British Airways Enters Privacy Storm Over Google Image Use
The dual concerns for individual privacy and security are two issues that never seem to rub smoothly alongside one another. Security hawks will argue that too much privacy will allow people to conduct terrible acts, whilst privacy campaigners will argue that too much security harms our freedom to live how we wish without really improving our security.
Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than at our airports, and British Airways (BA) has landed itself into hot water with privacy campaigners over its use of something really quite harmless.
BA claims that it wants to deliver a personal service to passengers by encouraging staff to 'research' passengers online. Once they've hunted the passenger down on Google Images, they will know what they look like and be able to greet them personally when they arrive at the airport.
The airline will combine this information with other data held on each passenger internally, such as whether they have had flight problems previously. This will form a dossier on each passenger as part of their 'Know Me' project.
Jo Boswell, head of customer analysis at BA, said: “We’re essentially trying to recreate the feeling of recognition you get in a favorite restaurant when you’re welcomed there, but in our case it will be delivered by thousands of staff to millions of customers. This is just the start — the system has a myriad of possibilities for the future.”
A BA spokesman added: “The most recent advancement of the system enables the British Airways team to search Google images for a photo of specific customers so they can recognize them and proactively approach them. The airline is aiming to send 4,500 personal recognition messages a day by the end of the year.”
Privacy campaigners have criticized the move however, claiming that the purchase of an airline ticket does not give the airline permission to research you on the Internet.
A spokesman for British Airways responded: "We are entirely compliant with the UK data protection act and would never breach that. Know Me is simply another tool to enable us to offer good customer service, similar to the recognition that high street loyalty scheme members expect.
"The Google Images search app helps our customer service team to recognize high profile travelers such as captains of industry who would be using our First class facilities enabling us to give a more personalized service."
Do you think this is acceptable or an invasion of our privacy?