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Reports From the Forum

Why Does British Airways Need to Know That I’m 98% LGBT?

Why Does British Airways Need to Know That I’m 98% LGBT?
Jeff Edwards

The FlyerTalk Forum is a pretty big place, so when a particularly good piece of FlyerTalk comes across our desks, we put it on the front page for regular Reports From the Forum. Want to read more? Check out the Reports From the Forum tag, or head to the forum yourself to see what the FlyerTalk is about.

A FlyerTalk member who took advantage of the U.K. legal right to learn exactly what sort of personal information British Airways (BA) had collected on him over the years, learned some surprising information from the exercise. After making a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the British flag carrier, FlyerTalker sku4525 learned that the company had checked a box labeling them “sensitive.” So he turned to the FlyerTalk forum and posted What Does BA Define as a “Sensitive Customer?” to see if anyone could shed light on the situation:

I’ve just received a subject access request response from BA and shortly after my [Corporate Customer Value] CCV number it lists ‘SENSITIVE CUSTOMER: Y?’ and I’m wondering what this means,” sku4525 wrote in a post starting what has become a fascinating thread.

Naturally; I’m wondering what one could have possibly done or given to BA to be deemed a ‘sensitive customer!?’ It’s definitely not any disability info as all those are in separate fields (and are empty as I’d expect) nor is it any historical issues of “unruly behaviour”, “suspected intoxication incident” or “abuse risk to public/staff” or “legal risk” (other 4 categories listed on the extended report and thankfully all negative).

I can’t see anything in any of the call centre/support team notes (of which there are many!) to suggest a reason as to it being in there. Unless submitting a SAR itself causes one to be considered “sensitive” 

A Problem Passenger?

Despite their not being singled out for specific categories of misbehavior, at least one FlyerTalker suggested that there could be less quantifiable reasons to label a difficult passenger as “sensitive.” On the other hand, Scots_Al notes that there are worse things to be called than sensitive.

“If you have had reason to submit a SAR, then presumably you’ve had some sort of run-in with BA and its customer services?” the FlyerTalk member wondered. “Is it possible that conscious of DPA, BA has decided that having a yes/no field entitled ‘sensitive’ is better than allowing its staff free text boxes where they can write ‘pain in the a—?’”

If You Have to Ask

Like the original poster, sku4525, other FlyerTalk members pondered whether the very act of making an SAR might cause a passenger to be labeled as sensitive. Of course, any passengers who make such a request would then be privy to this rather rude classification.

“My guess (and that is all it is) is that it indicates whether the passenger has made a Subject Access Request, which is as circular an argument as you can get,” corporate-wage-slave offered. “Welcome to FlyerTalk sku4525, and welcome to the BA forum. Sensitive or not, all are welcome here!”

Allergies or Medical Condition?

One FlyerTalk member suggested that the term “sensitive” might describe the information held rather than describing the passenger involved. The airline would, of course, have a legal responsibility to protect privileged medical information while, at the same time, be keen to keep a record of any potential liability issues.

“Another possibility is that it is a marker to alert staff that there is sensitive information in existence which is not generally available,” Often1 put forward in a post. “This might include information about medical conditions and the like which have been provided to BA for the express purpose of demonstrating ‘fit to fly’ but which should not be reviewed by staff in the ordinary course. Having the flag alerts staff to the possibility that a given file may require a different channel review.”

Perhaps a Compromised Account

Other FlyerTalk members considered it likely that the airline may be using the moniker “sensitive” to indicate that an individual passenger’s personal information was compromised during the recent and quite massive data breach at British Airways. If this is indeed the case, then tens of thousands of BA customers would be considered sensitive cases.

“Did you purchase tickets or where flying during the last time BA had a known hack of the database?” origin queried in a search for clues to solve this stubborn mystery.

“98% Being Gay/Lesbian/Transexual/Bisexual”

It turns out there was, in fact, alleged to be some sensitive information in the British Airways dossier on FlyerTalk member sku4525. There is also reason to believe that that sensitive information has already made its way into the wrong hands.

“I’ve never submitted a complaint only flight related queries,” sku4525 wrote in an update. “I submitted a SAR because…..well it’s my right to more than anything else and I was curious as to what BA held.

“I’m also trying to piece it all together as part of a project that I’m delivering a keynote on at a privacy summit next year. I was very surprised with the modeling BA has done it’s the kind of stuff that Axciom does.”

“How “% LIKELIHOOD OF BEING GAY/LESBIAN/TRANSSEXUAL/BISEXUAL = 98%” is required for BA’s operations is beyond me (I guess targeted marketing). I’m more offended that they think I’m 2% straight … You’d be surprised at how much random data is out there and how eventually that 98% of being gay made its way to the defense services in Saudi Arabia (a country I once lived in so wouldn’t really want them knowing that at the time) via data sale after data sale after more data sale!”

There’s Only One Way to Know for Sure

Although the FlyerTalk community raised a number of plausible scenarios as to what British Airways means by “sensitive” when used as the “internal field we use to categorize customers.” The only ones who know for certain are International Airline Group insiders and, so far, they are keeping this trade secret close to the vest. Although, DYKWIA did add that they “used to work on the benefit IT systems (Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance) etc., and they had a concept of ‘sensitivity’. Locally Sensitive – a value of 0 or 1. 1 would mean that the person was only sensitive in that particular office. It might mean something like the person was related to a member of staff at the office. Nationally Sensitive – 1 = Transexual, 2 = something else, and 3 = VIP (Politician, celebrity etc.)”

“As predicted, lots of speculation but the reality is only someone on BA could tell you what this means,” navylad lamented.

 

What possible reason would an airline have for labeling a passenger “sensitive” – even in an internal database? The truth is out there, but in the meantime, speculation continues on the British Airways Executive Club forum, along with some helpful tips on how to learn exactly what sort of sensitive information BA is keeping about you in their database.

View Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. Aloha1

    September 20, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Time was, the objective was to remain anonymous from the government and corporations. But in the age of “sharing everything”, you get what you sow. Don’t like it, kill off all your social media accounts. Naivete.

  2. alexmyboy

    September 24, 2019 at 5:24 am

    aloha1 shut up

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