WEDNESDAY 19 DEC 2012 10:45 AM


The public has spoken. Well, the Starbucks-sitting, latte-photo-taking public has spoken. The past few weeks have unleashed a PR maelstrom upon two major consumer-oriented companies. Both have attempted to respond to customer backlash quickly and directly.

Starbucks’ UK MD Kris Engskov distributed an explanatory statement in print and online to explain its resolution to the tax scandal that emerged earlier this month. Yesterday, Instagram’s decision to claim the right to sell users’ content and data has enraged its users. Today, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom released a statement clarifying the new terms and conditions, but avoided changing the company’s newly-adopted policy.

Starbucks has become the new punching bag for bitter coffee drinkers nationwide prompting many a ‘they don’t pay tax’ comment. Instagram users have yet to respond. For both of these brands, though, customers have the option to boycott in favour of alternatives. Thus the PR situation for each is particularly dire if losing a sizable portion of consumers is at stake.

Vanessa Barnett, technology and media lawyer at Charles Russell LLP, says, “Well, it's pretty stark isn't it: a flat permission to "display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata)" and one month to delete your photos if you don't like it.  But here's the thing, you don't have to use Instagram. As with all things, it's a balance isn't it. There's no free lunch on the Internet and the modern currency is not pounds, shillings and pence but personal data. What matters, and what the law says, is that if you collect and use personal data, you need to be transparent about it. As long as we have transparency, we also have free will.”

That only leaves the question of tomorrow hanging in the balance.

To read more about brand loyalty and recent PR problems, see the following links: