That video camera thing at Starbucks so got under my skin that I wrote them an email expressing my dismay. A few days later I get a reply asking me to call customer service at 1-800-23-LATTE. Soon I’m talking to a very nice woman in Seattle explaining how aggravating it is to be recorded buying a $4 dollar cup of coffee.

In fairness to Starbucks let me give you their side of the story. The rep says that Starbucks stores, especially those in “city” locations, experience a lot of theft. Cameras are part of their asset protection program. They’re not worried about employees stealing, they’re worried about customers doing the old smash and grab at the register. The cameras are for deterrent effect. Ok, fair enough.

I mentioned that rumors are floating around that Starbucks uses the cameras to record and analyze customer buying behaviors. The woman said that was nonsense, “Corporate can mine that information from store receipts.” (Since most people pay cash – how the heck do they get that info?) When I mentioned that many companies use video to observe customer traffic, plan product placement, and collect demographic information, the woman seemed a bit flustered. It doesn’t look like Starbucks focus grouped a slick answer to this issue yet. Somebody missed a meeting.

Ok Starbucks says the cameras are only for security. I smell bullshit. Here’s why:

1. The video system was installed by a company called C Video. That’s the company that supplied surveillance cameras at Superbowl XXXVII in Tampa. We all remember the reports on the news how they used facial recognition software to look for terrorists. Well are they doing the same thing at Starbucks? I don’t know. It is a possibility.

2. If it’s for security why doesn’t Starbucks:

a. Post a sign on the door saying the premises are being video monitored? That would deter a lot of thieves. They don’t. I think they don’t want the sign clashing with their cultivated monotonous earth tone bohemian look. Also it would give people the opportunity to decide if they want their privacy compromised before they go in the store. Eeek! A lost sale!

b. Have the camera cover the whole store instead of just the register area. I mean someone could walk off with a $300 dollar espresso machine. I’ve seen fistfights break out over who gets the comfy chairs!

c. Post an article on their website explaining why they’re installing a video system, what it’s for and how it works. I can’t find such an article. Can you?

I don’t think Starbucks is telling the whole story. I’m not surprised. Videotaping employees in the past has caused them some grief. Hey I am all about safety but I am also about full disclosure too.

Write Starbucks and tell ‘em what you think. If you think I’m missing some information or blowing smoke out my ass – you can write me too.

Yeah I know this isn’t a funny post about waiting tables.

Tough shit.

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