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Privacy concerns over British Airways' plan to Google passengers

A new British Airways programme aimed at creating a more personalised experience for customers has the airline in hot water with privacy advocates.

The airline recently started outfitting staff members with technology to help them recognise selected travelers, such as chief exectives of financial companies, without having to ask their name, The Telegraph reported. The 'Know Me' programme involves Googling future fliers so that cabin crew members and staff at check-in desks and first-class lounges can "put a face to the name before the customer sets foot in the airport."

The airline has said it just wants to create a more efficient and personal experience for customers, but the move expectantly has privacy campaigners up in arms.

"Surely if BA want[s] more information about us they can simply ask for it?" Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties and privacy group Big Brother Watch, wrote in a blog post.

Carr called on the Information Commissioner's Office to support stricter penalties for those who access information about customers without explicit consent.

"Until jail sentences can be handed out to those who deliberately obtain sensitive information that they are not entitled to, the public cannot be sure that their privacy is adequately protected," Carr wrote.

As part of 'Know Me,' some 2,000 airline staff will have access to iPads, which they'll use to search Google Images for passengers photos, according to the Daily Mail. The tablets will also store information about customers' travel and complaint histories, so crew members can apologise for past blunders, such as flight delays.

The airline aims to have staff members personally greet around 4,500 passengers a day by the end of 2012.

A British Airways spokesperson told the Daily Mail that the company is "entirely compliant with the UK Data Protection Act and would never breach that." The programme is intended to replicate the feeling you get when walking into your favorite restaurant where you're greeted by name.

Do you consider the "Know Me" idea a violation of passengers' privacy? Tell us in the comments below.

Image: Alamy