A troubled history of user privacy at Cathay Pacific
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The flight entertainment system aboard the airline’s planes, too, will become part of a broader data collection strategy at Cathay Pacific. On one level, you could argue that the airline is just eager to provide Netflix-style recommendations anytime a passenger engages with the flight entertainment system. Or that, like Emirates Airlines, which enables video conferencing between first-class passengers and the flight crew, Cathay Pacific is eager to provide a new type of “premium” service that leverages all of the extensive data collection already underway.
But make no mistake about it – Cathay Pacific says that it is collecting every last scrap of data it can about passengers, and then combining all this data into a sort of super-profile for data transmission. The additional data being collected by Cathay Pacific includes information about lost luggage claims, previous travel itineraries, hobbies, interests, and airport activity before and after flights.
Are airlines taking privacy seriously enough?
This might sound very creepy, but as Cathay Pacific executives have explained in the past, it’s really just about remaining competitive in the high-end VIP air passenger marketplace. There’s big bucks to be made by super-serving the world’s elite passengers (including frequent flyers), and Cathay Pacific has clearly set its strategy on knowing as much as it can about these VIP passengers. That extends as far as the activities at the airport that these VIP passengers enjoy.
But, as the recent example of British Airways shows, there are a lot of trade-offs involved here when it comes to collecting data on passengers. British Airways is facing a potential $230 million fine for a massive data breach that impacted airline passenger records. Having access to so much data obviously comes with its share of risks, since that vast trove of data can be a goldmine for hackers. The goal of such a massive fine was to make an example of British Airways, showing other airlines that they should be taking user privacy very seriously.
No more illusions of passenger privacy
At one time, it was thought that what happened at 30,000 feet above the ground was safe from prying eyes. But that’s no longer the case. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has made it clear that airport lounges and aircraft seats are going to be watched, whether it is by CCTV on the ground or by flight entertainment systems in the air. And they are brutally honest that they will continue to collect information and personal data about its passengers. Of course, they tell us that this is merely for the new era of hyper-personalization and hyper-customization. But the sinking feeling here is that the era of surveillance capitalism may now be so entrenched and so ubiquitous that there simply can no longer be any illusion of passenger privacy when traveling.