The yoga studio wanted my picture. I said no thank you.
August 25, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

The yoga studio wanted my picture. I said no thank you. Can you help me sort this out?

I took a $29 monthly unlimited intro at a local Bikram studio. On my 8th visit, the 9th day of the offer, they asked to take my picture. I could see the front desk was very efficient with swipe cards, sign-in to Mind Body Online, a webcam pointed in my direction was ready. I politely declined. They told me all students have their pictures associated with their sign-in profile, it is just for the front desk. I declined again and noted my work involves data security, that I'd rather not have an abundance of personal info in too many databases. They told me it was studio policy.

I was able to take class that day but would have to contact the owner, which I did. She said picture or no more classes. Things are still civil and polite, even when I asked for a refund. Via email, the owner's staff told me 8 drop-in classes would cost $128, they would not issue a refund. I simply picked up the phone, called my bank, and disputed. The dispute appears to be complete, the funds ($29) were returned to my account.

So this is mostly settled. However there are issues here that continue to disturb me, some of which aren't entirely clear. Firstly, I'm careful with my personal information. I'm one of those nutjobs who has opted out everywhere, I'm very private and discrete online, when asked for my address I often give only the zip unless asked for more, I take anonymous options when available. I do this partly because I do data security. I also do it because I can, because it's my right --or at least I think it is. Can a merchant require a photograph of you? And why a yoga studio? This is a place where I try to get away from obdurate bureaucracy, not show my papers.

So I've googled around and found things like "gym wants my fingerprints," "legal issues with photographing people" Yet nothing like "store/studio/merchant wants my picture" I'm wondering if there are legal issues with demanding photos of customers or must it just be a policy agreed to beforehand?

Also, much larger question... but it persists... why do so many allow this without thinking twice? To avoid the hassle? Didn't consider an unsecure database with photo, address, payment info, and more?
posted by uhom to Human Relations (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
This happened to me, too, probably at the same place. I will be interested to see the answers. I pretty much just quit going there after they persisted.
posted by liketitanic at 2:26 PM on August 25, 2011


Why not contact Consumerist.com with this story? It's probably not illegal, but they could still be embarrassed out of continuing this practice.
posted by emjaybee at 2:28 PM on August 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


There are probably auditors and insurance companies wanting this level of data. That said they were major jerks and even if their privacy policy was good, which it ain't, they did a Shit job of explaining it to you. Screw them and give then some negative reviews online.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:28 PM on August 25, 2011


In my experience, it's a quicker way for people to sign in at a gym. Swipe your card on a barcode reader, your pic comes up on a small monitor behind the desk where an employee can verify it is indeed you checking in, and you didn't just loan your card to your friend who hasn't paid.

I've done this for a few gyms and it doesn't bother me. It cuts down on time when lots of people are checking in. If it was a really small place I might think it's weird but this is pretty standard policy for most health clubs/gyms I think.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:29 PM on August 25, 2011 [17 favorites]


A private merchant can do whatever it wants. They take these pictures so that you can't hand off your membership to your sister on days you don't need it. They're just trying to cut down on unpaid/shared memberships, which is within their right.
posted by Melismata at 2:29 PM on August 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


Well, the merchant can basically choose to serve whoever they want. And I suspect that a drop-in class setup has some issues with people trying to share an account - which is a fairly big deal, because they have (or should have) waivers, medical info, emergency contact info, etc, for just the one person, and if something should happen to the other one, they're in a pretty sticky situation. A photo on file is a quick and effective way for a harried front-desk person to discourage that.

As for legal issues... well, I'm not a lawyer but we consulted with one at the dojo when discussing our picture-taking policy. Basically issues only arise when they use the photo for something marketing-like, is my understanding - keeping it on file or sticking it on an ID card isn't so much an issue. (We solve the former problem by getting people to sign a photo release, but that's totally optional.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:29 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


What jeff-o-matic said. I suspect this is a standard gym thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:30 PM on August 25, 2011


They may dispute the chargeback so be prepared for a follow-up response.

Frankly, if they were afraid you might share your membership, they could simply require you flash your photo ID at the front desk along with your membership card. Many gyms do this.

