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No Escape from Intrusive Technology

Summer 2012. Holiday time for millions. MBF Blog keeps a watching brief on the summer technology/social/hot topic stories you might want to keep in touch with…..

A harmless looking article appeared in the media recently. It said that British Airways staff will identify important customers by using technology to search Google to seek images of them so staff can ‘meet and greet’ them. These are people who are not mainstream well-known but would welcome being identified nonetheless.

The Know Me program will put faces to names. It will also apply to ‘passengers who may have encountered problems in the past’ so staff will go ‘the extra mile’ for them. Mmmm.

Not all potential customers are enamoured of the concept. David Angotti, writing on SearchEngineJournal called it ‘using technology to virtually stalk high-profile flyers.’

He said that their plan to provide 2000 staff with iPads that can access travel itineraries, complaint history and Google Images was inappropriate and invasive. BA defend it by likening it to being greeted by name in a favourite restaurant. They expect to identify and greet personally over 4000 passengers a day by the end of this year.

Some people may like it. Just as some do when complete strangers call them by their first names on some cold call. Or somebody just out of high school working as a receptionist uses the first name of a customer old enough to be their grandparent.

One doesn’t expect the restaurant to have researched you from your advance phone call, access your dining records and then kept all that forever. Joe Boswell, BA head of customer analysis is reported as saying, rather chillingly, ‘this is just the start — the system has a myriad of possibilities for the future.’

Nice to be asked

They have not asked customers’ permission to search Google to find information about them, including their picture. Google will trawl every known source, including social media, to find the images. Google will be the engine of choice for all companies to research customers. It will make airports even more ‘the retail opportunity’ than they are now.

Or shops, hospitals, other forms of transport. Anywhere there are people. Google will find them and make sure the retailers/providers have all they need to ‘know you, to sell to you alone’.

According to Angotti, BA are not the first into these turbulent skies. In December 2011, KLM announced ‘Social Seating’ to ‘enhance the flight experience’ during 2012. This was initially optional, so that is something.

They said that with all the hell that is modern air travel (security screening, lost luggage, cattle conditions), passengers would be happier if they could choose a ‘seat-mate’ around the same age or sharing similar interests. They planned to find out about people from social networks in order to let the matching begin.

Angotti was unable to find out if KLM intended to charge for this service, akin to air-borne dating, really. The possibilities for abuse are many. Salespeople sitting next to you (on either side), less chance to sit with your own friends/family, even more danger from the weird, whacky, freaky who may have taken a shine to you. A stalker’s charter, in essence.

On the one hand, we can’t help but admire businesses that push at the technological boundaries. They will not survive unless they do. On the other, the increasing decline in personal and private freedom of choice is depressing.

All this takes airport security to a whole new and possibly unwelcome level. Have a good flight!

The Future Arrives

And while you’re mid-air enjoy the thought that the highly trained cockpit crew are flying safely using computers to support them every mile of the way, particularly in landing and take off. Meanwhile, in the skies over Britain engineers are testing pilotless planes.

These are freight carriers at the moment. But a robot plane full of passengers may not be far off, with implications for air rescue and military activities. Drone combat craft have been around for a time now. The Docklands Light Railway has run without drivers for the best part of forty years.

So why not unmanned aircraft in the future?

SearchEngineJournal, David Angotti, 6 July 2012
SearchEngineJournal, David Angotti, 19 December 2011
Sunday Telegraph, Richard Gray, Flying solo: the robot planes with no need of a pilot, 9 July 2012

Image: Arpingstone