Well here’s an interesting/creepy use of the Internet:

British Airways is searching the Internet for photos of their passengers’ faces.

Tablet at airport

If you’re asking yourself ‘Um, whyyyy?’, the airline claims it’s a ‘customer service’ initiative so they can greet you personally at the gate. Apparently they want to be the bar on Cheers where everyone shouts ‘Norm!” as he walks in.

According to TIME and ABC News, British Airways is giving iPads to its agents and instructing them to surf the web for their passenger photos, flight history, and preferences, so they can create dossiers on each passenger. Launched earlier this month, this operation is called the ‘Know Me’ program. Of course, British Airways is starting the program by searching for info on their well-heeled VIP passengers which they lovingly describe as “captains of industry.”

A BA spokesperson explained their plan to the London Evening Standard: “The most recent advancement of the system enables the British Airways team to search Google images for a photo of specific customers so they can recognise them and proactively approach them. The airline is aiming to send 4,500 personal recognition messages a day by the end of the year.”

Flight attendant

Jo Boswell, who heads customer analysis at British Airways, added: “We’re essentially trying to recreate the feeling of recognition you get in a favourite 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.”

A myriad of possibilities, indeed. UK privacy experts are predictably publicly enraged. The director of Big Brother Watch, who has the awesome name Nick Pickles, said this to the Evening Standard: “Since when has buying a flight ticket meant giving your airline permission to start hunting for information about you on the internet? If British Airways want more information about us they can ask us for it, rather than ignoring people’s privacy and storing data without us having any idea what data they are storing.”

And trust me: if you have a brilliantly distinctive name like Nick Pickles, you’re making British Airways’ detective work all that much easier.

How do I feel about it?

Well I know two things:

1) I’m no longer going to feel guilty for searching for beach photos of British Airways employees like Jo Boswell (that’s not her pictured above)

2) When I pay for groceries now, the clerk hands me my card back, looks me straight in the eye, and ominously says “Thanks for coming, Mr. Hegan.” Naturally I assume this is a threat. It’s like they’re saying “We know where you live and we’re going to stab you in your home.”

So I do what anyone would do in this situation…I quickly grab the pen and jab it in their neck vein.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Are you comfortable with airlines building dossiers on you? And how would you like to be greeted at the gate? With a smile? A handshake? A hug? Or maybe a sweet l’il kiss on the lips?

— Ken Hegan

BING: how to protect your privacy online

Read more of Ken’s MSN travel stories here and follow him to victory on Twitter