piss Off The Guy Who Keeps Track Of All Your Secrets

from the oops-my-bad dept

Over the past several weeks, The Wall Street Journal has run several articles telling the story of a Wal-Mart employee who was fired last month as federal investigators began investigating claims that he intercepted phone calls and text messages of a number of employees and outsiders, including a New York Times reporter. Similar to the infamous HP spying case, Wal-Mart was trying to track down the source of some leaked company memos, and the fired employee says he was pursuing the leak on the instructions of a company senior VP, as part of his job within Wal-Mart’s “Threat Research and Analysis Team” — an internal security operation that put’s HP’s ragtag private investigators to shame. Another WSJ story last week gave some insight into the team and what it does, painting a pretty grim picture of the levels of surveillance the company uses on its own employees, and even external vendors. For instance, the company monitors the activity of vendors’ computers connected to its network, for things even as minute as whether they’re surfing porn, by using software that supposedly detects flesh tones when they’re displayed on screen. The company apparently started monitoring calls after the 9/11 attacks “in response to government requests to employers in general to help find terrorist cells”. Unsurprisingly, Wal-Mart didn’t find any. The company has now sued the fired employee, alleging he’s divulged trade secrets in all the WSJ articles, and it fears he’s harboring information about “Project Red”, a top-secret strategic plan for the company. Wal-Mart doesn’t enjoy the best public image, and the stories of the Orwellian security tactics it uses are hardly likely to improve that standing, nor is it likely to placate the company’s shareholders, who are growing increasingly unhappy with Wal-Mart’s stagnant share price.


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Comments on “Wal-Mart Learns The Hard Way Not To Piss Off The Guy Who Keeps Track Of All Your Secrets”

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45 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Expected...

When you have anything as large as Walmart, I would expect them to have a threat analysis team of some kind. Nothing in this article is surprising, they are in a very competitive market and they are the big man on campus with everyone gunning for them.

The employee that was fired and is now being sued seems to have brought this on himself… that’s why companies has you sign a nondisclosure agreement, so you can be sued for leaking information.

Walmart obtained the top role in their marketing arena and all the problems that go with it. In the grand scheme of things none of this matters to their bottom line, but it is interesting to peer into the working of a giant.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

purely FYI

Nothing will happen, other than what we see here. That is, no prosecution–or if there is any at all, the cases will be dismissed… like in the HP case.

It’s abundantly clear that corporations are running the show. They do whatever they want, and they get away with it as long as they continue to provide shareholder value. Oh, and political contributions.

The proof that political contributions qualify as dividends on investments of political capital is left as an exercise to the reader.

Sanguine Dream says:

No suprise...


For instance, the company monitors the activity of vendors’ computers connected to its network, for things even as minute as whether they’re surfing porn, by using software that supposedly detects flesh tones when they’re displayed on screen.

Well of course they monitor any pcs that are connected to their network. It is their network and they are responsible for it. And while porn by itself isn’t going to put the network in jepordy we know that often times porn sites could have all sorts of ad/mal/spyware attached to them.

As for that software that detects flesh tones how does it know victoria’s secret’s website from www.(insert kinky title).com?

Charles Griswold (user link) says:

Re: No suprise...

As for that software that detects flesh tones how does it know victoria’s secret’s website from www.(insert kinky title).com?


Server not found

Firefox can’t find the server at http://www.insertkinkytitle.com.

* Check the address for typing errors such as
ww.example.com instead of
http://www.example.com

* If you are unable to load any pages, check your computer’s network connection.

* If your computer or network is protected by a firewall or proxy, make sure that Firefox is permitted to access the Web.

🙁

Anonymous Coward says:

“for things even as minute as whether they’re surfing porn,…” thus protecting themselves from a law suit by other companies and or the government for having a environment that promotes sexual harassment.

I see nothing evil/orwellian/etc in these practices. They are pretty standard for any company these days.

So in short. Get over it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Walmart in general

I worked for walmart for awhile myself. It’s acually quite shameful how they treat their employees these days. They terminated a bunch of us just because the thought someone was taking stuff off the shelfs. I had worked there a year and was up for a new raise and bonus when they axed me. Me another friend who didnt have anything to do with the “disappearing merchandise” figure we aught to try the whole double jeopardy thing and walk out with a big screen.