Have no idea about the rest. Just wanted to point that out.
posted by jbenben at 2:31 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't know...it's like that with school ids. Our students are 'swiped in' and an image appears to make sure there is no card sharing. You disputed it, you got your money back. Other clients may not mind. Why not just leave this alone? I don't mind if they have my photo, I assume they aren't going to do anything with it except for identify me and not allow others to use my card. You opted out, others will opt in. People are different, especially with regards to privacy issues. (many people would never type anything here for example!).
posted by bquarters at 2:31 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


They could easily solve the issue of shared memberships by checking the ID or driver's license for members without photos. That's not the issue.
posted by odinsdream at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yes, they could check against a driver's license.

It seems they do not want to do that, or set that precedent. Or they simply arbitrarily decided it was a good idea. It's a private business, they can do this. The OP got the money back and is free to go somewhere else.

Why is this an issue?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:37 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Exactly odinsdream-- or when you signed up, they could verify your ID, without swiping it or copying it, and when your card is swiped, the front desk person can easily see that you're verified. Or the people at the front desk could wake up, pay attention and learn who the regular members are.

Why would an insurance company need the data? It's just by the manual thinking, and anyone who questions the manual must be a bad person, with something to hide.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:38 PM on August 25, 2011


why a yoga studio?

Are you serious? You have an unlimited membership, paid by the month. They want to make sure that you, the owner of the membership, are the only one using it, so they issue ID cards that are associated with your photo.

I can understand why some people might not be comfortable with this, because the picture is electronically stored and, thus, infinitely replicable. However, you should really expect anyplace where you have to "badge in" to have your picture in some form. That's just going to be standard procedure.
posted by deanc at 2:38 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


why a yoga studio?

Are you serious? You have an unlimited membership, paid by the month. They want to make sure that you, the owner of the membership, are the only one using it, so they issue ID cards that are associated with your photo.


Yes, exactly. If they let you check in with your driver's license, they have to worry about forgeries--particularly with out of state licenses. When they have your photo on hand, they know it's you.

This really does not seem like an issue to me.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:42 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This really does not seem like an issue to me.

Nor me. If I were a merchant, I'd want to make sure my customers were those who had paid for their membership.

As a client, I'd want to make sure I was around the people who were supposed to be in the studio, not those who had swiped someone elses membership card and just slipped in unnoticed.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:45 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, they could check against a driver's license.

Not really. At least, it would require significantly more work to check drivers licenses. Swiping in with an ID card can let you confirm it's the member and doesn't require any data entry or manual retrieval of the file. Even if you're swiping in with a non-photo-bearing ID, it's more work to check the driver's license.
posted by jayder at 2:45 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow --thanks for the excellent responses. I should note that I'm familiar with the gym problem and find the "occasionally ask for picture ID" as fair game.

Also, at this place, it was entirely clear that a "government issued ID" would be required to sign up. We did that and that was fine.

Lastly, in the past 5 years I've been to 100+ yoga studios (of various traditions) in about 6 different cities. This is the first time I've been pressed for a pic.
posted by uhom at 2:46 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


uhom, I also work in data security, and I just wanted to say that I understand your discomfort.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:52 PM on August 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also, at this place, it was entirely clear that a "government issued ID" would be required to sign up. We did that and that was fine.

That's just to confirm you are the authorized signatory on the method of payment; it doesn't establish whether you're letting other people use your account.

Lastly, in the past 5 years I've been to 100+ yoga studios (of various traditions) in about 6 different cities. This is the first time I've been pressed for a pic.

Were others unlimited use? In any event, as yoga continues to become more popular, theft of services becomes more prevalent, and studios need to take greater precautions to ensure they're not getting ripped off. It would be a shame if people could just waltz in and take classes without paying for them.

oh.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:53 PM on August 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Can you compromise by having them take a picture of the words "See Photo ID" written out on a card?
posted by mikeh at 2:55 PM on August 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is the first time I've been pressed for a pic.

