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Would you be okay with a stranger recognizing you by name and face at an airport check in? Oddly, this may soon be a reality.


British Airways wants to get personal. Through its “Know Me” customer service program, it will use Google images to find passenger photos so that airline staff can approach you as you arrive for your flight. While Nick Pickles, director of privacy group Big Brother Watch positioned that using passengers’ images without their consent “may be unlawful under the Data Protection Act”, a British Airways’ spokesman claimed, “We are entirely compliant with the UK Data Protection Act and would never breach that”.


Regardless, I find British Airways initiative concerning because:

1)      British Airways assumes passengers will like the new customer service. Uh, really? To me, it feels more like an invasion of privacy. Say I were at a British Airways check-in kiosk and a service rep said something like, “That was a nice outfit you wore at your birthday.” Ew! Rather than be pleased, I’d be alarmed. I’d wonder, what else does this stranger know about me? What are they sharing with others without my consent?


Sure British Airways personnel are trained to treat customers well, but they’re only human. What if an employee had just seen an embarrassing photo of you? It may be hard for him to craft a friendly and harmless greeting. And what if his attempt were to provoke a negative response? Is that really good for business?


2)      According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, it’s possible to identify people and gain access to personal information through use of face-recognition software and social media profiles. Does this mean if I’ve revealed my date of birth, current residence, and other personal info on Facebook that British Airways, whilst using face-recognition software to gather images of me on the site, could also access all my info? Without my express permission, I wouldn’t want anyone to obtain, let alone use, my personal stats for “business purposes.”


Time will tell if British Airways’ new program will gain momentum or be shut down due to negative consumer feedback and/or legislation.  But I think any business using personal customer information, under the guise of providing a “valuable” service, has a responsibility to let customers opt in or out. Don’t you?


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