The travel world cheered when Delta announced it would offer free high-speed Wi-Fi to nearly all of its domestic passengers. All they needed to do was become a SkyMiles Member. And since SkyMiles is free to join, it would be a win-win for everyone, right?
We had written a piece that mused why airlines were offering Wi-Fi for free, when they charge for everything else. In 20/20 hindsight, some think the potential reasons we mentioned were probably a little naive. I mean, sure it’s possible that overall costs and weights have something to do with it. But if you’re a SkyMiles member, what else does Delta get?
Because you’d then be connected to them through the personal info you need to provide to be a SkyMiles member, which you’d send to them over the internet, they potentially get to know everything about your browsing habits. And that’s worth a whole lot more to them than charging $XX for high-speed Wi-Fi access.
Because part of the deal is that you have to have a SkyMiles account, that will allow Delta (along with its marketing partners with whom it shares information) to collect and associate your personal data and your behavior. In other words, “data mining.”
Data mining is, “the process of extracting and discovering patterns in large data sets involving methods at the intersection of machine learning, statistics, and database systems” (thank-you Wikipedia). It’s been going on for a long, long time, and the possibility of airlines using Wi-Fi to get that info has been suggested for years.
Now think about what Delta has said: “Every customer should enjoy a journey that is customized and curated to their needs and preferences. By integrating with brands our customers know and love, we’re raising the bar even further to ensure every trip is fit for them.”
So Delta says we want personalized data, and that’s exactly what they plan to give us. Sure, that could be interpreted as us having the freedom to watch (almost) whatever we want on the web, but it also could be based on what they know about us based on our browsing habits. And now they’ll potentially know even more.
Of course, maybe this isn’t the case. But why else would Delta otherwise force you to have a SkyMiles account in order to access free Wi-Fi? JetBlue doesn’t require you to have any sort of membership for its free Wi-Fi. Neither does Southwest for their (granted, limited) free Wi-Fi access. Right now, Delta is the only airline in the US that makes you have a free membership to get their free Wi-Fi. And that might just make you think and wonder why.
No word on whether or not you’ll be able to use a VPN while accessing Delta’s free Wi-Fi.
Of course, I have no doubt that every app out there already participates in some sort of data mining, just as cookies allow websites to follow your every move on the world wide web. Many people don’t care. But some do. So for those who might be concerned that yet another big company may be using a new way to harvest data from you that you may not want them to have, heads up.
For those who don’t want advertising and data mining as part of their free service, Delta will still offer a paid Wi-Fi option, via Gogo (heads up that Gogo also has a history of potential data mining).
PC: Delta Air Lines
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