How many were offering unlimited use for less than the price of 2 drop-in classes?

why do so many allow this without thinking twice

From the perspective of someone who doesn't work specifically in data security (although I do work with and secure data), if they already have your name, address and payment details - I'm struggling to come up with something more that could be done with that data if they also had your picture.... other than sci-fi levels of plastic surgery to look like you in order to steal your identity in places that require photo-id ;) ... also unlimited use for $29 - people lose their senses over much worse bargains than that.
posted by missmagenta at 3:02 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was right--uhom and I had the same experience at the same place.

My problem was that there was no real way to opt out. You were either supposed to give them your picture or just forfeit your membership (no refunds. This place has a terrible refund policy.) When I said I didn't want to do it, instead of taking me aside to talk to me about it, they kept pushing while I was standing at the desk in front of a dozen other people. They let me go without taking the photo just to keep me from causing a scene. But they, apparently, are still unprepared to have people object and have a system for handling those objections.

And I agree with OP. In yoga studios, this is not common procedure. Especially in this yoga "tradition." This is, I think, an extension of the way THIS studio is managed, which is pretty alienating in general.
posted by liketitanic at 3:02 PM on August 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


[folks, question is not "what do you think of me?" please feel free to email the non-anon OP if you have non-answers to the question, thank you]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:04 PM on August 25, 2011


They can ask for whatever they want, and most people probably give in for the reason most people don't opt out of the full body scan at the airport - convenience.

That said, I'm not surprised that Bikram Yoga is the only yoga studio that's asked you for this. They're a very corporate organization that's more than a little bit creepy. Good for you for getting away from them.
posted by ignignokt at 3:06 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's understandably an issue for you, but the merchant isn't in the wrong. The prevention of fraud is a big deal to businesses, especially small ones who can't afford the loss. Sure they could check ID, but regardless of whether that's as efficient for them, it's within the bounds of a reasonable business decision. But now it just sounds like they want something you're just not willing to provide. Find another studio at comparable rates that will check your government-issued ID in lieu of a picture. Problem solved.
posted by Hylas at 3:06 PM on August 25, 2011


For me, the issue isn't the photo - the issue is that they instituted this policy after you payed for a month-long membership, and did not give any method to opt-out or to get a refund when the policy changed. I would probably report them to the BBB for this and copy the studio on the complaint, but it's kind of an empty gesture.
posted by muddgirl at 3:13 PM on August 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


As long as they have it written in their policies (membership terms & conditions) that the photo is a requirement, then they can demand it.
posted by Neekee at 3:18 PM on August 25, 2011


I am unclear why you need to sort this out. The studio is a private facility. They require members to have a photographic membership card. You do not wish to have one, and thus, you choose not to be a member and they choose not to extend membership to you.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:19 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


If this was the policy in place when he signed up, then I would agree, but that is not clear from the question. Furthermore, he visited for over a week before he was asked for a photo, which leads me to believe that it was a "studio policy" that was either just added, or sporadically enforced.
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you signed up, were you issued any sort of terms and conditions of the offer? Its their sandbox and if you don't play by their rules they're within their rights to say you can't play... however if they didn't tell you about that requirement before taking your money, that could be your angle. I'm English so I've no idea who you would complain to but I'm sure someone here will know.

(on the other hand I think its kinda harsh to do a chargeback over $29 when you got over $100 'worth' of services).

Your account was probably flagged for verification because of your atypical behaviour. These 'amazing' discount offers work because most people aren't even going to get their money's worth, but that doesn't work if people can share the membership.
posted by missmagenta at 3:23 PM on August 25, 2011


I would like to clarify that I think the studio handled this remarkably badly, and imposing conditions well after you gave them money is weird and quite possibly not legal (depending on what was in the actual agreement.) But the answer to the larger question of "Can they require me to let them take my picture" does appear to be "Yes."
posted by restless_nomad at 3:31 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like muddgirl above, I would have no problem with the policy itself. As many have explained, it's quite reasonable as a precaution against fraud, and I had no qualms about Costco taking a photo of me and printing it on the back of my membership card. So to answer one of your questions, no it's not unheard of for a merchant to require your photo, and there is nothing illegal about having such a policy. Your right to privacy != your right to services from a private business.

The problem was that the new policy was implemented partway through your month-long membership, and then enforced in a rather clumsy fashion. I can understand how that rubbed you the wrong way. The only legal issue I see here is perhaps contractual. But you got your money back, despite having already taken over a week's worth of classes. You were made whole again. What more do you want from them?

