Personal data as currency

Just read this on the NPR site:

No Cash Needed at This Cafe. Students Pay the Tab with Their Personal Data.

A few paragraphs from the article:

Shiru Cafe looks like a regular coffee shop. Inside, machines whir, baristas dispense caffeine and customers hammer away on laptops. But all of the customers are students, and there’s a reason for that. At Shiru Cafe, no college ID means no caffeine…

Sarah Ferris [is] assistant manager at the Shiru Cafe branch in Providence, R.I., located near Brown University.

Ferris will turn away customers if they’re not college students or faculty members. The cafe allows professors to pay, but students have something else the shop wants: their personal information.

Companies can host recruitment sessions inside the cafe. Two Brown students, in a letter to The Brown Daily Herald, called for a boycott of the cafe in December, calling into question the principles of some sponsor companies:

“According to The Herald’s article about the Shiru Cafe, ‘last year, 40 percent of JP Morgan Japan’s new hires were Shiru Cafe patrons.’ This statistic is alarming, given that JP Morgan engaged in deceitful financial practices which likely contributed [to] the 2008 financial crisis and then became the only large financial institution to make a profit during the crisis.”

But if handing over personal data seems invasive, Ferris said the students don’t seem to mind. She doesn’t think she has seen a single customer refuse to give up the data.

It certainly didn’t seem to bother Nina Wolff Landau, a junior at Brown University…

“Maybe I should have been more apprehensive, but everyone has your information at this point anyway,” she said. “To give out my name and email and what I study does not seem so risky to me.”

Here is the full article:


Wow that’s a defining moment of our times.

Yes, I agree. This makes me think of the recent production of The Lorax, which in addition to telling Dr. Seuss’s tale, also marketed Mazdas.

Something is embedded in these goodies, and it’s bad for us.

And what will happen if these students are offered a bonus for supplying the information of friends and family?

I came upon the same article yesterday via Hacker News, where it was discussed (120+ comments and background info):

Regarding the forum, there were some previous discussions on the same topic: Making data work for you and Please consider the idea that Facebook, Google, and Amazon owe you a lot of money.

I agree that this is a bad practice. There may be models where being in control of your own personal data, and giving some of it away (on your terms) to gain some benefit, might work. But it gets shady real quick.

Those students boycotted because JP Morgan had shady practices, but even had they not, the fact that their hires included 40% of people visiting that cafe is just plain wrong. This is just one place doing this and already leads to a kind of extortion situation: Only if you visit this and that place and provide this and that personal information, will you be eligible to land a job at reputable company XYZ. That is just terrible!

This article made me see that the data as currency model does not work.

You give away email, phone numbers, majors and interests on first visit to get a free coffee. How about return visits? Do you have to give progressively more private information to continue to be served?

As @patm mentions, how about giving away information on others? Or information about you, that is interwoven with that of others? Do you give that without their consent?

Now we have establishments that have data as their revenue. These have the incentive to maximize data collection, in order to maximize profits. How will they do that? Do the in-store camera’s have facial recognition, is there a microphone under your table? Do they track who you are with, how you behave, analyse your intellect, your emotions?

When visiting that cafe you will be put in a real-life echo chamber. The corporate sponsors have a say in the public they want to visit (in this case only students are allowed entry), in the topics they are interested in and the data they want to obtain.

What if you are visiting with friends, but do not want your information to be collected? From HN:

"It’s unfortunate that this is what privacy advocates are up against: “Maybe I should have been more apprehensive, but everyone has your information at this point anyway,” she said. “To give out my name and email and what I study does not seem so risky to me.”

“Unfortunately this kinda of apathy doesn’t leave much room for those who don’t want to give up their information. There is no alternate model for companies like Facebook or LinkedIn that allows for possibly paying users to maintain some level of privacy.” (by alphabettsy)

Finally, as one HN commenter also states, this is a move towards a Chinese style social credit system, where your place in society is associated with having the desired behavior and showing that in your data profile.

Everyone should boycott these kinds of privacy-invading joints, before data extortion becomes commonplace, widespread, and there is no way back!

One of the most significant things about the Chinese social-credit system is that your score can go down based on your associations. That’s right: your family and friends. If they have low credit scores and you continue to associate with them, it can affect you.


What is interesting as far as the expectation that “everybody has your data anyway” (I’ve heard it, too, in different contexts) is that the tech lobby spends a lot of money on creating cultural shifts like that.

The fact that this perception exists (or rather, that careless attitude) is not a coincidence. It is largely a combination of intentional influence and normal human inertia.

Wow though.

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