Expert Speak Guest Column Opinion

THE THIN ICE OF INFORMED CONSENT

As technology comes centre stage, it will be wise for its beneficiaries to also watch their back.

A few years back an American journal had reported that a certain company had utilized data analytics to determine that Mac users may pay higher rates for hotel rooms than their PC-using counterparts. Deductions about just any consumer behavior have always been used by analytics to manipulate customer segments. As AI and the keen arm of IoT extends deeper, many raise concerns over how much customers (read guests in travel parlance) would be comfortable with having their info being dabbled with.

As personal data gets more easily exposed and available, businesses in any field increasingly face ethical decision dilemmas. Correlating data can provide interesting sidelights and even serious information that can give economic benefits. There is, prima facie nothing sinister about using data to develop customer knowledge patterns. The field of big data is now more user-focused. This opens the possibilities of treading on thin ice of the contours of ‘informed consent’.

How a simple guest detail can be utilized by a travel business is always open. The customer can not know or understand what will be garnered from her data or how it will be used.

At the same, the parameters of informed consent have widened of late. They have also been specified as either ‘broad consent’ or ‘tiered consent’. The former pre-authorizes secondary use of data info and the latter implies consent to specific secondary uses.

Now how does this impact the travel business? Companies either mining the data or gleaning it off clients’ social media presence are not directly the arm of travel companies themselves. But by sheer linkages, the future legalese jungles could throw up new and unexpected encounters.

Of course the industry must venture out and utilise all info available freely (or even at a price) to develop its business and market. However the time is near when caution will not be merely a statutory line in fine print. Not being alarmist, but it might actually be more prudent for marketing to work in close liaison with the legal department in the near future!

Anurag Yadav

Industy Expert
The views expressed in the column are of the author, and may or may not be endorsed by the publication.

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