Alex Kent:About the new ShiruCafé in downtown Amherst

  • Students working at Shiru Café, a new coffee shop in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/Carol Lollis

Monday, December 31, 2018

​​​​​Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Shiru store manager Rusty Daniels says, “We’re not selling any information. It’s not for sale.” That much seems unequivocal. He goes on, however: “It’s just for us to present to companies to make those connections” with students who are prospective employees. In this model, students just happen to provide personal information to Shiru. This information just happens to find its way to corporations. And those same corporations just happen to provide money to Shiru. Not much intentionality here; things just sort of happen.

Something is being bought and sold here. Something is up for sale here, and it must be something pretty valuable.

Personal information is the most valuable commodity being traded these days. A student’s name, major, interests (and student number — students have to give that information, too) sounds innocent, no different from what people routinely put up on Facebook or LinkedIn (Facebook: “We never sell user information...” Right.). But that information is clearly enough to form a picture of who a student is, a dossier. How that information is used is opaque to the individual who provides it.

What has happened here is that an excellent space that was once open to the public, where anyone could buy a cup of joe, is now off limits to all but students and faculty (who must pay for their beverages). A business like Shiru Café contributes little to the vitality of Amherst. It further isolates young people from townspeople, and it promotes a disingenuous corporatism that is corrosive to an open society.

Students, vote with your feet: Go to a real café, pay for your own cup of coffee, and mix with your community.

Alex Kent