Consumer Watchdog

DOT asking 10 largest airlines whether they’re selling or sharing passenger data

Airlines to disclose their policies about protecting data or using for targeted advertising, especially for children

Mikhail Nilov via Pexels | Used by permission

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is launching a review into how the 10 largest airlines handle passengers’ personal information and their expectation of privacy. The review will look at the airlines’ policies and procedures to see whether the companies are protecting passenger data and whether they’re sharing or selling that data with third parties. DOT promises penalties or new rules depending on what it finds.

“Airline passengers should have confidence that their personal information is not being shared improperly with third parties or mishandled by employees,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This review of airline practices is the beginning of a new initiative by DOT to ensure airlines are being good stewards of sensitive passenger data.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) applauded the effort. “Because consumers will often never know that their personal data was misused or sold to shady data brokers, effective privacy regulation cannot depend on consumer complaints to identify corporate abuses,” Wyden said. “I will continue to work with DOT to ensure that it is holding the airlines responsible for harmful or negligent privacy practices.”

As part of this new privacy review, DOT sent letters to the airlines asking for their:

  • Policies and procedures for collecting, maintaining, handling and using passengers’ personal information. This would include passenger data sold and used for targeted advertising and whether the airlines do enough to prevent data breaches.
  • Complaints involving passenger personal information being mishandled.
  • Information about training to make sure passengers’ personal information is handled appropriately.

DOT reiterated that if airlines are mishandling consumers’ private information, then it could be considered an unfair or deceptive practice. DOT also enforces airlines’ compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and Federal Trade Commission rules on children’s privacy.

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