And I'm not getting what your "larger question" is. Are you looking for validation that others are silly sheep who don't think twice? Well, speaking personally, I wanted a Costco membership. That requires carrying a membership card with your photo on it. I saw very little benefit for anybody who might be interested in "stealing" a grainy image of my likeness. Maybe if you, as someone who is expert in data security, would like to elaborate, I'll think twice when my membership is up for renewal.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:47 PM on August 25, 2011


They're trying to prevent fraud on unlimited use accounts. Or they just like having the same system for everyone. It doesn't matter, they're within their right to run their business that way.

It might not be common in yoga studios but it is increasingly common in similar services.

I personally think they acted terrible towards you, but I would be worried about a reversed chargeback if I was you. If a business has solid records and can prove you used their services 8 times before filing for a full chargeback request, then your bank may side with them in a dispute. Most banks will return the money back into your account immediately at the initiation of a chargeback, but they'll pull it out just as fast (typically along with a service fee) if your chargebank is successfully disputed by the business' bank. If this yoga place is "very efficient" documenting their sign-ins, then it's just a matter of them notarizing their bank's dispute form and providing your visitation records. Based on my experience, it is shockingly easy to counter a chargeback if you have records of a customer's repeated use of services during a subscription period.
posted by foggy out there now at 3:58 PM on August 25, 2011


A lot of gyms do this because they don't want you to share your membership. The rock climbing gym I go to sometimes uses the same system. My gym prints a photo on your membership card for the same purpose, but they probably have a copy of the photo in their database as well. For the vast majority of visitors, this system is a lot easier than one in which they have to show photo ID every time they want to enter the gym, and it saves the business the problem of dealing with customers who forget their IDs. Having to show ID every time is a lot more bureaucratic "papers please!" feeling than swiping your card and having the front desk attendant greet you with a smile. In short, this is not an unreasonable way to run their business. It's not unreasonable for you to refuse either, but the consequence of that refusal is that you don't get to use their gym.

In the future, it might have been a better approach to explain your concerns and offer to show photo ID every time you visit the gym in place of having them store your photo. The owner might well refuse in the name of efficiency, but it's at least a potential compromise that basically meets everyone's needs. Saying "I want to use your gym but don't want to follow this fairly basic rule that protects your business" is not a particularly useful tactic for solving this sort of problem.

Also, I highly recommend that you never set foot in a casino if having your photo stored is a major concern of yours.
posted by zachlipton at 3:58 PM on August 25, 2011


The main hole in their policy is the assumption that the person at the desk will actually check or care that your photo matches your face. Given that, this only works as well as the people at the front desk. "See ID" is perfectly reasonable. Their inflexibility is surprisingly contrary to typical athletic club policy which is to sign everyone up and only appear to encourage them to come, but plan on you not coming. How odd.
posted by plinth at 4:18 PM on August 25, 2011


Another point about this: It sets a precedent. The owner wants a policy where people get their pictures taken so they can be verified when they check in. Someone objects and the owner lets him/her opt out, and instead check against the drivers license. Now others in line are going to see this and wonder "why is this person treated differently?" and potentially trouble can arise from this kind of thing. Maybe, maybe not. But I can easily see an owner simply making it mandatory and leaving it at that. Operating a yoga studio isn't in and of itself some magical exemption from rules or policy or privacy... Members can pay by credit cards for instance, which can get them into possible identity theft.

Really, in five different gyms/health clubs I've used in the last 12 years this has been the policy. It's not new and it's widespread. It's not a big deal, and if it is a big deal to you then walk away.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:25 PM on August 25, 2011


They should be able to have any policy they want, but they need to communicate it beforehand. If they don't and are not willing to refund you, that's definitely illegal and outrageous.

I find it interesting that the only other data security specialist to respond also understands your reluctance to share info. Personally, I hate this as well. I'm asked at many stores today for my zip code and email address. It's not even like they're asking, it's more that they expect it. Anyway, I always say no.

