The escalating battle between Walmart and Amazon is moving into your home -- and it raises privacy concerns

Cdn.corporate.walmartWalmartWalmart wants to deliver packages inside your house — if you want it.
  • Walmart and Amazon are working on similar programs that involve delivery people entering customers’ homes when they are not there.
  • At least one expert is concerned that this has the potential to lead to privacy violations.
  • The companies’ terms of service will likely prevent them from being held liable for any privacy violations, however.

As online retail companies look for ways to more efficiently get packages to consumers, private places are becoming potential delivery zones — and that worries some privacy experts.

Amazon is reportedly working on a smart lock and doorbell system that would allow delivery people to enter homes to leave packages inside, safe from both the elements and potential thieves.

This device mirrors a pilot program recently announced by Walmart, which has partnered with delivery service Deliv and smart lock maker August to allow delivery drivers to enter customers’ homes to drop off packages and put groceries straight into their refrigerators. The program is available for a limited test group in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This new convenience could be a bit of a double-edged sword, however, according to privacy expert Joel Reidenberg, a professor of law at Fordham University School of Law and the director of the school’s center on law and information privacy.

“It certainly raises privacy concerns, an unknown person coming into your home,” he said.

While little is known about Amazon’s plans at this point, the Walmart program has some privacy safeguards built in. The program requires customers to already have the August smart home equipment installed before they can opt in to the service. That security camera system films the delivery person while they are in a customer’s house, allowing them to see the entire delivery process from start to finish.

It also records when the delivery person opens the door with their unique code and when the door locks behind them after they leave. That one-use code is tied to one delivery and one delivery person, so if something were to go south in your home when a delivery person entered, the perpetrator would not remain a mystery.

Walmart deliveryWalmartA screenshot from Walmart’s promotional video for the service.

But if your privacy is violated in this situation — say, you watched the delivery person go through some private papers you left out — you probably wouldn’t have many options to do anything about it.

“The likelihood is the terms of service … will deny liability for anything that happens in the context of delivery. So if a delivery person violates the homeowner’s privacy while they’re in the home, there’s pretty much no recourse that homeowner has for that privacy violation,” Reidenberg said.

The technology would let you know who violated your privacy and how, and that would likely be enough to get the delivery person fired. Legal action would be more difficult, however.

“Somebody looking around the house — what’s the provable harm they’d be able to show? Would they really want to bring a lawsuit costing $US50,000 to get in the courthouse door to sue the delivery person because they snooped in the house? That’s not gonna happen,” Reidenberg said.

Deliv CEO Daphne Carmeli said she was not overly worried about a privacy violation playing out, noting that it would be a breach of the terms of service agreed to by the company’s drivers. She also noted that Deliv has yet to encounter a situation of that nature, as everything the delivery people do is recorded on camera and by the smart locks. Drivers are aware of both of these measures, and they specifically agree to being recorded when they opt in to the trial with Walmart.

“They go in and out as quickly as possible,” Carmeli said, adding that the company’s delivery people “undergo a comprehensive screen process,” including a background check with “regular audits, ratings, and checks.”

Sloan Eddleston, Walmart’s vice president of e-commerce strategy and business operations, said in a blog post with the program announcement that it “may not be for everyone — and certainly not right away,” but that the company is offering it as an added convenience to customers who want it.

Walmart also pointed out in the post that there are a lot of things that we now pay strangers to do for us — from building furniture to driving us around — that we would have thought far-fetched in the past, and this could just be the next step of that evolution. A Walmart spokesperson told Business Insider that the test program is already popular with consumers.

The retailer said it expects this will be just one of the ways customers will want their packages delivered going forward. The service could also expand to other points of the home, like a garage, where many families keep a refrigerator anyway, making grocery delivery possible without entering the home itself.

The best way to stop someone from reading your private documents, however, is not to leave them out in the first place, or to keep them locked in a cabinet when you know someone will be entering your home.

Delivery into the home is just one way that Walmart and Amazon are rethinking ways of getting packages into customers’ hands as the battle for online dollars heats up between the two retail giants.

But, for Reidenberg at least, there are still some concerns about this particular model.

He said: “It’s a trade-off: which is worse, the porch pirate or the risk that the delivery person might do something in the house?”

Amazon did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on privacy concerns related to its rumoured new product.

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