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Buying coffee, and giving up some privacy

Molly Wood Aug 9, 2012

Buying coffee, and giving up some privacy

Molly Wood Aug 9, 2012

Big advancements are being made to get lattes poured into your mouth faster. Starbucks announced it will use the Square payment system for all credit and debit card transactions starting this fall. Square is best known for little card readers that attach to phones or tablets.

But it goes beyond that. Starbucks wants to encourage use of Square’s app that lets customers pay for drinks without even taking their phone out of their pockets, using a GPS system. Starbucks is counting on this to catch on, so much that it’s invested $25 million  in Square.

Bill Maurer runs the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion at U.C. Irvine. He says, “The problem that this solves for Starbucks, I think, is that it moves people down the line more quickly. You’ve got customers who are all basically ordering and buying the same kind of thing, you don’t have a lot of diversity of products. And for people who already have a Starbucks card, it’s going to add another dimension to their loyalty. It’s a cool thing; it fits with the kind of busy professional lifestyle and a certain kind of market niche.”

Maurer thinks the stars may have aligned for this technology. “This is the first time that we have a retailer opting for a mobile payment solution and doing it in a big way with a lot of media attention, which is important here I think. And the second reason is because Square has actually been so good at devising payment solutions in general that have a really good user experience and don’t require a lot of behavior change on the part of the consumer. It’s basically used a very familiar card-swipe technology that we’ve all been using for decades now and added that on to the phone.”

So Starbucks is happy, Square, a newer company started by one of the founders of Twitter, is certainly happy with this deal.

What about people who want convenience and privacy? Might get tricky.

Nick Holland, an analyst with Yankee Group, breaks down how it works.

Nick Holland: You are kind of geo-located when you become within the vicinity of a store.  You effectively purchase before you even get there, or maybe you’re in line. Your name and a photo appear on the check-out. They know exactly who you are before you turn up. So, it could be seen as a little Orwelian, but i think a lot of people will kind of enjoy it.

Moe: So I’m photographed and identified and a barista is looking at a picture of me and knows my name before I ever walk into the store, I mean this is sort of the ongoing exchanging privacy for convenience balance, right?

Holland: Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, there’s a trade-off there and some people clearly won’t like it. But on the flip-side, I think for people who are regulars to a certain Starbucks location, it might be kind of nice.

Moe: So do I ever need to say my own name or is my phone just doing all that for me?

Holland: Oh, you don’t need a name anymore. It’s just a number. Oh, and it’s going to be implanted in your forehead, don’t worry about that.

So there it is. You’re dehumanized while being exposed to all Starbucks baristas.

BUT you’ll get your latte faster.


A few days ago, we told you about cat headphones. A few weeks ago, we told you about cat ear headbands for people. I don’t know why there are so many freaky cat technology stories but here we go again.

Researchers at the University of Georgia hooked up teeny video cameras to house cats and sent them out for the night to see how they spent their time.

In 44 percent of cases the answer is MURDER. Nearly half the cats spent the night trying to find things to kill. Eighty-five percent of the cats engaged in dangerous activities like crossing busy streets. The researchers have posted videos from cat collars including confronting a dog and fighting a possum.

It’s not all grim, however. There’s also one of making a cat friend.  Presumably to go cause trouble with.

After the researchers looked at all the footage, they did issue a recommendation: keep your cats indoors as much as possible.

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