Are you a data whore without knowing it?

Now it may be just an inevitable part of becoming a grumpy middle-aged bugger, but today’s little incident regarding use and misuse of my data really set me off.

Those in the information security business will be all too aware of the “bar of chocolate syndrome” – calculated as the average “bribe” that most of us will accept in return for offering up personal data sufficient to compromise our on-line security.

As a regular traveller, I’ve become all too depressingly familiar with the routine request for my boarding card when making any purchases: there was a time when this was necessary to distingish, for example, intra and extra-European travel as it determined whether you would have to pay customs taxes or duty on your purchase, but the requests have now become ubiquitous, even – as I discovered today – when buying a bottle of water.

Now, my paranoid little mind is wondering what on earth could be the connection between a small retailer’s desire to see my – now digitally readable – boarding card and such a small purchase. There is no distinction between passengers here (at Amsterdam, but the same across the EU) and the digital boarding pass now offers up little gems of personal data without my explicit authorisation and in direct breach of EU data protection legislation. Worse – and my heart went out to the poor sales assistant here – the transaction could not even be started without the boarding pass being scanned. The choice was simple: compromise your privacy in breach of data protection laws or forget your bottle of water. In a fit of pique, I opted for the latter.

I hesitate between cock-up and conspiracy theory:

– cock-up: when the retailers got together do improve their business process management (see other postings and rants passim on this topic) they simply, as they all too often do, just routinely encapsulated the manual processes of today in designing the shining new electronic future. In this case, without any apparaent attention to data protection implications of giving a retailer access to: your name, your flight, your destination, your departure date and possibly (almost certainly) other electronic nuggets buried away in that magnetic strip.

– conspiracy: every retailer is looking to squeeze every last drop of interest out of every potential client, and every raw piece of data can be systematically analysed to detect and predict patterns of behaviour and thus potential marketing strategies. An opportunity for priviledged access to such wonderful personal data is not to be sniffed at, so the data mining is simply and quietly buried away in a system upgrade and fingers crossed hoping that members of the awkward squad won’t be that awkward as to complain to data protection authorities…I have, let’s see their response…

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