British Airways Program Gets To Know Its Customers A Little Too Well

We’re not even sure it’s a good idea to Google a date before you get the chance to meet them in person (“Why such a large collection of tiny dolls?” etc.), so checking out passengers online before they arrive for a flight? That could get uncomfortable. A new British Airways program called “Know Me” has some privacy advocates worried that it gets to know its customers a little too much.

In the last year, the airline handed out iPads to its employees so they could search passenger data, saying it wanted to better serve VIP passengers. The employees would sift through information like past travel arrangements, food preferences and even check out Google images to get a glimpse at what a person looks like. That way, said British Airways, crew members could recognize travelers as they board, to make things more “personal.”

“We’re essentially trying to re-create 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,” Joe Boswell, a spokesman for British Airways said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But privacy watchdog groups aren’t too pleased about the warm howdy-and-hello treatment based on online searching.

“Since when has buying a flight ticket meant giving your airline permission to start hunting for information about you on the Internet?” asked the director of the London-based privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch.

Let this be where I make my preference for sitting next to nice-smelling, un-chatty people known on the Internet.

British Airways program upsets privacy groups [Los Angeles Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. shufflemoomin says:

    If it’s publicly available information, I honestly don’t see the problem. You don’t need someone’s permission to look at freely available information.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      This. If you don’t want people seeing it, don’t put it on the interwebs.

      • IphtashuFitz says:

        A hell of a lot easier said than done. How do you prevent friends or even distant acquaintances from uploading a photo that includes them and you to Facebook? Has your name ever been mentioned in a newspaper or magazine article? Have you ever purchased a house/condo? You’d be amazed at all the ways your personal information can leak onto the “interwebs” without your knowledge.

        • 180CS says:

          Just Google yourself, read through the first few pages of results, and kindly ask for any info about yourself you don’t like to be removed. Usually you’ll get your wish.

          As for public record of your home ownership, I doubt this will be of any use to them. Facebook photos? If a friend tags you and you don’t like it, untag em!

    • Black Bellamy says:

      How about the next time you call me to have your broken website fixed, I come to your house at four in the morning and dig through your publicly available garbage that you put out the night before. That way when I’m giving you a price quote I can build a closer relationship with you by making a funny quip based on the type of condom you used last night.

      Just because you can and are allowed to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

      • 180CS says:

        Hence, make it opt in.

        Personally, I always look through a clients digital garbage when I’m doing a website. When I started doing that, clients became much happier with how I was able to make a product they truly loved.

  2. Applekid says:

    I have no problem with British Airways knowing what I like.

    So I presume I’ll be greeted with a swift kick to the balls and a noose tightened around my neck.

    Thanks for the Google bomb of my name, ex.

  3. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    So they think people want personalized service and a relationship with their airline and their solution is…to fake it? Anyone searching publicly available information about me would not find anything useful about me personally except they could easily deduce 1) my political leanings (my public posts tend to be news articles), and 2) I like beer.

    I wouldn’t mind them catering to that second one, but the first one gives them no traction as far as customer service goes.

  4. GMFish says:

    I’m so lucky. My real name is also the name of a character in a semi-successful TV show. So I’m completely invisible online. You can dig through one hundred results on google and still not find anything about me.

  5. bnceo says:

    I’m not too big on this because it’s a cheap attempt to really get to know people.

    Back in the good ol days, employees would garner this information through actual experience with the customer and the sharing of these experiences with other employees.

    Sure it’s not illegal, but knowing this, it’s a fake way going about it. Learn from your customers by actually interacting with them.

  6. Murph1908 says:

    Buying a ticket does NOT give BA permission to look you up on the internet.

    YOU gave BA permission to look you up on the internet when you posted your info there.

    Now, I agree with Max that this is a phony way to try to create a ‘relationship’. But they aren’t doing anything that you haven’t opened yourself up to.

  7. Quirk Sugarplum says:

    I think I’d get a much better customer experience knowing intimate details of the flight crew, rather than the other way ’round.

