British Airways and the Know Me saga: Should companies run image checks on customers?
British Airways has created a stir with its plan to run identity checks on “very important” business passengers.
The news has led other travel companies — airlines, casinos, airport limousine services — to wonder if they should should also look up online images of high-spending customers to provide elite travelers with personalized service.
BA’s Know Me program uses Google Image search to help staff recognize “captains of industry” and million-mile fliers when they enter the airport, first-class lounge, or airport and approach those customers to provide tailored attention.
Know Me is an extension of a BA customer service initiative that Tnooz has reported on before.
Since last November, the airline has loaded iPads with the travel itinerary, complaint history, and frequent flyer status of high-spending passengers and handed these iPads to about 2,000 front-line employees.
In a new twist, the iPads will now run Google Image searches to identify important customers. The goal is to send 4,500 personal recognition messages a day by year-end.
BA has given the example of a Silver Executive Club member flying in business class for the first time. The iPad’s image search will permit the crew member to welcome that customer by name on an airplane and explain the benefits of the cabin.
The Know Me program has sparked a furor among privacy advocates, who are upset that the airline hasn’t asked permission to do the searches, that it stores the images that are linked to profiles, and that front-line staff might in some way abuse the information.
Yet one could easily imagine travel companies inviting passengers to opt-in to image identification. An airport limousine service could invite users to identify themselves via the image associated with a social media account, such as on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare, to help a driver identify the passenger at the airport’s arrivals area.
KLM is using data from Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks to allow passengers to pick a seatmate with similar interests or background.
Major casinos in Las Vegas link customer databases to images taken of frequent customers through on-site video and camera equipment to identify prospects for further expenditures.
Harrah’s casinos, for instance, has a Total Rewards database of 25 million people who have played at their properties, and some of those individual records have been paired with images from in-casino surveillance technology.
L-1 Identity Solutions helps casinos identifies individuals using facial recognition software that analyzes casino camera video streams to perform sophisticated facial tracking.
Visual intelligence services for the hospitality sector are being developed by companies like 3VR.
What about other airlines, hotels, and car hire companies? Should they also run identity checks on high-spending customers?
NB: Agent searching for a profile via Shutterstock.
Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.