Summary:

Usually my e-mail from Starbucks (NSDQ: SBUX) is about the new reserve coffee or some other promo about the company’s products. But the mess…

Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks
photo: Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Usually my e-mail from Starbucks (NSDQ: SBUX) is about the new reserve coffee or some other promo about the company’s products. But the message from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz addressed to “Starbucks Friend and Fellow Citizen”: that just hit my inbox has a very different subject, one that raises the question of how companies should use access they’ve been given by customers.

Schultz went public three weeks ago with his decision not to donate money to any campaigns and his appeal to fellow business leaders to follow suit. AOL (NYSE: AOL) CEO Tim Armstrong was among the 100 or so CEOs who quickly agreed. Since then, Schultz has gone into full campaign mode in his campaign against political business as usual, making TV appearances and launching a “take the pledge” effort at http://www.upwardspiral2011.org and aimed at getting both CEOs and other donors to take the pledge.

Today’s e-mail blast touts the next step: “a national call-in conversation on Tuesday September 6th hosted by ‘No Labels.’ a nonpartisan organization dedicated to fostering cooperative and more effective government.”

Click on the Upward Spiral link and you can either RSVP or “take the pledge.” That takes you to a Facebook page describing the “platform for action” where you can pledge not to donate and/or to hire. So far it stands at 2,047 promising not to donate — which may sound like a small number but can reflect a lot of money that usually goes to candidates — and 308 pledging to hire.

I wanted to know more but when I clicked on the “tell me more” button I rebelled at all the Facebook permissions it took to get there. I should be able to find out more about an effort like this without giving up privacy.

That brings me back in a way to the beginning. I’m not offended by today’s e-mail from Howard Schultz. He has a powerful consumer pulpit and a message he thinks is important enough to use all of his resources to get across. It’s in keeping with the emphasis Starbucks has had on responsible giving for many years and other efforts.

But I probably wouldn’t feel ok if it were the head of another public company — or any company — using my permission for a consumer relationship to send messages about, say, a proposition to ban gay marriage or to back a specific candidate. How about an opt in for any info that isn’t directly related to the company’s goods and services?

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