Data protection

Passengers on their smartphones

A guide to protecting passenger data using onboard WiFi

By | Data protection, Passenger Wifi, Sygnal Bites, Technology | No Comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware that data laws in Europe are changing with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The past few years have seen stories surface from every industry about companies using user data for purposes other than originally specified, and that’s exactly what GDPR is designed to bring an end to.

GDPR requires companies across every sector update the way they process and share personal data. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. As the UK information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham explained: “The GDPR is a step change for data protection,” she says. “It’s still an evolution, not a revolution”.

So while the new laws don’t mark a drastic change in the way companies handle data, updating outdated personal data laws across the EU has been long overdue. The previous data protection laws, brought into place in the ‘90s, have struggled to maintain pace with the developments of the past decade. It’s worth noting that it’s not just companies based in the EU that are subject to the new data protection regulations. GDPR isn’t directed at European companies but at the data and information of EU citizens. 

Man using his smartphone on a coach hire service

Data protection in transport

Of course, any company that provides WiFi as a secondary service will already have a data protection plan in place. For transport companies with onboard WiFi services, protecting the data of its passengers is essential to maintaining trust. For companies operating across EU countries (and even for those operating in the UK, providing services to EU citizens post-Brexit), it’s vital they ensure all of their services align with the new regulations.

In the transport industry, it’s essential when seeking permissions from passengers to be transparent in what data is gathered and how it’s used. Transport networks can ensure this by updating their terms & conditions on the initial login page. These T&C’s must also provide clear instructions on how passengers can opt-out of providing this data at any time.

Providing they agree to some form of data gathering, it must not fall into the category of personal data, which includes:

  • Basic information such as name, address and ID numbers
  • Web data such as IP addresses and cookie data, Health, biometric and genetic data
  • Racial, ethnic and sexual orientation
  • Political opinions, religious beliefs, and union memberships

Prior to GDPR, companies still had to adhere to collecting only depersonalised information. Transport companies such as Transport for London (TfL) gather information like an encrypted version of the device MAC address, the date and time the device broadcast its MAC address, the access point it’s connected to, the device manufacturer and the device association type.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

Protecting passenger privacy

Of course, protecting passenger data should be an integral aim of any company. Numerous data scandals have weakened the public’s faith in corporations’ ability (or willingness) to use their data responsibly. In transport, where thousands of passengers can connect for a short period every day, the need to maintain an open and transparent data-collection process is just as vital. After all, when passengers can trust the company they are travelling with is using their data responsibly, they’ll be more likely to consent to provide it.

The anonymised data gathered through onboard WiFi use can be useful for both passengers and transport companies. Bus and coach networks can use it to better understand the passenger journey, which can then go on to inform schedules, routes and the size of vehicles. Meanwhile, passengers can benefit from the increased efficacy of routes and enjoy wider access to different services. With GDPR in effect, passengers will need to specify the kind of data you can gather, but this doesn’t necessarily mean transport networks will have access to less information.

One of the most significant aspects of the new data protection rules; if there is a data breach of one of your customers, all parties responsible must report the breach within 72 hours to relevant authorities. A breach is defined as any loss, alteration or unauthorised access of personal data.

Always seek permission

GDPR explicitly forbids restricting access to a wireless network on the basis of a customer providing personal data. That means wireless network services must be provided without the condition of providing personal data.

The central aim of GDPR is to prevent companies from providing the personal data of its users to third party marketing companies, without first seeking consent. Consent can only be given when the user is provided with specific, clear information on how this data will be used.

For passengers, the new GDPR rules will likely have little effect on the overall browsing experience. Users will be asked to decide the amount of data they wish to provide when they first connect. With their chosen settings, passengers can enjoy secure browsing without the need to worry about who has access to their personal data.