Chuck (user link) says:

Walmart is Big Brother in more ways than one

My wife, daughter and I were at Walmart several months ago. My daughter wanted to purchase an R-rated video for a school project. She is under 17, but since we were standing right there, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. The salesperson wouldn’t sell it to her.
No problem, we figured. I’ll just buy it myself. But no…they wouldn’t sell it to ME because it was for my daughter. In other words, Walmart thought it knew better than my wife and I how our daughter should be raised. When I called the manager, he told me it was company policy.
Needless to say, we no longer shop at Walmart, and we tell our friends not to either.

Chuck (user link) says:

Walmart is Big Brother in more ways than one

My wife, daughter and I were at Walmart several months ago. My daughter wanted to purchase an R-rated video for a school project. She is under 17, but since we were standing right there, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. The salesperson wouldn’t sell it to her.
No problem, we figured. I’ll just buy it myself. But no…they wouldn’t sell it to ME because it was for my daughter. In other words, Walmart thought it knew better than my wife and I how our daughter should be raised. When I called the manager, he told me it was company policy.
Needless to say, we no longer shop at Walmart, and we tell our friends not to either.

William says:

Three step program

1. Hire employee to monitor other employees

2. When press finds out employee was spying on other employees fire him.

3. When employee reveals that he was doing his job and that he was hired to monitor other employees and tries to clear his name sue him.

And there are tons of programs to block porn out there it sounds like they were trying to get dirt on vendors by recording the dirty sights they go to without blocking them. At least that was the implication of the post.

just me says:

Re: Three step program

I will agree with this. It looked like they were gathering reasons to fire them. It is common knowledge that when a employee starts making the major bucks at Wal-Mart they do their best to get rid of them, and hire someone cheaper. They do have a cut off (cap) as to how much they will pay their employees. For Sam’s it is 15 a hour. Not sure about Wal-Mart. But if you ask other employee’s I am sure it wont be hard to figure out.

I do know of several employee’s that have worked for years for the Sams company, and no longer get raises at all because of the cap. Their insurance has been upped instead of the 6 months wait till you get it I believe it is nine now. Who the hell can work for a company with a family etc, and not be insured sooner than this? I watched a few employees struggle to take care of their family’s with no insurance, and Sam’s and maybe even wal-mart wont insure them because their insurance doesn’t kick in till the 9 months is up. Why? Because they don’t want to insure someone that will leave in say 7 months due to lack of insurance or benefits. OH! but get this, they can get other employees benefits like 401k etc. lol I believe they do this for greed. Everyone knows that there is a kickback on that 401k for businesses. But when it comes to health insurance, the company’s have to pay.

Jesus says:

Walmart

I tried to buy a couple Lazy Town videos at Walmart. The salesperson wouldn’t sell it to me because I’m over 18. I tried to have one of my beloved children buy it for me, but they still wouldn’t sell it because it would be for me. I called the manager and he said it’s company policy not to sell Lazy Town products to older men.

akkurt (user link) says:

You all can't be serious...

“Wal-Mart = Evil”
Wher in the H#ll do you people come up with this stuff? Why are they evil?
Because they are the market leader in their segment?
Because they resist union inroads and unreasonable demands?
Because they weed out substandard employees?
Because they exercise their right and duty as a corporation to make and maximise profits?

Like anti-Semitism, I simply do not understand anti-Wal-Martism. It seems to me to be something fostered by bitter, jealous people who wish THEY had the insight and persistance to build one of the worlds largest corporations and employers. It also seems to me that the minimum wage types that whine about Wal-Mart should be grateful such a behemoth exists to provide jobs for them, and affordable products.
Furthermore, Employees have an obligation to their employer to act in a manner that is complimentary to their employer, and ex-employees have a legal obligation to keep their mouth shut about corporate affairs unless legal or serious safety concerns are involved.
Wal-Mart, has the right to take whatever actions to ensure corporate security and confidence. Just as you, the individual do. Work to erode thir rights and you work to erode your own.

Doc says:

Re: You all can't be serious...

