Ok, So What’s the Deal? Can You or Can You Not Take Photos Inside of Starbucks?

You and All That Caffeine

A few months ago I was excited to read about Starbuck’s joining Flickr and sponsoring an “official” Starbucks group there. I’m sure they had to pony up some big bucks to pay Yahoo/Flickr for that opportunity, but I was pleased to see them show up for the conversations that go along with a group on Flickr.

One of the first posts that was made in the new group though was by someone complaining about the fact that many people have been harrased for taking photos inside of Starbucks:

“I was given to understand that many managers and employees have violently opposed photos made on or of their premises.

Does this group represent a new turn in corporate spirit, or is it launched in spite of the unpleasant, even threatening experiences some have had at Starbucks?”

Initially things looked pretty good. The group admin, and Starbuck’s marketing rep, Anali Orr posted the following:

“Our formal policy is that all press-related photo inquiries need to contact press@starbucks.com prior to taking pictures in a Starbucks store.

However, we have no formal policy around customers taking non-press related pictures in-store so if you hear otherwise, it might just be because your barista is camera-shy :)”

Great! Right?

Well, not so fast. It turns out that the situation is hardly clear at this point and after 3 Months we still have no idea if photos are allowed as originally suggested by Orr or not. What we do have are a series of week after week after week non-answers coming back from Starbucks marketing. Below are all of the responses filtered out from Starbucks which read like typical corporate doublespeak and delay tactics, with no official answer from Starbucks and no official answer anywhere near in sight.

2 Months Ago: “I am making great headway here and hope to have some detailed information for you all shortly. To give you an idea of what I’m up to, I am researching if some of our international markets have policies around photography in stores. Since international laws and regulations vary country by country, this is quite the task 🙂 I’m also working to see where the confusion is stemming from in some US stores.

Again, stay tuned. I’m working on it! “

2 Months Ago:
“@shepherd – no worries, I understand why this would be frustrating from your perspective. I’ll be in touch! “

2 Months Ago: “Pye42 – I deleted your last comment – please respect Flickr’s Community Guidelines when posting to our group. “

2 Months Ago: “Thanks Metrix X! I have been meeting with various teams in the building and learning a lot about the world of policies 🙂 I hope to have something more concrete to share with you soon – thanks for your patience while I work through the details.”

2 Months Ago: “Jayster – I am getting closer to a final ruling each day. I have a big meeting on Wednesday and after that, I will post here with an update.”

6 Weeks Ago: “Hello everyone, I did have a very productive meeting on Wednesday of last week. We read through each of your comments and now the legal team is reviewing some of your feedback around public and private property. More meetings this week…more to come!”

6 Weeks Ago:
“Still here and haven’t forgotten about you. I’m writing a blog this weekend/next week about this discussion and hope to post by the end of the week. I’ll keep you in the know. Have a good weekend!”

5 Weeks Ago: “Just wrote a blog response that my legal team is currently reviewing…once I have final approval I’ll post it and let you know. I know it’s taken a while and I know I’ve said it before but I appreciate your patience. This has been quite an interesting project to work on and has involved many meetings with all sorts of teams throughout the building. SO glad you guys brought this to our attention so that we could sort it out for you!”

3 Weeks Ago: “We want to do this in the best way possible. There are many perspectives to take into consideration as part of this discussion. That means considering our baristas’ daily work and their privacy, our customers’ experience in our stores as well as your photographic expression of that experience. We have a lot of things to consider when making decisions that affect what happens in our stores. It has to be the right thing for our partners (employees) and customers, and it has to work well for stores around the world.

Please continue to be patient while we work on a solution. In the meantime, I do ask that you continue to be respectful of customers and partners in our stores. If a barista asks you not to take pictures, please respect their request.

More to come – Anali “

3 Weeks Ago: “SteelToad – I appreciate your comments and I have to add that this group isn’t explicitly here for the purpose of taking pictures inside Starbucks stores. That is one part of the Starbucks Experience but pictures of your experience out-of-store are welcome in this group as well.”

…and now for the past three weeks Starbucks has gone radio silent?

Is Starbuck’s trying to launch a beach-head in social media on a photo sharing site while prohibiting actual photography in their stores just another typical example of a corporate misstep and blunder in social media?

Will Starbucks ever get back to the group with an actual definitive answer of what their photo policy is? Will it be before 2010? Will it be before 2011?

