When I was a teenager, a group from my high school was given the very cool opportunity to take a tour of Jet Propulsion Laboratories. During the tour, one of the kids pulled out a pocket camera to take a couple of snapshots. His camera was quickly confiscated and returned at the end of the tour. Now I can understand a "no photos" policy at a government research facility, but what about in the produce section at a grocery store?
A friend of mine blogged about his recent visit to Whole Foods. He found it ridiculous that they were importing snow peas from Peru when they were currently growing beautifully locally. He snapped a photo of the sign and was promptly accosted by a Whole Foods clerk who explained the no photos policy.
Huh? Wha? He can't take a picture of a sign in their store? Is the content of the sign a trade secret... that they share with any member of the general public who walks through their doors?
But then I remember about a year ago. My son was about 20 months old and he wanted to push one of those junior shopper mini-carts in a Bartell Drugs store.
It was too cute. I had to take a photo. I did. I was then quickly informed that photo taking inside the store was against store policy. They didn't try to confiscate my camera or try to look at what I'd shot to make sure that I wasn't going to be walking out with valuable Bartell Drugs secrets. Still although it seemed a bit of an overreaction, I could sort of understand it because they're a pharmacy (that sells lightbulbs, frying pans, and geranium seeds), and there might be patient privacy issues.
But in a grocery store? Uh-oh, someone caught a dyed-in-the-wool Republican buying organic food! The local vegetarian is buying meat! The community will never be the same! Oh, the horror, the horror.
I'm not buying it, but it's not limited to Whole Foods and Bartell Drugs. This article at The Consumerist discusses how to take photos in a store without getting caught, because so many stores prohibit it.
Although the store has the right to refuse service to anyone, it is for all intents and purposes a public place when it comes to a person's expectations of privacy. In fact, aside from dressing rooms and bathrooms, courts have ruled that one of the reasons video surveillance in stores is legal is because you don't have an expectation of privacy. If it's legal to publish photos of Britney Spears making a fool of herself in public, no one should expect that they can't be photographed thumping a melon at the market or browsing a wall of shoes at Footlocker. And since the stores are stocked with cameras anyway, it's a really thinly stretched argument that they're prohibiting photos for the privacy of their customers.
And unless you're at a book store or some place full of visual intellectual property where your photos essentially constitute a copyright violation (and a legitimate one, not one where the store is copyrighting their signs to try to use the DMCA to slience criticism - I haven't heard of it being done, but it could be), I really don't see what else they're protecting by refusing to allow you to shoot photos... unless what they're protecting is their butts.
Think about it... a lot of the incidents you read about are where someone ran up against a "no photos" policy are not "is this the one you want me to buy" or "oh, that's so cute" situations. They're "no one will believe me unless I take a photo of this stupidity" situations. And I honestly believe that's why so many of these stores try to prevent you from taking photos or get in your face if they catch you. It's not to protect other customers and it's not to protect someone's copyright. It's to keep evidence of something stupid they did from circulating around the net and becoming an embarrassment.
But with the proliferation of camera phones and pocket-sized digital cameras that actually fit in a pocket, it's getting harder and harder for stores to stop people from taking pictures inside them. And I think this is a good thing. Businesses do stupid things, and if they get away with them, they sometimes feel the freedom and security to do more and bigger stupid things.
So kudos to Daniel Gray's photo of a Whole Foods sign and all the other shoppers out there who find stupid stuff worth photographing. Your pictures help encourage retailers to be less stupid in the future. Of course, I'm not going to hold my breath while I wait for the end of retailer stupidity, but you guys are making a dent... I hope.