“Wal Mart shuts down mom & pop stores”…

Wow, sounds like successful capitalism, and a mis-understanding (or unwillingness to learn economics). Wal-Mart admits there may be a very few small businesses specifically affected by a large store entering a geographical area, but statistics from Chambers of Commerce show that a Wal-Mart overwhelmingly can energize the economics of a depressed area.
Building a Wal-Mart brings in other satellite “mom & pop “businesses into the shopping area, providing a net increase in jobs and wages, and allow a higher standard of living for lower prices that may have been available before-hand.
You folks need to *study* the economics objectively, and quick hating a business just because it is large… that is over-simplistic, juvenile and myopic.

Don’t believe everything you read about “evil” corporations… If you feel so strongly, don’t buy there, and start your own large “holy” corporation, and see how long until you get hate-mongered when you become successful and profitable (never mind all the jobs and services you provide to millions of consumers and manufacturer’s employees).
Is there room to improve? Sure. Does hate-mongering help? No.
Stay objective, people….

Casper says:

Wow there are a lot of stupid people...

I love how people complain about how horrible Walmart is to their employees, but they don’t have a company to compare them to that does better. Everyone who has worked a minimum wage job or in that pay grade will have someone to complain about. It’s not fun being disposable work force. You just have to remember, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence… until you get there.

All Walmart does is what every other company in America tries to do, but they do it a little better and on a larger scale. Welcome to capitalism, if you would like to live in a global super power your going to have to get acquainted. You can’t complain that mom and pop shops are going out of business and then turn around and fight for fair competition agreements. In competition there are winners and losers and the little guys are not going to be able to stand toe to toe with a giant. If they don’t want to go under they better adapt (although they will have a hard time competing with the perfect business model where their competition actually control both distribution and production).

If you guys want to complain about how horrible it is to work for Walmart, don’t work for them. I hated minimum wage jobs, that’s why I educated myself and started down the path of software development.

PS: If you hate Walmart business tactics, check out Circuit City and how they just laid off all their higher paid staff to make room for new cheap labor… and they do it right in front of you all the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Companies that aren't as evil

ShopKo traditionally has the lowest turnover rate of department store chains. When NPR did a story of Big-Box laws, ShopKo was mentioned as paying their employees better as a whole.

Capitalism is not just the lowest price, again, the success of ShopKo shows how they targeted Wal-Mart’s weaknesses to be successful. It is possible to compete with Wal-Mart and beat them, though as you say, it cannot be done by trying to be Wal-Mart.

reed says:

Re: Wow there are a lot of stupid people...

“I love how people complain about how horrible Walmart is to their employees, but they don’t have a company to compare them to that does better.”

How about companies like Target and Costco, they seem to be able to make good profits and still pay their employees well. Good benefits too!

“All Walmart does is what every other company in America tries to do, but they do it a little better and on a larger scale.”

They don’t do it better. They do it cheaper, ever tried to get customer service in Walmart? lol

“In competition there are winners and losers and the little guys are not going to be able to stand toe to toe with a giant. If they don’t want to go under they better adapt (although they will have a hard time competing with the perfect business model where their competition actually control both distribution and production).”

So mom and pops stores have no chance? Sounds like Walmart has an unfair advantage. It is also important to note that mom and pop shops pay better and give better benefits. On top of this they actually return money to the community unlike Walmart who even sucks up their wages due to the fact almost all workers shop there for everything.

In effect they don’t even pay their workers because the workers often spend their whole check there. So while Walmart “helps” the poor people with cheap prices they also help to keep their workers poor and shopping there driving a sick and sad cycle that could only be described as economic enslavement.

Despite what Walmart says it has a devastating impact on communities it enters. It is a fact that all small independent stores that compete with Walmart in the community will likely go out of business. Too bad we aren’t like most of Europe that actually protects its small businesses.

Of course Walmart is also contributing to the enormous trade deficit we have in the USA. Just about all of their products come from China further cutting out the American worker.

Is Walmart a good company? Not be any measurement I have seen. They should be featured on the MAD TV skit lowered expectations. Crappy service, cheaply made products, and impoverished workers. What a great combination 🙂

Boy, lets all get around the fire and praise Walmart!

