Why privacy is important for travelers

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When I talk about privacy and travel, most travelers look at me blankly. I get the “What-me-worry?” stare. But, travel records tell a lot about travelers and privacy rules and regulations are few and far between.

Airlines, hotels, rental cars, tour operators, cruise lines and other facets of the travel industry all operate via giant information technology (IT) networks. Each operator has their own network and each operator is plugged into even larger networks that allow passengers to access information about their travels from every corner of the world.

The government’s creation of rules and regulations about privacy are split between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Transportation (DOT). The FTC sets privacy rules for most of the economy and many travel providers such as hotels, cruise lines and rental cars. DOT is responsible for setting privacy rules for airlines and ticket agents that include the giant central reservation systems that span the world and connect all travel reservations.

Last year, Travelers United was the lead consumer group that resulted in the first-ever privacy discussions among consumers, the FTC, DOT, airlines, travel agents and computer operators before the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections. The work is ongoing, with meetings to be scheduled with airlines and other privacy groups.

In addition, the Senate Commerce Committee has recently sent a letter to airlines noting privacy concerns.

An additional transparency issue concerns how airlines handle personal information that they obtain from consumers through the ticket purchase process or otherwise. Data collected during ticket purchase can include a passenger’s name, credit card numbers, date of birth, addresses, travel destinations, and travel companions, among other information. No comprehensive federal privacy law currently applies to the collection, use, and disclosure of consumer travel information. Consumer advocates have expressed concern that airline privacy policies can contain substantial caveats and that it is difficult for consumers to learn what information airlines and others in the travel sector are collecting, keeping, and sharing about them.

It doesn’t take much consideration to realize that the security of travel data is important, very important. It contains forms of payment, passport information, reservations on all types of transportation, lodging, preferences, back-up information and more.

And now, the airline industry via the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is proposing new technology standards that would allow airlines and, eventually, other travel providers to create “personalized prices” for travelers.

In other words, the airline or hotel would be able to look at travel data and combine it with third-party information that they can purchase. After examining data such as the value of your home, your annual income, where you went to school, what kind of car you drive, etc., then mixing it up with the data that they have in their own IT systems, travel providers hope to be able to offer individuals the perfect price.

Voila! An airline could serve passengers very personal prices with exactly the ancillary services that they should want. We passengers wouldn’t even have to think. The airlines would do our thinking for us. Heck, if IT advances and databases become powerful enough, the entire trip planning system can be automated and our vacations may be planned from start to finish on what personal data shows we might want.

Of course, there is another way to look at personalization or customized pricing — that would be to put the customer in charge of customizing their own palette of flights and services that we select for ourselves. Of course, that would require the airlines and other travel providers to make available to us a useable menu of services and prices that airlines still refuse to provide in a form where total prices can be compared across the industry.

• Privacy matters from a security point of view, both personal and financial.

• Information airlines and other travel providers keep about travelers matters as they seek, in the future, to personalize pricing and, today, to market their products.

Consumers should have a system in place that would require all travel providers to tell consumers what information the industry is holding about them. If nothing else, consumers would be able to make sure that the information is accurate, even if they have no control over how the information is used.

Should airlines be allowed to "personalize" airfares based on data collection about consumer buying behaviors?

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  • Stephen0118

    As long as they use my previous flying habits to tailor my fares, then I’m ok with them collecting info. If they tend to use my income etc just to set the airline fare—no.

  • AKFLyer

    I don’t pay more at restaurants or for rental cars just because my household income is above the median. Why wouldn’t I want to have the same access as everyone else to the lowest possible fares, and then make my own decisions about things like price v. schedule, good seating, FF mileage, etc.? I only weigh 110 LBS so have been subsidizing virtually all other adults’ fares all my life already (aircraft operations are highly dependent on fuel costs, and since fuselage volume is fixed, weight is the determining factor in how much fuel is needed to move pax from point A to point B). Not interested in paying more just because, in theory, I am able to. And why else would the airlines want to “customize” my fares? No to save themselves money, you can be sure! The only way I’d take this deal is if the fare was based on my weight plus luggage.

  • Nevsky2

    If you are concerned about your privacy rights, do not rent a bike from Cit Bike in New York. Its terms say:

    Section 21 Waivers
    “You do hereby…give Your full and unconditional consent to
    NYCBS…to use at any time and from time to time, without any
    restriction, Your appearance and voice in photographs, videos, and
    other recordings, … for all press, promotional, advertising,
    publicity, and other commercial purposes,… and otherwise RECORD YOUR
    APPEARANCE and voice, AT ANY TIME AND FROM TIME TO TIME,… and… the
    right to use… and exploit…, the photographs, videos.. and all related
    merchandising, promotions, advertising, and publicity; and (3) waive,
    release, and discharge … from all Claims that You have or may have for
    any libel, defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity…..”
    (emphasis added) .

    Note they ask for rights to photograph you anywhere, at any time
    (regardless of whether using their bikes), and use for any purpose.