With all the sensitive news about Facebook and privacy hovering menacingly over the Internet this week, it seems an odd time for Starbucks to begin “forcing” consumers to register so they can connect to Wi-Fi. But that’s indeed what’s happening to coffee drinkers around the country. Many are sipping coffee and finding an unexpected “email and zip code required for access” login screen when they sit down to connect. Some Internet users aren’t happy with the change.
Let’s get this out of the way. Plenty of other places ask for an email address — and some even ask for money — when you connect to Wi-Fi. So asking for an email in exchange for free Internet isn’t out of line. On the surface, it can be a pretty fair trade off.
That’s a lot of data. As Starbucks begins to mine that data, will it end up creating the kind of personal profiles or customer “buckets” that Facebook, credit bureaus, and firms like Cambridge Analytica have fashioned? That’s probably inevitable. Will it sell that information? It will certainly share the data with third parties. Can consumers control what is collected and shared? Yes, and no, is the answer.
“Upon request we will provide you with information about whether we hold any of your personal information. You may access, correct, or remove your personal information by visiting www.Starbucks.com/Account.”
My best efforts at finding where I could access or remove my personal information were foiled. I found nothing in all the places you’d expect — settings, profile, and so on. I’ve asked Starbucks to help me find it, and I’ll get back to you when they the firm does.
In exchange for playing along with the sign-up, Starbucks says it will recognize your computer in the future and it’ll be more easy for you to connect going forward.
The business strategy behind the move makes sense. Executive Scott Maw explained it recently at a banking conference:
“We’re reactivating. … there are millions of customers that are 91-plus-day active, and we’re reactivating those customers. We’ve been marketing to them for a while now and having some success in converting them, but we’re going to go far deeper. The offers will be richer, because we know they pay off, and we’re going to try to get that previously active base reactivated. And the third opportunity – and this is something that we’re just investigating, we’ll see if we can make it work – is what we call Wi-Fi sign-up.
“So, if you want to use Wi-Fi in Starbucks, we’re going to make it easy for you. Enter your e-mail once, every time you walk into the store, it automatically connects to Wi-Fi, and you don’t have to accept the terms and conditions again. That allows you to have the convenience of connection. It allows us to have the ability to have those e-mail addresses. And so, across those ideas and others that we’re considering, we’ve said we’ll have several million non-Starbucks Rewards digital relationships by the end of this year. And if you think about that 60 million, I would expect that number to continue to grow at a relatively rapid clip over the next handful of years.”
As mentioned, some folks don’t like this change:
@Starbucks NEW Free WiFi login rules are intrusive. Yep, I know it’s free, but requiring an email address is ridiculous especially when your “free” WiFi costs me my drink and is associated with @Google. Lots of people work remotely and choose Starbucks for WiFi. Pump the brakes.
— Michael K (@KincKong80) April 6, 2018
@Starbucks is screwing the pooch with its new “guest” WiFi login. Demanding first, last, email, and home zip code…SO THAT all presence & activity of “this device” can be tracked at all future stores.
— Rob DuBois (@RobDuBois) April 6, 2018
Should I be skeptical about giving login information to use Starbucks WiFi?
— Lawrence Joseph (@LJCiriaco) April 5, 2018
Again, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Starbucks to offer consumers a bargain like, “Let us send you one email a week, and we’ll give you free Wi-Fi.” Consumers cannot know, however, how else this data might be used in the future, and so they aren’t necessarily in a position to make a fair bargain. I will say that because there really is pretty healthy competition in the coffee shop market (unlike, say, the Facebook market), this bothers me less. As this Tweeter points out, consumers do have options:
Selected Forget this Network option for @Starbucks WiFi. Someone tweet me if they roll back their login page. Of course I may have found another place to have coffee by then. @peetscoffee is very good I hear.
— David Bradley (@Quileel) April 4, 2018
Meanwhile, users can use throwaway accounts to “register” with Starbucks (and should. Everyone should have a ‘spam’ account). At the moment, it doesn’t appear Starbucks authenticates the email addresses in any way. There’s no double-opt-in requirement or whatnot. Of course, the firm will still have the ability to track your hardware via a cookie, but then, that’s always been true.
If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to support what I do. That’s easy. Buy something from my NEW LIBRARY AND E-COMMERCE PAGE, click on an advertisement, or just share the story.