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British Airways to Google passengers

In a creepy, or perhaps cuddly, step toward better customer service, British Airways is to surprise its passengers with personal touches based on Googled information.

BA/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I have just gotten off an American Airlines flight on which, as I approached my window seat, an off-duty airline lady crew member suggested I sit in the aisle seat instead "as that's what men normally want."

This peculiarly sexist foray into the personal psychology of the male I found slightly disturbing.

However, would I find it disturbing if, on checking in with an airline, the member of staff said: "Loved your post yesterday about men who code naked."

I fear I might like it. Which is why I am in three minds (at least) about British Airways' new idea to Google passengers in order to greet them with personal touches.

The Telegraph reports that BA is concerned that it's missing out on greeting the powerful with sufficient personal deference.

It is said that staff will use iPads to Google passenger names and find out what specific passengers look like, so these customers can be specially greeted.

But who knows what else these smiling, Smiley ambassadors of Britishness might discover?

The Daily Mail quotes Nick Pickles, director of privacy group Big Brother Watch, as being alarmed: "Fundamentally, British Airways have not asked their passengers' permission to search Google to find their picture or any other information."

Fundamentally, then, most decent restaurants this side of Bielsko Biala would alarm Pickles too, as they consider it a natural part of their business. (High-end restaurants Google their bookings to see who's coming in.)

Of course, problems might arise when staff either discover something controversial, or simply plain wrong.

In my work with Singapore Airlines once upon a time, I learned how the airline taught its cabin crew not to assume that, for example, a younger woman accompanying an older man is necessarily his daughter.

But what if some enthusiastic British Airways person wanders up to a tech company CEO and asks him or her for a share tip? Or what if a solicitous BA voice whispered: "Tough luck with that insider trading you tried to get away with."

And what if Tom Cruise's agent is spotted approaching First Class and he is greeted with: "So is Tom, you know, well, is he?"

British Airways insists that this is all above boarding.

A representative told the Daily Mail: "The most recent advancement of the system enables the British Airways team to search Google Images for a photo of specific customers, so they can recognize them as soon as they enter the airport or aircraft and proactively approach them."

I can think of several fairly anonymous tech executives who would be rather enchanted, can't you?