Regular Joe says:

Better companies than Wal*Mart

You asked for a list of companies that treat thier (lower paid) employees better…. Here are 3 that I have worked at…

Target
Kmart/Sears (Sears side – don’t know about the KMart side)
McDonalds

As a former (lower level) Walmart employee, I know from experience that those 3 are better.

FYI – Walmart was not my first job…It was after Sears and before McDonalds…about 15 years ago…

Malk says:

Wake Up America

First, I am always shocked to see how so many people have such a love hate relationship with Wal-Mart. I bet you 90% of the people that believe Wal-Mart is evil shop at Wal-Mart. Why because they provided the same product others stores do at a lower price and if they didn’t you would shop their.

Second, corporations monitoring traffic on their network this nothing new. Every SMART corporation does it, from you 5 user companies to your 100,000+. The reason is simple they are paying for the equipment you are using and it is their right to know what you are doing with it. Most users have a knack of screwing up their computers in one way or another, intentional or unintentional, the company has to pay to repair / replace the damaged goods. In addition, many companies have things like trade secrets, vender lists, and client lists that they don’t want any pissed off employee walking off with. So if some employee doesn’t like the company monitoring them then by your own computer, with your own internet feed and then you won’t be monitored, otherwise shut up.

Third, if this guy was giving away confidential information about Wal-Mart then he should be fired. The only exception to this rule should be if Wal-Mart was doing something illegal and it that case he should be talking to the cops not the press. So to call a company evil because they fired a guy for blabbing company secrets is outright moronic.

Forth, last I checked Wal-Mart wasn’t kidnapping people and forcing them to work at their stores. Employment at Wal-Mart is an at will state, for both the employee and employer. If the employee doesn’t like working for Wal-Mart then quit, there are plenty of minimal wage jobs you can get.

SPR (profile) says:

Wal Mart

Everyone wants to target Wal Mart just because they are the biggest kid on the block. They didn’t do anything that other large companies don’t do. The real bad-guy is the IT Professional (?) that has been divulging this info. All respected and respect worthy IT pros know and understand that what you learn in the course of your work that is confidential in nature remains confidential and you DO NOT divulge this info. This person should NEVER be employed in the IT field EVER again.

Wolf0579 says:

First, when your boss wants you to break the law as part of your job duties, GET IT IN WRITING! Of course, they aren’t that stupid. That’s why they’ve hired you! The guy was fired for GETTING CAUGHT. Now, he’s trying to vindicate himself by telling his story. As far as a non-disclosure clause goes, if he signed one, he is vulnerable to a lawsuit. I feel sorry for the guy, in a way… this kind of happening is what keeps me from going into the security business.

One Voice says:

One thing that this article does not mention....

There is one major point that most articles that are discussing this issue neglect to point out….

The other employees of technical department at Wal-Mart found out that this was happening and self-reported the problem.

If it would have been any news agency or other public group that found this out, could you imagine how much difference that this could be?

Yes, I will admit that we all make mistakes. It is just that some people / companies / etc. try to hide them and some others bring them out into the open and deal with them.

Which would you rather do?

Anonymous Coward says:

What pisses me off about Wal Mart is how they force customers to use their self-service checkouts, which are fine if you have one or two items, but a pain in the ass if you have a buggy load because 90% of the customers can’t figure out how to work them. I was in there one night and all four of them were stopped, waiting for cashier intervention, only there was no cashier to enter the override code or whatever.

On the other hand you can return anything to them and get store credit. You could probably pick stuff up off the street and return it to them. I’ve seen people return shoes and clothes that were so obviously stuff their kids had outgrown that they were no longer wearable and get enough store credit to go to the tobacco aisle for a pack of Marlboros.

Duodave (user link) says:

And you think this is unusual?

We just parted ways with a coworker who was in charge of our IT department. Turned out he was reading our bosses’ emails. I hate to mention it guys, but in IT departments, you can’t rely on any privacy as far as email or surfing is involved because any IT guy can go in and read anything, or examine anyone’s browse history when you go home from work.

It sounds to me like what wal-mart was doing wasn’t all that unusual, they were just pissed that the ex-employee blabbed to the WSJ.

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