Using technology to keep control of your digital footprint in a post-COVID world

The travel industry was one of the worst-hit industries in the pandemic. In fact, it cost the industry around $935 billion (£673 billion) globally. At the start of the lockdowns, air passenger arrivals to the UK dropped from 6,804,900 to 112,300 between February and April 2020 – a fall of 98.3%. Furthermore, employment in accommodation for visitors fell by 21.5% from April to June 2020, compared with the same three months of 2019.

Now, travel is on the verge of bouncing back, with people itching to get out and into the world once again. Earlier this year, this became evident after the UK prime minister said international trips could potentially resume from 17 May. Following the announcement, EasyJet, Ryanair, Tui, and Thomas Cook reported a jump in bookings, and EasyJet said flight bookings from the UK jumped 337%, while package holiday bookings surged 630% compared with a week earlier. In the bigger picture, McKinsey said optimistic scenarios would see an 85% recovery in travel by 2023, and with 32 million people now fully vaccinated, these global vaccination efforts give us a reason to believe that international travel will soon be more than possible in many regions around the world.

But what might this recovery look like? It’s safe to assume that when people pack their suitcases and hop on planes once again, some things may not go back to the way they were, and there may be more of a data privacy risk associated with travelling. Let’s take a closer look at the data being collected, the risks associated, and how technology platforms can enable you to stay in control of which travel companies have your data, and easily reclaim that data when there is no longer a need for the company to hold it.

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How your data travels – from personal details to medical information

Even before the pandemic, travel was heavily linked to data privacy issues. According to research we
conducted at Mine, seven new services gain access to our data whenever we travel abroad. This list may include airlines, car rental services, hotels, restaurants, public transportation services, local Wi-Fi networks, and more. Now that Covid-19 guidelines have joined the party, these numbers are likely to increase and not only this, but now, instead of travel requiring only our personal and financial details, it will also require the handing over of our health data. Many service providers are required to ask for health-related data, with much of it now being available online via dedicated apps and digital documents. In addition, during this period, healthtech data breaches increased as hackers targeted Covid-related services.

The EU has issued new information regarding its digital Covid certificates, while other countries, including Israel, are already using “passport” apps to make sure that travelers don’t pose a risk to residents. More so, airlines are testing apps that allow travelers to share vaccination records, Covid-19 test results, and health declarations. Less than two years ago, the idea of having to share our health data with travel companies or even restaurants to book a table would seem outrageous. Nowadays, we agree to share this information, and 91% of travelers say they are comfortable using digital health passports, despite 93% having data privacy concerns regarding how this information is stored and used.

Minimising the data-related cost of travel

The concerns associated with handing over our data to travel companies do not stem from nowhere. Airlines have a notorious reputation for facing data breaches. For instance, British Airways was fined £20 million by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after the personal information of more than 400,000 staff and customers was leaked, including sensitive data related to banking and payments. More recently, Air India suffered a data breach that leaked the private data of no 4.5 million customers – including their contact information, credit card details, passport and ticket information, and more.

Airlines are not the only alarming companies involved, as they’ve been handling high-risk information for years. When restaurants and local bars gain access to healthcare information, they are likely to not have adequate security measures in place and are therefore at great risk for vulnerabilities that put the customers’ privacy in danger.

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The ‘Travel Exit Strategy’

Does that mean we shouldn’t travel due to data privacy concerns? Absolutely not. The solution is to embrace data ownership as part of a value-based internet experience. Previously, there was no easy way to identify all the travel companies holding your data, and then easily enforce your right to be forgotten. Now with travel on the brink of re-opening, knowing how to manage and maintain control of your digital footprint will be more important than ever. It all comes down to risk vs. value and making that informed decision for yourself.

These are some of our tips to help everyone safely enjoy what the online world has to offer:

  • Don’t offer information if you’re not getting any value in return.
  • Choose familiar, reliable businesses over unknown names. Big brands also suffer data breaches, but generally still tend to offer higher security standards.
  • If the information you’re asked to provide is sensitive, research to see if the company has a problematic data history.
  • If you need to share certain information with a business, make sure to delete it right after you’re done or after your vacation is over. If the data isn’t lying around it can’t be exposed.
  • Manage your data regularly. Don’t worry about keeping track of the companies that have access
    to your data.

The world is still adjusting to post-pandemic changes, and hackers take advantage of any soft spot they can find. That’s why we need to be more alert and informed than ever. When we’re able to again, we should visit far-away destinations, but keep our personal data close to the chest.

Written by Gal Ringel, CEO & co-founder of Mine

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