    “Hi Joan. So glad you’re one of my Flight Attendants! Just so you know, if I don’t get my drinks on a timely basis then your adorable little dog Smuffykins will only be able to fetch roots starting tomorrow. Thanks!”

  8. Pants O Doom says:

    Wait, Britain has any privacy to begin with?

    • BigHeadEd says:

      My thoughts as well. Couldn’t they just use images from one of the million CCD cameras scattered all over the island?

  9. 180CS says:

    Last I checked, anyone could search for information about you online. You didn’t even have to buy an airline ticket for it!

    Is it nosy? Depends on who you are. If Quirk can explain this in a 30 second read, why not condense what this is all about to a 10 second read, with an opt in checkbox next to it at checkout? Personally, I think that if they don’t screw up whose who, I’d find this service more pleasant than nosy.

  10. cactus jack says:

    WiFi in Terminal 5 is crap anyway (even in their own lounge). Doubt they’ll get too far with it. :p

    If they want to please people, add WiFi aboard more flights (especially the long hauls). Their business class setup is nice, but it’s definitely missing this key tool.

  11. Sarek says:

    They should survey their customers: would you like us to greet you by name, or would you like us to make flying enjoyable again?

  12. BigHeadEd says:

    I fly BA multiple times a year for international hops and generally enjoy the service, even without it being personalized. “Good evening sir” (as they look at my boarding pass) “across the aisle and down on your left please.” is all I need to hear when boarding. I’m not looking for a friendship. What I would like is on-time departures, comfortable cabin temperatures, a couple of cocktails, and a seat comfortable enough to catch some shut-eye on an 11 hour flight.

  13. Not Given says:

    Feel free to find out all you want about a librarian, who is into genealogy, in another state.

  14. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    DHS has done this and this might start them it a lot now. It does not make me happy.

    I remember a few years ago when a retired Canadian university professor tried to enter the U.S. to visit his grown children as he had done many, many times before. The newspaper reports said the people at the border crossing actually Googled his name and saw that he had co-authored an academic paper on LSD and that he had tried using LSD in the 1960’s in a research project. They denied him entry and he was put on a lifetime ban for “using drugs.” This, in spite of that fact that LSD was not illegal in Canada at that time (and I believe it was not illegal in the U.S. as well).

    So, yeah, I’m thrilled to pieces that Google is being used.

  15. dush says:

    If that info is already publicly available on the Internet then how is that a privacy concern?

  16. j2.718ff says:

    They’re searching publicly available information. There’s nothing wrong with this.

    They’re doing it so that strangers (flight attendants you might have never met before) can pretend like they know you. That’s kinda creepy, But I suppose if you’re important enough, you’re already used to people you don’t know pretending to know you.

  17. HogwartsProfessor says:

    No, I don’t want the flight attendant being all fake smarmy friendish toward me. It’s like that phoney squatting thing waiters do, which drives me crazy. It’s so fake. Just do your job right, bring me what I ask for, and I’ll just sit here quietly with my book and be good.

  18. Zyada says:

    Someone at British Airways needs to read this:

    Relevant quote:
    ” there are levels of intimacy we achieve with each other as people over time, and when you try to jump the queue, that’s definitely creepy. … If you have ever attempted to ingratiate yourself with someone by displaying knowledge of them gleaned from outside research–perhaps in some misguided belief that your friends know this, and I know this, ergo we must be friends”

  19. MarkFL says:

    It’s not even really useful, unless you’re looking up someone with a REALLY unique name. For example, Google will tell you that I make quilts and I am a reporter for the Associated Press. Also, my father is married to a well-known actress and my brother used to be a producer on “Frasier.”

    Except none of it is actually true. Just people with the same names.

  20. Cacao says:

    One time, on a really long flight from the west coast to Europe, the airline I was on (BA? KLM? AirCanada?) had an interactive trivia game as entertainment. And you played against people on the same flight! But you were only identified by your row/seat#. It was very fun.

    But that’s as far as I would go in getting to know the people I’m flying with. (Whooping them with my amazing trivia knowledge)