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Cathay Pacific: Our Seatback Screens Are Recording You

An update to Cathay Pacific’s customer privacy policy makes clear that passengers flying on Cathay Pacific should expect absolutely no privacy. The Hong Kong-based carrier has served notice that everything from favorite in-flight dining choices and seatback entertainment selections to photographs taken onboard and even habits on the ground are fair game for data collection.
Being a passenger on a commercial passenger plane isn’t exactly the most private of situations, but for Cathay Pacific air travelers, life in the sky as well as on the ground may now be an open book. The airline’s frank new privacy policy removes any illusion of passenger privacy.
Cathay Pacific made headlines this spring when the airline admitted it was keeping an uncomfortably close watch on some elite customers in an effort to more efficiently anticipate its most valuable customers’ needs. The creepy policy has been in effect for months now, but a recent change to the carrier’s privacy policy is making clear exactly how potentially intrusive the new program could actually be in practice.
In March, Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg admitted that the airline was tracking 23 categories of elite passenger behavior to help the airline to better “understand what people like and what they don’t like.” Cathay crew members were told to begin tracking high-value flyers in the separate behavior categories earlier this year. The resulting database now includes individual passengers’ preferred seat settings, likely dining selections and favorite travel destinations among other highly personal habits.
“It’s everything that will make that journey comfortable,” Hogg explained when the policy first came to light.
According to a new report from Forbes, the Hong Kong flag carrier has amended its official personal data collection policy to allow the airline to compile a database with detailed information on passengers’ use of in-flight entertainment systems (IFE) – including, but not limited to, images recorded by seatback cameras, customers’ activities at airport terminals and even data obtained about membership activity in competing hotel and airline loyalty programs. The airline further says that the collected data will be possessed by the company for “as long as necessary.”
The airline is also making clear that its best efforts to protect intimate details about passengers is far from foolproof, calling its cybersecurity measures “commercially reasonable.” In November, company executives were called out by Hong Kong lawmakers who accused the airline of misleading the public about the seriousness of a massive data breach which may have compromised the personal information of as many as 9.4 million customers.
While other airlines have gone overboard attempting to reassure customers that tiny seatback cameras installed in some IFE systems will not be used to monitor or record passengers, Cathay Pacific appears to have specifically claimed the rights to any images recorded by the devices. The airline also used fine print and legalese to alert passengers that their activities after disembarking or prior to boarding may very well also be recorded, collected and archived.
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