Starbucks Pulls Plug on 'Jonathan's Card' Social Experiment

Those of you relying on the kindness of strangers, or more precisely: Jonathan Stark's Starbucks gift card, might want to bring an alternative payment method while getting your next caffeine kick.

Starbucks on Friday pulled the plug on the almost month-old social experiment where a mobile developer released an image of his iOS app Starbucks card and was inviting anyone to save it to their phone and use it to purchase drinks.

Mashable reports that Adam Brotman, vice president of digital ventures at Starbucks, called Stark on Friday to let him know his card would be deactivated. Brotman was apparently a fan of Stark's concept but in the end decided it had to be sidelined because sharing gift cards violates Starbucks' terms of service.

"I'm sad about it, first and foremost, because we were legitimately cheering on this experiment," Brotman told Mashable.

On Friday Sam Odio posted a blog claiming that he and others have made a script that would alert them to when Jonathan's card reached a certain balance and would then transfer donated money onto their own Starbuck's card.

"Since I don't find the idea of yuppies buying yuppies coffees very interesting, I decided to mix things up a bit," Odio wrote. "Through this strategy I've personally netted $625 by spending less than 5 hours at Starbucks. That's enough for an iPad."

To his credit, Odio said he wasn't going to buy himself a tablet. He planned to sell the card on eBay and donate the proceeds to Save The Children. After news of Odio's exploit reached the web, he offered to return the money if Stark considered it theft.

Starbucks then apparently felt it was time to end the experiment.

Stark got the idea for the social experiment because Starbucks only allows customers to link a Starbucks card to one phone at a time. As a developer, Stark often uses more than one phone. He found out that a screenshot of the app worked just like the real deal at the register. He posted his card details online and encouraged people to use it and deposit money when the account got low.

It will be interesting to see how Starbucks goes forward with its iOS app. Stark was presumably the first person to figure out that he could use an image to bypass Starbucks' one-phone-at a-time rule, but others will surely follow.

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