It reminds me of the time that the Whitney Museum in NYC tried to start a group on Flickr only to see it crash and burn when people showed up there objecting to the fact that, well, you can’t take photos in the Whitney (which is stupid given that the much more significant contemporary art museum the NY MOMA in New York allows photgraphy).

I actually like Starbucks a lot, am a frequent customer and especially when travelling and working, sort of think of their stores as almost a home base to recharge, log online, download photos, refuel the caffeine and use the restroom. For what it’s worth though I think that they should allow photography in their stores. Either way though, it makes Starbucks look foolish when they string people along for three months and then abandon the conversation.

Of course Orr is still around, she just posted in the “let´s found a chai latte fan-group:-)” thread 8 days ago.

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9 Comments

  1. […] It turns out that the situation is hardly clear at this point and after 3 Months we still have no idea if photos are allowed as originally suggested by Orr or not. What we do have are a series of week after week after week non-answers coming back from Starbucks marketing. Below are all of the responses filtered out from Starbucks which read like typical corporate doublespeak and delay tactics, with no official answer from Starbucks and no official answer anywhere near in sight […]

  2. Gary Denness says:

    I gotta say if I were an employee at Starbucks, I personally would object to having my photo taken. I´m just camera shy. As such I always offer people the same respect that I would ask of them – I ask if I can snap, very politely. If they say no, I tell them it´s no problem, very politely.

    But why start this sort of group if you aren´t going to have a store policy – at the start??

  3. Andy Frazer says:

    I have to agree with Gary. Each store manager should be able to prohibit photography within their store, regardless of the corporate policy. Remember, the barista’s are essentially in a cage and on display while they’re working behind the counter. I can’t think of many professions where I would want anyone to photograph me while I’m working. Of course, an exception should be made for fire/police since they’re in public service and there’s an expected contract of behavior that should be recordable and reviewable.

    But I agree that it makes no sense to start a Flickr group if the business’ policy does not support it.

  4. Keith says:

    Here is an irony that somebody else picked up. Starbucks does not allow photography but one of their corporate marketing people was plastering coffee samples on a national park sign in southern Utah and then posted a cute photo on Yahoo/Flickr.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/42346097@N02/3961039001/

  5. Matt says:

    Are there that many interesting subjects in Starbucks?

  6. Anon says:

    Legally, you can take the photos. If you really need the photos, don’t worry about the store manager until the manager starts worrying about you.

  7. Ryan (cube, on flickr) says:

    It is interesting that people automatically assume that if a photo is being taken, it must be of people. As the law is clear on this, if you have no assumed or obvious expectation of privacy, and are in a public place, or a place accessible to the general public, I don’t need permission to take your photo. though courtesy says otherwise, that is the law. I have been to many places, such as restaurants, bars, and coffee houses where there were allot more interesting thins to photograph than the people.

    I am a member of the “official” Starbucks coffee Flickr group, but have not as yet posted any photos to the group, and will not until this situation is clarified better than This:

    From Anali Orr, Flickr group admin and Starbucks Marketing Rep.

    “Here’s the answer that you’ve been waiting for …Photos are allowed in our stores for the purpose of sharing them in our Flickr group. You have helped us to see that there is confusion around this issue and we want to make sure we eliminate as much of that confusion as we can.”

    If I am only allowed to take a photograph in a Starbucks Coffee shop for the sole purpose of adding it to the Flickr group so it can possibly used for advertising, without financial compensation, FORGET IT, go find a high priced photographer and pay him to shoot, without hindrance I might add, your overpriced locations!

  8. SteelToad says:

    You might want to check the Flickr group again. My call to Starbucks Customer Service today found that you can NOT take pictures per company policy. They were a little surprised to learn that they had a Flickr group or that there was any issue.

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/starbuckscoffeecompany/discuss/72157623296949052/

  9. i have been to many starbucks here in san diego calif. and everyone of the employees in every store has stopped people from taking pictures.These people were taking pictures of their friends sitting at a table.The picture taker was told that if they snapped another picture the police would be called and their camera would be taken away.Bring you’re camera down and snap a picture.When they call the police you can get a copy of the incident report from the police dept. in about 3 weeks.Then take the report to a lawyer.In about 4 years you will be sitting on the beach in maui sipping mi-ties forever.