Let’s Mess with Starbucks: A Datajacking Primer

Pity poor Starbucks.  Coffee snobs, a demographic that Starbucks all but created, love to hate them.  Whenever the American right wants to take a swipe at liberal values, they try to pull some stunt at Starbucks, such as mixing Berettas and cappuccinos.  Across the pond, British activists use the House of Mermaid as a stand-in for globalization and/or Yankee imperialism.  Since SBUX CEO Howard Schultz proudly supports Israel in his private life, some anti-Zionist organizations have suggested boycotts.

(On a personal note, I suggested a counter-boycott at the time and recommended that my Zionist friends buy multiple espressos in support.  Those were some very hyperactive Jews.)

Now I invite you to jump on the bandwagon and help me turn Starbucks cafes into rattling dens of death metal by messing with Starbucks’s data.


I’m gonna go ahead and suggest decaf

Starbucks recently announced a partnership with music streaming platform Spotify that allows Starbucks customers to identify songs playing in the cafes, to add them to their Spotify playlists and to “love” songs, i.e. rate them highly.  In turn, customers can

influence future Starbucks playlists as well as share these songs on social networks and “Play on Spotify.”

I had missed this last bit until my friend and former colleague Joseph T. Bradley mentioned it in a Facebook post.  That’s when the evil machinations of my twisted soul kicked in.

Here’s what you need to understand: marketers have begun to identify the win-win possibilities of data.  For example, Disney parks offer a convenience called the MagicBand, a wristband that includes a chip that visitors can use to pay for food without taking their wallets out.  In addition, the chip allows park cast members to identify visitors and greet them by name.  Thus, for individual families, the MagicBand represents a great enhancement to the park experience.

However, it also benefits the park operations staff as well.  They can use the aggregated data from the bands to determine where trouble might arise in the park.  Lots of MagicBands in Tomorrowland?  Better make sure the trash baskets get emptied.  Frontierland looking empty?  Maybe draw visitors that way by placing Minnie Mouse by the Liberty Square Riverboat dock.

That data exchange underpins Starbucks’s Spotify partnership.  As individual cafe visitors identify and “love” songs on Spotify, rest assured that servers will tally the data by location, daypart and, for all we know, what drinks they ordered.  As a result, they may find out that customers at the cafe at West 86th and Columbus Avenue want to hear Joni Mitchell while getting their morning coffee, Peter Tosh while working on their screenplays in the afternoon and smooth jazz to drown out awkward Tinder dates in the evening.

And that’s where you come in.  The way I see it, if we can get enough like-minded individuals together, we can pick a cafe and start punking Spotify.  We start by ignoring anything but the most lively and guitar-heavy rock.  Then we use “loves” and more ignoring until we get them through the Rolling Stones’s “Exile on Main Street” to the first four Led Zepplin records to 70s and 80s metal to GWAR and thus unto Carcass and Immolation.

I can’t promise you an easy victory.  Hell, I can’t promise you victory at all.  But I can promise you that together, we can drive some data analyst at SBUX HQ completely mental.


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