British Airways: Knowing Me, Googling You

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British Airways new “Know Me” program aims to Google all fliers so check-in staff can “put a face to the name before the customer sets foot in the airport,” reports the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

BA’s current airline practice to conduct a cursory check of flight manifests for VIPs, such as “chief executives of financial companies,” but “Know Me” takes it to a whole new level that exceeds KLM’s in-flight social matchmaking service.

Search results are forwarded to BA’s check-in and front-line staff, armed with iPads, who interact with the public and passengers. The airline carrier says the new program will enable their staff to proactively reach out to select clients. The “Know Me” program will also search individual histories in airline records to see if travelers have previously experienced problems with BA flights in order to have an apology or remedy at the ready.

“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,” said Jo Boswell, head of customer analysis at BA, to the London Evening Standard. “This is just the start — the system has a myriad of possibilities for the future.”[more]

A BA spokesman added to the Standard: “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.”

While privacy advocates are up in arms about the data mining and question the ethics of creating passenger “dossiers,” many agree that the Google searches are actually less invasive than current airport security pat-downs and procedures.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, a British privacy watchdog, told the Standard why he’s opposed to the move: “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.”

A BA spokesperson 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 recognise high profile travellers such as captains of industry who would be using our First class facilities enabling us to give a more personalised service.”

Invasive data-mining and privacy breach, or smart use of social and digital technology for better customer service? Share your thoughts in the comments.

[Image via Facebook.com/BritishAirways]

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