Jessica Vascellaro at the Wall Street Journal has written a fascinating article on the ethical dilemmas Google are facing as they try to fend off their valuable advertising business from competitors with much less to lose and a much lower regard for user privacy. Even if you don’t read the article, the graphic that accompanies it (click here) is an incredibly powerful and eye opening way to get across the point of which websites are stripping us naked and figuratively selling the photos to anyone that asks.

I touched on this issue of third party tracking cookies recently when I reviewed the new KLM website redesign, but at the time I wrote most people never really think about privacy settings on their computer anyway and it is true – it may change one day, but for now, stories like the one in the Wall Street Journal will probably have no lasting impact. Not that airlines shouldn’t be aware of the issue, but the backlash won’t come from passengers unless someone with a vested interested gives it a good push along.

If Google get it wrong, people theoretically could defect in large numbers from using Gmail or from using them as a default for search; but it would have to be an extremely severe screw-up. That said, clearly it is an issue that keeps some people at Google awake at night.

One issue keeping many airline people awake at night is what exactly Google plan to do in travel. Whilst many have their theories (including me), it was very interesting to see a story that a regular reader alerted me to that appeared on Travolution back in June regarding some companies other than Google who are also on the radar of people working within the mobile space at various airlines. It is not only Google that appear to be keeping some airline people awake at night.

Chris Carmichael, British Airways manager for mobile innovation made a very insightful comment implying companies such as Worldmate and Tripit may be a bigger threat than rival airlines when it came to mobile.

My customers are giving them all their information. There is a group of companies that now know more about our customers than any one of us. What is the opportunity for them to intermediate or start selling them alternatives? It is something we all have to be aware of.

Nadav Gur from Worldmate and Gregg Brockway from Tripit were quick to respond in the comments as these guys are very keen to work with airlines and not be seen as enemies of each airlines’ own mobile initiatives. As I inferred a couple of days ago when discussing the Southwest court case to protect online check-in, most of the airline owned mobile apps on the market today could really benefit from getting a strategic rethink about why exactly they exist in the first place.

To end with, I’ll regurgitate some text written on Tnooz way back in April.  

Moving to the next untapped source of value coming out of a well executed mobile strategy. Imagine getting your hands on how much passengers paid to travel when they flew with a competitor and what share of wallet of their annual travel spend you are receiving. This is where the Tripit model really stands out. There is a wrong way to get this information, but having passengers on a competing airline voluntarily sending you their itinerary receipts is pure genius. 

If you are still thinking of launching a boring airline specific also-ran mobile app, probably best to go back to the drawing board and come up with something a little more adventurous before cracking open the champagne. If you don’t, then you can always wait for Google to do it!

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