We all know about passengers' data driving big dividends.
But lately the airlines have made it a primary focus: Big Data and ancillary revenue; two industries that have
absolutely exploded in recent years.
Perhaps you knew about the TSA, Google and Facebook collecting data, but you didn't know about the airlines or Disney. How much is too much? When can we regulate this and tell businesses what they can can can't collect?
A New Source Of Revenue
Today, airlines are getting real-time data about customers as they go through the many touch points of any trip-booking, check-in, security, visiting an airport lounge, on the flight and after they return home.
Booking a flight involves giving up a lot of information; address and credit card, plus it reveals profitable metrics like gender and preferences for travel destinations.
The airlines might already be making money with your personal information by selling it to third-party marketers, as they all reserve the right to share or sell passenger data in their privacy policies.
The issue is, passengers have no way of knowing what data is captured, how long it is retained, how it is used, and who it's shared with, because it is concealed behind so much secrecy, including non-disclosure rules.
Data collection also includes storing vast amounts of customers' web traffic data when you book a flight online. By grabbing the cookies that each web user brings with them when they visit an airline's e-commerce website, an airline can find out what other sites a given consumer visited and what other searches they performed before purchasing a ticket.
Officially, airlines say they are mining this data to improve customer service to enhance the 'flying experience'.
Yet it's also clear they have the potential of making a fortune by gathering information about you and selling that information for profit.
Ironically, private companies are almost more eager to invade your privacy than the government is.
Learning At The Knee Of Disney
For decades Disney has been the one of the leader and a top inventor of data-mining and surveillance technology, which has in turn been licensed to governments, corporations and the airports.
The data goldmine Disney collects on their park attendees includes vast biometric details. What you eat, how you walk, all the camera photos Disney took with their advanced facial recognition platform, and fingerprints, because you have to give your thumb or your fingerprint to get into the parks.
Who else could now have that data? Government, your insurance agency, opposing counsel, advertisers, the list is endless. And Disney, just like the airlines, are under no legal obligation to report who'll have access to that data.
And through the Freedom of Information Act, Disney reportedly hands over to the Department of Defense all data on their customers.
But nothing more deftly captures the future of data mining than Disney's "MagicBands".
A forcibly disassembled MagicBand, revealing a cell battery, RFID chip, coiled and copper antennae, microcontroller and integrated circuit, plastic battery and IC housing. photo: Ian Bogost
An electric tagging device that some might say resembles parolee-wear, the bracelets give Disney unprecedented insight into a visitor's every physical move through the amusement park.
And when the visitors go home they continue to be tracked, if they keep their bracelet with them.
In a fascinating article by Christopher Elliott, it's amazing how quickly we are all prepared to give up our privacy.
The same Disney tracking technology is being copied at airports.
Tracking beacons are little wireless sensors that tell apps in your smartphone that you are nearby. They are ubiquitous, unregulated and coming to a location near you.
According to the Homeland Security Newswire, billions are being invested in the development and manufacture of biometric technologies capable of detecting and identifying anyone, anywhere in the world - via face, iris and voice recognition ID software, and so on.
Advertisers And The Surveillance Industry Salivate
Most of us feel that giving our data over to a private corporation, like Disney or the airlines, has limited scope. They can only reach us in certain places (e.g., their parks, their websites). And what's the worst those parks and websites are going to do?
Feels low risk. No big deal, because the power lies with us, the purchasers, to act. What's the worst that can happen?
Well, while they increase our happiness, we are creating a world devoid of liberty and privacy that not even the brightest science fiction writers could have imagined 20 years ago.
The insistence from the airlines that it's just about 'anticipating our needs' is just a small example of where we're headed.