Complaining about airlines on Twitter is a universal pastime for disgruntled travelers, and yet somehow British Airways has managed to turn the activity into a data privacy debacle of its own doing. Security researcher and PhD student Mustafa Al-Bassam discovered yesterday that the airline’s social media team was demanding customers post a trove of personal information publicly on Twitter, so it could help investigate customer service claims. That included passport numbers, full addresses, and other sensitive info, as reported earlier today by TechCrunch.
Even weirder: the airline kept insisting this was to “comply with GDPR,” which is the General Data Protection Regulation. It’s the EU’s new widespread consumer privacy law designed to keep companies from collecting and selling personal information of internet users without their consent. So it doesn’t make much sense why British Airways would require customers post their personal information on Twitter for all to see just to get assistance about a missed or delayed flight.
Al-Bassam notes how, after some users complained about the airline’s bizarrely worded request, it began altering its replies to say that customers should DM them the info instead. Granted, GDPR is an 88-page, 56,000-word law that is quite complex and confusing. It also just went into effect on May 25th and many companies have struggled with compliance. Still, there’s nothing about GDPR that should imply it involves asking people to post personal information to Twitter.
Making matters worse for British Airways, Al-Bassam was only looking into the company’s Twitter activity because he discovered he couldn’t check in for his flight — to a security conference no less — without disabling his ad blocker. It turns out British Airways uses tracking cookies when you check into flights on a web browser that then sends your personal information to third-party sites.
As he notes, without proper consent, this is a violation of GDPR, the same GDPR that British Airways’ social media team thinks it’s complying with by asking people to post personal information on Twitter. After a frustrating back-and-forth with various members of the British Airways team about why there was no consent form or opt-out mechanism, Al-Bassam submitted a complaint to the airline, reposted here, voicing his concerns. He also outlined his plans to submit a more formal GDPR complaint with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office within 30 days if the company doesn’t remedy the issue with its web check-in process and ad-tracking practices.
Now, while it’s well understood that GDPR is confusing and takes some time to parse, it seems like there’s a more profound misunderstanding going on over at British Airways.