One of the world's best airlines admits it is filming you during your flight.

08:44 (GMT+2) Wed, 07 Aug 2019

Hong Kong's flag carrier airline, Cathay Pacific continuously ranks among the world's very best. It won Asia's Leading Airline of 2018 at the World Travel Awards and can brag with past accolades aplenty. 

However, it has re-opened an uncomfortable conversation about surveillance on board, begging the question: Would you willingly fly on an aircraft where you know Big Brother is watching? 

Earlier this year, several airlines including Emirates and Singapore Airlines owned up to logging passenger behaviour from in-flight entertainment centres, i.e. embedded seat-back cameras snapping what you watch, for how long, tracking your internet behaviour, and more. 

READ: Smile! Some airliners have cameras on seat-back screens sparking privacy concerns 

Cathay Pacific recently updated its privacy policy, noting that they are, in fact, collecting images of passengers on board. From observing behaviour during the flight to logging in-flight entertainment usage, it even starts watching you before you get onto the plane.

Yes, it has cameras installed in airport lounges, too.

Both for safety and security surveillance purposes as well as additional future personalisation reasons; the airline could also share your data with third-party partners for marketing. Yay, my name added to another ten promo cold call lists! 

Reassuringly, CNN reports that the airline doesn't have any CCTV surveillance cameras in the lavatories. So, at least there's that.  

Why surveillance is a problem

We want cameras close to the cockpit, yes! We want to be as safe on board an aircraft as possible, yes! But we also want privacy.

When you know you're being watched, you act differently. So should they just not tell us? That way the data might be more accurate. You'll be left to drool freely, with your head squeezed into the only corner of the seat that's about 10% comfy, without the added air travel anxiety that comes with knowing someone recorded video of you at your very worst. 

READ: This family found a hidden camera live-streaming inside their Airbnb - how to identify cameras in yours 

The biggest issue here is that of cybersecurity. Ultimately, surveillance is all about the power dynamics. The power is not in the passenger's hands, but rather the airline and unknown third-parties. Not those who will be giving you an annoying call, but rather those using your data for their own private gains. Cathay Pacific was hacked in 2018, compromising millions of passengers' data in the process. 

This could happen to any airline.

Even with strict access controls, security breaches are possible, and it leaves passengers exposed. The downfall of such a data gathering system is that the passenger is completely powerless as the data obtained on their behaviour on board, could be compromised and used in a different way than originally intended.

2019-08-06 16:30 - Marisa Crous


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