The debate about open data and its appropriate uses has taken a new twist with news that British Airways has revealed plans to use the internet to create “dossiers” on passengers. The “Know Me” programme is intended to enable the airline to provide a more friendly customer service and to this aim will use Google images to source pictures of high-profile passengers so that staff can greet them in a more personal manner as they arrive at the terminal or plane. The information gathering exercise does not stop there. The plan is to collect data from the airline’s own systems, from Google and other sources in order to create a comprehensive passenger profile, of those select passengers, enabling service executives, senior cabin crew and check-in staff, to deliver a more personal touch. Unsurprisingly, the “Know Me” programme has got privacy campaigners up in arms and the programme has been accused of invading individuals’ privacy and flying in the face of the principles enshrined in the UK’s data protection legislation. However, the airline has defended its position by maintaining that it is entirely compliant with the Data Protection Act and claiming that programme is simply another tool to enable British Airways to offer a new level of personal service. It appears that British Airways will only be collecting data which we have made publicly available, therefore, the onus is on individuals to think carefully about what personal information they release and how.
It is almost certain that over the coming years more and more personal data will be made widely accessible, whether through private networking organisations, such as Facebook, or through public releases.