International airline Cathay Pacific has kicked a hornet’s nest that is user data privacy debate, by revealing that it is monitoring passengers onboard its flights. According to an article published in CNN, the airline has confirmed that it is monitoring the usage of the in-flight entertainment system (IFE) among onboard passengers and how they spend time during the flight. However, Cathay has clarified that these images aren’t captured using back seat cameras, but the CCTV cameras fixed around the airplane. Now as per my layman’s understanding, CCTV cameras are installed to ensure the safety of passengers, and not observe their behaviour and consumption of entertainment when on board. Whatever happened to our privacy?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Cathay Pacific airline has revealed that it is monitoring the passengers onboard its flight.
  • CCTV cameras are being used to study in-flight entertainment system usage among passengers.
  • But what if a passenger doesn’t want her or his usage to be monitored?
  • If you want to better your customer care, why not simply ask them?

However, Cathay has clarified that these images aren’t captured using back seat cameras, but the CCTV cameras fixed around the airplane.

The airline alleges that the data collection is designed to improve the flying experience with additional personalisation. However, the data could be shared with third-party partners for marketing purposes. The first question that comes to mind is, doesn’t the data collected before this revelation was made, violate users’ consent? Did it not occur to the airline that not all passengers may be okay with them being observed so intimately? If say a passenger does object to being monitor while on a Cathay Pacific flight, what measures will be taken to ensure his consent is respected? Or will acceptance of these terms be the only condition that a passenger will be able to fly with them? We all know how such collection of data, with or without exposure to a third party can be susceptible to misuse or syphoning via hacking. And while being monitored over a flight may seem trivial, do we seriously understand fully, the kind of privacy passengers may be giving up here, and what are its implications?

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The row around the compilation of user data by various services is a vast issue. As a user, there seems to be no escape from handing over information, no matter how trivial, away, something which you wouldn’t have done if you had a proper say in this matter. However, how many of us actually do take our data privacy seriously? Some may even argue, just what is wrong with the airline monitoring user’s entertainment consumption or how they choose to spend time while they are on flight. For starters, there this thing called consent. One size doesn’t fit all, similarly, it is inconsiderate to assume that everyone will be okay being monitored.

The airline alleges that the data collection is designed to improve the flying experience with additional personalisation. However, the data could be shared with third-party partners for marketing purposes.

Second, it is violation of privacy. Maybe I do not want the airline to know what kind of films I like to watch or whether I prefer to sleep or listen to music when am onboard a long haul flight. Or how many times did I go to the loo. Or do I sleep with my mouth open. One has to draw the line somewhere, and again, the level of invasion a passenger is willing to accept will vary.

A passenger has every right to deny being put under surveillance, outside of security purposes. I understand the need to better your in-flight services and entertainment, then why not ask the passenger what they want? Wouldn’t it bring more clarity, when it comes to customer demands, if they are made consciously by users, rather than ‘observed’?

Image Credit: Media India Group

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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