Give them a poor review online and tell them their required to tell customers upfront about their policy.
posted by xammerboy at 5:47 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


My I suggest that you not share with merchants the reason you don't want to give them personal data? It just leads to a full-on debate that you can never win. I never give my phone number out, and after having one too many arguments with dry cleaners about why they don't need my money, my clothes, and my number, I finally settled on "I don't have a telephone." It shocks them into silence, and they find another solution. For a photo, maybe you can say "It's against my religion." If pressed, say something about "graven images." The idea is to go for something surprising, and something that changes the conversation away from why you don't trust strangers with data.
posted by Houstonian at 6:03 PM on August 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


And I agree with OP. In yoga studios, this is not common procedure. Especially in this yoga "tradition." This is, I think, an extension of the way THIS studio is managed, which is pretty alienating in general.

Totally agree that this is bizarre and alienating behavior at a yoga studio. I suggest a very poor yelp review.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:15 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


My I suggest that you not share with merchants the reason you don't want to give them personal data? It just leads to a full-on debate that you can never win. I never give my phone number out, and after having one too many arguments with dry cleaners about why they don't need my money, my clothes, and my number, I finally settled on "I don't have a telephone." It shocks them into silence, and they find another solution. For a photo, maybe you can say "It's against my religion." If pressed, say something about "graven images." The idea is to go for something surprising, and something that changes the conversation away from why you don't trust strangers with data.

I agree with not arguing, and you can take it one step farther. "That's not possible, sorry."

Period. No other reasons. Why? It's just not, sorry. Shake your head, smile warmly but neutrally, hold up both hands in the near-universal sign for "no thanks," and repeat.
posted by desuetude at 10:06 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think "I'm not comfortable having my picture taken" is the only explanation you should give. I wonder whether the vehemence with which you argued made them dig their heels in and privately decide "nah, this lady is too much trouble, she can do it our way or not at all." There's a tendency, when people try to fight business practices/policies, to just close off to further debate.
posted by jayder at 7:29 AM on August 26, 2011


> why do so many allow this without thinking twice? To avoid the hassle? Didn't consider an unsecure database with photo, address, payment info, and more?

Places that have my photo on file include my Y, my dentist, and Costco. It didn't bother me because I've already trusted them with my address, credit card number, etc. I can't think of anything nefarious that someone could do with an unflattering photo of my face that they couldn't do without it.

Since you see it as a problem, I'd appreciate it if you could say what the problem is. I'm not picking a fight or asking you to defend yourself; I'm wondering what I'm missing, and if I should rethink my "sure, CHEESE!" policy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:40 AM on August 26, 2011


why do so many allow this without thinking twice? To avoid the hassle? Didn't consider an unsecure database with photo, address, payment info, and more?

My photo is already on my website, my flickr account, facebook, google accounts, my employer's website (associated with my office phone number, street address and email address), a club website (associated with my home street address), on another club website (associated with my personal phone number and email address). Adding it to a private database does not make me feel any less secure.

I was nervous about who did what with my data when I lived in pre-solidarity Poland and in immediately post-Tienanmen China, because communist dictatorships were collecting it and making decisions about my rights and the rights of others based on what they found. I don't care as much about capitalist uses of my data that could affect my ability to engage in commerce, and for which there is legal recourse available when that data is abused.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:37 AM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Definitely complain to the BBB, and, depending on how it jives with your privacy, give them a bad review at Yelp or somewhere else online.

This is not illegal (asking for a membership photo), but they should have made the policy clear on the first day when you signed up, and because they did not do so, you should have been offered a full refund when no compromise was reached. The fact that your bank honored your chargeback request indicates that they agree.

If they had violated state consumer law, you could also complain to the Attorney General, but in fact, they have not, so that's out.

If your bank reverses the chargeback and you end up out-of-pocket (as someone upthread suggested might happen, but I doubt), you can complain to your state's version of something like this: " The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs was established in 1977 with the intent of enforcing the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act and assisting consumers who have suffered loss as a result of deceptive business practices. "

My local YMCA does the photo thing, and when I asked, it's strictly so that people who forget a membership card can still work out that day. Apparently it happens pretty frequently. On the other hand, they asked me if I was okay with it before they snapped a photo.

Preventing fraud in a yoga studio? Please, people.
posted by thelastcamel at 10:10 AM on August 27, 2011


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