And the award for worst mobile idea of the year goes to Walmart

Walmart is setting itself up for trouble with an app that lets employees into your home unattended to put away groceries you ordered.

And the award for worst mobile idea of the year goes to Walmart
Mike Mozart (CC BY 2.0)

For some reason, Walmart seems to go out of its way to find and embrace mobile ideas that are most likely to cause problems far worse than the one they are supposed to address.

This summer, the world's largest retailer gave us store employees delivering items to customers as the employees drove home. Yes, indeed, that's exactly what we need to help Walmart: more inexperienced and resentful delivery people.

A mobile app that lets Walmart employees into your home

But Walmart has now decided to leverage mobile and deliver an idea that is far more dangerous than grumpy cashiers: Walmart has struck a deal with a digital doorlock company to — I am not making this up — unlock your home frontdoor so they can get into your kitchen, when you're not at home, and put away groceries for you. I swear that Walmart actually announced this. I doublechecked that it wasn't an Onion video. (Although Onion has done some wonderful Walmart segments.)

Here's how Walmart describes the experience, and please note that it centers around the mobile app:

"I place an order on for several items, even groceries. When my order is ready, a Deliv driver will retrieve my items and bring them to my home. If no one answers the doorbell, he or she will have a one-time passcode that I’ve pre-authorized, which will open my home’s smart lock. As the homeowner, I’m in control of the experience the entire time — the moment the Deliv driver rings my doorbell, I receive a smartphone notification that the delivery is occurring and, if I choose, I can watch the delivery take place in real time.

"The Deliv associate will drop off my packages in my foyer and then carry my groceries to the kitchen, unload them in my fridge and leave. I’m watching the entire process from start to finish from my home security cameras through the August app. As I watch the Deliv associate exit my front door, I even receive confirmation that my door has automatically been locked."

Problems with Walmart's delivery app

Where to start? This assumes the shopper will be in a position to watch this delivery — which will happen at any point within a wide hour range — at the instant it happens, with no advance notification. The shopper may be at work, driving or doing a million other things preventing the shopper from watching a live steam.

Also, this ability to watch assumes lots of video security cameras — all monitoring the proper areas. If I felt like making the investment to install lots of security cameras inside my home (something I am not worried about doing, as my wife has full veto power over my most stupid purchases), placing cameras inside the kitchen wouldn't likely make the cut.

And even if it did, what if someone intercepts this onetime code earlier and uses it to enter the house much sooner than the Walmart delivery person? A few cheap masks and the cameras serve little purpose, especially when the thieves move beyond the cameras. Worse yet, what if the criminals intercept the code and use it to enter the home at 2 a.m. when the shopper might be asleep? How much of this risk is worth being spared the task of putting groceries away?

Instead, what if Walmart used this technology to precisely schedule deliveries at a time convenient for the shopper? That way they can offer the service of putting groceries away while the homeowner stands watch. This would allows the security system to create a temporary access code and transmit it to Walmart where this plunges into the depths of atrocious ideas.

Mobile convenience vs. mobile security 

The wackiest part of this deal is that Walmart somehow got a security company — a firm called August — to buy in. For the record, this idea might have originated with the security company, but I doubt any mere security company could think of an idea this bad. That's where a Fortune 1 company's talent is needed.

But doesn't August see how this effort undermines their branding as a security company? This is how August quoted its own CEO to endorse the deal:

"In our quest to help consumers solve everyday problems using their August Smart Lock, we are delighted to be working with Walmart and Deliv to make our customers’ lives easier,” said Jason Johnson, CEO for August Home. “This is an evolution of our August Access platform, which allows customers to monitor and manage entry into their homes, from wherever they are, to receive deliveries safely and securely. The consumer is in control every step of the way with real-time notifications through the August app or they can even watch deliveries happen in real time from their smartphone."

This is where mobile convenience rams right into mobile security. The August approach allows a temporary code to be transmitted to a friend or relative (or a Walmart partner or employee). From a security standpoint, I'm not wild about any code (especially one as short as the temporary code August uses) being transmitted over non-secure wireless transmissions.

Assuming the code is seen by only the intended recipient, at least the shopper presumably trusts this friend or relative. With Walmart, the code is absolutely being given to a stranger. Let's assume, for the moment, that the code isn't intercepted. How is Walmart or a Walmart partner protecting this code? Let's say a partner uses employee 1234 to be the delivery person for this package of groceries. What's to stop a criminally-oriented colleague of 1234 from borrowing the number, donning a disguise and getting to the house before 1234 can?

At the very least, Walmart should insist that the code be tied into the specific smartphone used by employee 1234 so that no one else trying to use the code could get access. That could be setup by allowing the shopper's home Wi-Fi (if they have these wireless cameras, one can assume they have a LAN) to allow access by only that specific mobile phone. Once the phone is detected by the frontdoor, it could be sent a one-time temporary access code to be used for only five minutes. You'll note that no such restrictions were implemented.

From Walmart's perspective, why chance this? Envision the media coverage from just one or two burglaries (or, worse, violent crimes) resulting from this system? If it's popular, such bad news is inevitable. What will that do the reputation of Walmart and August?

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon