Should Businesses Be Able to Google Customers?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Allan Pratt, MBA


British Airways just announced that it would conduct Google searches on its passengers in an effort to create customized experiences for its travelers.

According to the London Evening Standard newspaper, “We’re trying to recreate the feeling of recognition you get in a favorite restaurant when you’re welcomed there, but in our case it will be delivered by thousands of staff to millions of customers. This is just the start, the system has a myriad of possibilities for the future,” explained Jo Boswell, head of customer analysis at British Airways.

The reality is, any information that exists in the public domain is fair game for anyone to see. Anyone may be your boss, your grandmother, your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, or a company with whom you have done or will do business. This may seem inappropriate and offensive, and it might be – but for the moment, it’s not illegal.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where everyone puts his or her entire history online for the public to see. As a result, it should come as no surprise that businesses are taking advantage of the public’s fascination of placing their day-to-day activities on social networking sites. This data ranges from check-ins at coffee houses, supermarkets, restaurants, etc., to family news and photos.

Companies may be saying: Who needs to ask for data when it is so readily available? We have brought this situation upon ourselves as obsessive users of social media, so we have only ourselves to blame.

Successful marketers often talk about creating customized experiences for their customers in order to create satisfied REPEAT customers, which makes their jobs easier. But there is definitely a line between asking for confidential data, such as, birthdate, anniversary date, etc., and just taking the information.

Just as other websites out there that provide access to your information, this new phenomenon basically aggregates your data and hands it over to identity thieves. Has British Airways considered this? By the way, British Airways doesn’t address this issue anywhere on its website. I wonder why.

What may seem novel today may become a trap in the future.

Allan Pratt, an infosec consultant, represents the alignment of marketing, management, and technology. With an MBA Degree and four CompTIA certs in hardware, software, networking, and security, Allan translates tech issues into everyday language that is easily understandable by all business units. Expertise includes installation and maintenance of hardware, software, peripherals, printers, and wireless networking; development and implementation of integration and security plans; project management; and development of technical marketing and web strategies in the IT industry. Follow Allan on Twitter ( and on Facebook (

Cross-Posted from Tips4Tech

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