Transport companies have an array of tools to make their business data compliant. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website includes a section on understanding GDPR with a dedicated advice line. The ICO also includes a handy document on GDPR guidance and a ‘lawful basis’ tool that aims to give businesses tailored guidance on the legal basis’ for the different data processing protocols.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

What it means for your business

Of course, companies that previously relied on revenue gained from third-party marketing companies to offset the cost of providing WiFi will now no longer be able to do so. Whilst some wifi providers have a case for processing some user data, public transport networks rarely fall under this category.

On first glance, the options for transport networks looking to provide WiFi are extremely limited:

  • Provide WiFi on a pay-to-use basis
  • Continue to provide WiFi without the benefit of revenue from third-party marketing companies
  • Stop providing WiFi altogether

While none of these options is ideal, they aren’t the only choices available. The introduction of GDPR has seen an uptick in the use of Federated Identity Management (FIM) technology among public Wi-Fi providers. FIM relies on an independent common federated authority to manage the identity of a user. With no need to store any customer data, FIM offers a solution to WiFi providers looking for cost-effective GDPR compliance.

Using mobile ticketing service on public transport

Besides this, transport networks can still gain valuable insights from anonymised metrics. Providing passengers consent to non-personal data-gathering through your WiFi, you can use that data to better understand elements like:

  • The average number of users at key times
  • The average browsing time
  • Onboard data usage
  • Mobile ticketing uptake

The insights gained through these diverse datasets can go on to improve passenger experiences and ultimately develop a more streamlined, passenger-focused service; and that’s something everyone can agree to.

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Using big data in aviation to increase efficiency

How is big data in aviation transforming the industry?

By | Data protection, Feature, Technology | No Comments

What does the introduction of analytics mean for the future of air travel?

Despite the recent growth in homegrown holidays, air travel is still big business in 2017. As more people look abroad for business and pleasure, airlines have to become savvier if they want to find an edge up on competitors.

Increased competition has made it more important than ever for companies to embrace new technology. The only problem? The biggest development in modern air travel technology is still only being embraced by a handful of companies. Big data has the potential to revolutionise every aspect of air travel – from the second a customer searches for their next holiday to the moment they touch down.

Processing the data

With the reams of data generated daily by the travel and hospitality industries, there’s no end to the number of consumer measurables that can be tracked and observed, including reservations, enquiries, itineraries, rental cars, fare charts, geolocation and customer feedback. With so many airlines competing for the same passengers, the data gathered from these variables is essential to enhancing consumer value and retaining customer loyalty. The airline industry’s approach to customer feedback has evolved because big data has dramatically increased the level of feedback available. With a constant stream of data on customer behaviour, airlines can leverage the insights gained from analysing the data to improve the entire passenger experience.

Using big data in aviation as innovative travel technology

Responsive pricing

Traditional manual fare analysis is now a thing of the past for most airlines, replaced by automated data gathering and the analysis of existing and real-time data from multiple sources. With this data-gathering, airlines can track competitors pricing and combine sources to build a comprehensive pricing strategy. Similarly, this data can feed into algorithms which track price changes and predict potential upcoming changes to ticket prices.

Dynamic analysis of competitors’ pricing enables service providers to remain competitive at all times. These metrics allow travel sites to forecast changes in pricing over time for better serving their consumer requirements. By analysing data collected from on-site forms, social media platforms and call centre conversations, airlines can identify customer intent with a greater degree of accuracy.

Likewise, by studying the numbers behind customer purchase patterns, drop-off and click-through rates, companies can build a coherent and responsive commercial strategy that is easily adapted in real time as needs develop.

Searching for airline prices made easier with big data

The booking process

Most established travel companies have already begun utilising data in its commercial applications – identifying customers through the booking process and sending them targeted location-based offers. But by studying passenger’s browsing behaviour during the booking stage, airlines can also gain ancillary revenue from offering secondary services from recognised commercial partners.

These services can include partner company-specific deals and cover a huge range of possibilities, including providing options for car hire when they land, linking to local SIM cards to reduce their roaming charges or offering discount rates on day-trips. As Abhishek Singh, product manager for tourism and hospitality at Infosys, explains:

“Ancillary revenue should not just be about baggage fees or unbundling, but should aim to create value propositions based on increasingly real-time information about customer preferences and needs and using that information for targeted services.”

