Monday, May 15, 2006

Blogger or Corporate Spy?

At Whole Foods tonight--hoping to photoblog about food and what a fun, visually interesting place this particular store is--I took out a camera while standing in the bulk department. A voice immediately shouted out, "You can't take pictures here!" I asked why, and was directed to customer service; there, I was told that I might very well be a corporate spy. I explained that I was not a spy, but rather a blogger who was hoping to give them some free advertising, as I've done with various cafes and stores in Austin. The customer service person told me that I could file a complaint with the manager if I disliked the policy. The manager, then, began to smirk and giggle--apparently he found my disagreement with the policy laughable--as he recited what sounded like a memorized page from a corporate manual. I went to another corporate grocery store--Central Market, owned by HEB--and asked if they had the same policy. They did, but were much more polite about discussing the issue. It seems the only grocery-related photographs you'll see online any time soon are these shoes made from grocery bags.

It turns out this is an ongoing dispute between bloggers and corporate chains. Back in 2003, Boing Boing encouraged people to take pictures in Starbucks as an act of civil disobedience (even though Starbucks didn't have such a policy, after all).

Now, I will admit that I probably look more like a corporate spy than the average in-store picture-taker. My photos are often of things and displays, rather than people. But with digital cameras in cell phones--you can't really tell if someone is reading a text message or taking a picture--it seems clear that a real corporate spy would be able to take pictures regardless of any enforcement of the policy. The people who are punished and treated as if they were spies, then, are those who are innocently taking pictures of each other or those who want to spread word-of-mouth about a business.


Blogger Ann Althouse said...

On my blog, we discussed this problem in connection with the Madison Art Museum here. And I got chided for doing photographs in a thrift store here. It's pretty common to hear objections to pictures inside places, I think.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Todd said...

The same thing happened to my boyfriend at the Willy Street Food Coop (in Madison) of all places -- a place where we are ostensibly "member owners." He just intended to complement their artful display of fall produce; they accused him of being from Whole Foods.

12:07 PM  

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