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Features

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Posted on 23 July 2012

Data

British Airways flies into privacy storm

British Airways today faced a backlash from privacy campaigners after it revealed plans to use the internet to create “dossiers” on passengers. The airline said it wanted to be able to deliver a more personal touch by researching passengers.

The “Know Me” programme will use Google images to find pictures of passengers so that staff can approach them as they arrive at the terminal or plane. BA staff will also search individual data held by the airline, including if a regular traveller has experienced problems on previous flights, such as delays, so that crew are primed to apologise.

Jo Boswell, head of customer analysis at BA, said: “We’re essentially trying to recreate the feeling of recognition you get in a favourite 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 recognise them and proactively approach them. The airline is aiming to send 4,500 personal recognition messages a day by the end of the year.”

But Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “Since when has buying a flight ticket meant giving your airline permission to start hunting for information about you on the internet? If British Airways want more information about us they can ask us for it, rather than ignoring people’s privacy and storing data without us having any idea what data they are storing.”

BA’s biggest rival, Virgin Atlantic, also faced complaints over privacy after it was alleged that one of its employees had leaked celebrities’ flight details to a paparazzi agency.