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Cathay Pacific: We Are Collecting Your Data

Cathay Pacific: We Are Collecting Your Data
Jeff Edwards

An update to Cathay Pacific’s customer privacy policy makes clear that passengers flying on Cathay Pacific should expect absolutely no privacy. The Hong Kong-based carrier has served notice that everything from favorite in-flight dining choices and seatback entertainment selections to photographs taken onboard and even habits on the ground are fair game for data collection.

Being a passenger on a commercial passenger plane isn’t exactly the most private of situations, but for Cathay Pacific air travelers, life in the sky as well as on the ground may now be an open book. The airline’s frank new privacy policy removes any illusion of passenger privacy.

Cathay Pacific made headlines this spring when the airline admitted it was keeping an uncomfortably close watch on some elite customers in an effort to more efficiently anticipate its most valuable customers’ needs. The creepy policy has been in effect for months now, but a recent change to the carrier’s privacy policy is making clear exactly how potentially intrusive the new program could actually be in practice.

In March, Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg admitted that the airline was tracking 23 categories of elite passenger behavior to help the airline to better “understand what people like and what they don’t like.” Cathay crew members were told to begin tracking high-value flyers in the separate behavior categories earlier this year. The resulting database now includes individual passengers’ preferred seat settings, likely dining selections and favorite travel destinations among other highly personal habits.

“It’s everything that will make that journey comfortable,” Hogg explained when the policy first came to light.

According to a new report from Forbes, the Hong Kong flag carrier has amended its official personal data collection policy to allow the airline to compile a database with detailed information on passengers’ use of in-flight entertainment systems (IFE) – including, but not limited to, images recorded by seatback cameras, customers’ activities at airport terminals and even data obtained about membership activity in competing hotel and airline loyalty programs. The airline further says that the collected data will be possessed by the company for “as long as necessary.”

The airline is also making clear that its best efforts to protect intimate details about passengers is far from foolproof, calling its cybersecurity measures “commercially reasonable.” In November, company executives were called out by Hong Kong lawmakers who accused the airline of misleading the public about the seriousness of a massive data breach which may have compromised the personal information of as many as 9.4 million customers.

While other airlines have gone overboard attempting to reassure customers that tiny seatback cameras installed in some IFE systems will not be used to monitor or record passengers, Cathay Pacific appears to have specifically claimed the rights to any images recorded by the devices. The airline also used fine print and legalese to alert passengers that their activities after disembarking or prior to boarding may very well also be recorded, collected and archived.

UPDATE Cathay Pacific has released this statement: our inflight entertainment systems do not have any cameras, microphones, or sensors to monitor passengers, nor have they in the past.


[Featured Image: Shutterstock]

View Comments (11)


  1. Centurion

    August 1, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    I am still waiting for the news media to figure out what else Cathay is watching. It is so obvious it is comical no one has figured it out yet. It will make all the major papers and national news.

  2. 380Flyer

    August 1, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    This is no different to privacy policy set by other airlines such as Singapore Airlines which also trackers behaviour of its passengers needs to provide more personalised offer.

    As for the article heading, the tracking is more based on the movie selection and other choice that passengers are making rather than CCTV type recording. The headline of this article is misleading.

    The Forbes article author has a personal agenda on CX and thus he picked on them. He needs to also look at Singapore Airlines privacy policy to realise the same is applicable for the vast majority of the areas that is covered by the Cathay Pacific policy.

    Let’s put some perspective to this for a change and not get carried away with the Forbes contributor’s article.

  3. Sydneyberlin

    August 1, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    Well, just yet another evidence that Hong Kong gets more and more swallowed up by mainland China. And privacy is obviously not a term that China gives a toss about.

  4. PaulRO

    August 2, 2019 at 5:22 am

    Could it be that some people might imagine other people asking themselves if any pax chewing gum might not be tempted to hunder the view of any such — as they may see it — pesky devices by hanging a piece of paper in front of it? Could it be? Not that anyone would think of this.

  5. BrianLait

    August 2, 2019 at 5:47 am

    The Peoples Republic of China use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track everything and everyone in China. This looks like a step in that direction for Cathay. Nothing new, nothing unexpected. Hogg might wrap it up as a form of market surveying, but I bet he’s just following orders from HK’s masters in Beijing.

  6. Tharos

    August 2, 2019 at 6:20 am

    A well placed Post-It note takes care of the camera problem.

  7. crunchie

    August 2, 2019 at 9:27 am

    Why is this news? Retailers have been tracking customer spend patterns in aggregate for decades and individually in more recent years. Even without membership with the retailer’s loyalty program, grocery/convenience stores are tracking via credit card charges. That should raise more concerns that tracking public behavior where at least 2 other persons (usually more) can already observe.

    I do not condone these acts but fact is, that ship sailed off a long time ago. IIRC, the UK started using facial recognition tech publicly 4-5 years ago for various major events like football/soccer matches, concerts, etc… They’re not the only and I suspect not the first either.

  8. brobin

    August 2, 2019 at 10:25 am

    It’s refreshing to see a company being honest about what they’re doing. They can’t be accused of violating one’s privacy if they say you have no privacy to begin with. Pax who don’t like it can fly another line (or maybe just one that’s not as honest). People are always complaining that an airline should offer this or that but how does the airline know if they can’t see what people prefer? I pretty much assume that in today’s world we have no expectation of privacy in a public setting and only a limited expectation in a private setting. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way but it is what it is.

  9. jagat101

    August 2, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Indeed, a Post It..or I’d slap a sliver of duct tape on it (I keep a few feet, rolled up on one of my travel pens/utility use).

  10. MaldivesFreak


    August 3, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    BrianLait is 100% correct. It’s just an extension / overreach from the Orwellian nightmare that is the CCP(Chiinese Communist Party). Go watch China Uncensored over on YouTube if you want to know details about what they are doing

  11. florin

    August 4, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    “likely dining selections and favorite travel destinations among other highly personal habits” -> dining selections are not what I would consider highly personal habits and the author expresses that it’s likely. Some actual facts would be nice…

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