Intelligent check-ins

It’s not just the booking process that provides opportunities for data-gathering. Checking in, and the multitude variables that can come with this process also provides airlines with valuable insights. Big data analytics allow travel companies to understand their customer, and studying check-in data can enable them to optimise the experience and streamline the boarding process.

With this relatively new level of insight, travel companies are now determined to leverage data into a streamlined travel experience. After all, passengers won’t book with an airline again if they’re left high and dry at the check-in desk. Building a snapshot of ‘customer DNA’ enables airlines to account for potential delays (for instance, by offering a hotel room suited to their particular needs), provide customised airport lounge services and even suggest the best routes to the airport at any particular time.

Airport departure board populated using aviation big data

Baggage tracking

One of the biggest challenges for airlines is in keeping track of the millions of pieces of luggage that go through airports every day. After over half a century of air travel, the process of ensuring the right bag ends up at the right destination in the right hands has been sufficiently refined, but until the arrival of big data in aviation, reassuring passengers of the whereabouts of their luggage is another matter.

Delta airlines were one of the first companies to provide an application allowing passengers to track their luggage from their mobile devices. Although a relatively simple concept, providing that additional level of transparency endears passengers to the brand and gives them peace of mind in the process.

Personalised experiences

Customers expect travel solutions tailored to their specific needs – big data provides the means to do that. Gone are the days of travel companies forming their commercial strategies from the aggregated feedback of a small cross-section of the customer base. Today, commercial air travel enjoys access to a near-bottomless well of information from which to dredge new observations. Companies can now gather data from almost every stage of the travel process, and those that do are in the best position to respond to changes in customer expectations.

In studying the data generated by a potential passenger’s holiday planning, incorporating price search and comparison process, booking, cancellation, and feedback, airlines can build a detailed picture of their customer’s interests and, more importantly, their needs.

Man staring out of window at airport terminal in monochrome

Optimised travel

Service providers can also track their customers and make location relevant real-time offers by enabling GPS technology with data analytics. In Brazil, where aviation traffic has been growing rapidly, airports introduced a GPS system that analyzes data from flights to optimise travel space and prevent unnecessary ‘bunching’ of flights. The system has already been credited with reducing the time planes spend in the air, optimising flight times and reducing fuel consumption. Airlines and airports alike are now harnessing data as a means of assigning ‘value-scores’ to flights, enabling them to prioritise flights in the event they need to be diverted

With increased connectivity and flight-tracking technology, airlines now have the opportunity to optimise not just journey times but vehicle performance too. By incorporating weather data into the flight plan, airlines can anticipate potential weather hazards and adapt accordingly. For commercial airlines, this means simultaneously saving money on fuel and reducing the corporate carbon footprint.

In-flight optimisation

For commercial flights, combining historical data like dieting and seating requirements, with real-time information is already an integral part of the travel experience. Big data, however, makes studying the needs of your passengers easier and far less invasive than the traditional ‘in-flight questionnaire’.

Just as data gained from the booking process can guide subsequent offers from strategic partnerships, airlines with onboard WiFi can study the analytics of individual passenger’s in-flight browsing and push personalised advertising accordingly. It’s a win-win for everyone; it increases ancillary revenue and brand loyalty for the airline while providing a more personalised experience for the passenger.

Airlines using big data during booking process to optimise seating process

Big data in aviation is still in its infancy despite the industry being one of its earliest proponents. The airline industry can be a fickle place, with customers inclined to jump between brands according to who has the cheapest flights. That’s why responding to feedback and keeping prices in-line with the competition is so essential. Integrating the responses found in big data is the most effective means of turning this feedback into real actionable insights. The airlines ready to embrace the power of quantified feedback into their commercial strategy now will be at the forefront of new data developments.

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