I always think about the socks I wear on the days I go to the airport. Exposed toes aren’t a great impression for the strangers who are sizing you up.
Nice black socks on, I arrived at SFO at 5:32am. Ten minutes later, it didn’t matter. My shoes and coat kept on, my laptop still safely in my purse. My flight was still on time and I had no fear of missing it. It 5:39am and I was already at my gate. No, I didn’t sneak in a secret entrance or get an invitation on a private jet. I simply traded my personal data for a better deal with TSA.
Save your privacy by giving more away
From NSA to Google Ads, data privacy has been a hot topic this year. At USV, we often discuss the push to share more data, not less, as a remedy to privacy. The thought is, that by providing more information we can actually devalue the data so there is less to gain from a third party obtaining it.
For example, in some european countries salaries and income are public information. Everyone has access to everyone else’s data. That means that services in the US like GlassDoor or Salary surveys that charge money to gain access to that information, would go out of business. There is no financial incentive to discover the data or find ways to gather it because it’s already in public domain. More income data brings the cost of selling income data down to zero.
Albert has written extensively about more data transparency and the risks of a crypto’s arms race. Fundamentally, I can rationalize the value in a more transparent culture, but the thought of the long cultural transition is uncomfortable.
In the US, the cultural norm is to keep medical records private. Insurance and employers (illegally), have created financial incentives for any individual with less than pristine medical history to keep that information private. Although these individuals may readily share this information with family or doctors, so the information isn’t intentionally private, exposing it too broadly could present financial downside in the short term. However, in the long run, if everyone shared their medical data it could help predict or prevent diseases in the first place and actually save insurance more. Making the transition from private to fully transparent would generate short-term costs throughout the length of the transition, however long it takes.
So how do we make any strides in data transparency when we know there will be costs in the transition? A good case study may start at the airport, TSA Pre-Check.
Travel transparency goes beyond the x-ray
I first learned about TSA pre-check after a few trips with my boyfriend. He kept being directed to a super fast line at security. He would try to bring me along with him in the line but I was sent back to the regular security line. I attributed the special line to his status on Delta so wasn’t sure why I wasn’t getting special treatment too.
My growing impatience with TSA lines, shoe removal and laptop take-outs, drove me to investigate further. TSA Pre-check granted the access and could be obtained through a few different channels.
Some carriers do auto-enroll members with a certain level of status into the TSA pre-check program.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways are contacting eligible frequent travelers with an invitation to opt-in. Once the passenger opts-in, the airline identifies the individual as a TSA Pre✓™ participant when submitting passenger reservation information to TSA’s Secure Flight system.
If you’re not a frequent or loyal traveler, you still have options. The options you have are : “U.S. citizens currently enrolled in CBP’s Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS Trusted Traveler programs are automatically eligible to participate in TSA Pre✓™. Canadian citizens who are members of NEXUS are also qualified to participate in TSA Pre✓™.”
I enrolled in the Global Entry program, which cross-enrolls you in TSA pre-check. The benefit of Global Entry is you can skip the line when re-entering the United States by simply swiping your passport.
All programs require sharing past travel history, passport number, address, birthdate and photo. I readily provide that information to airlines and foreign visa applications so I see it as a reasonable ask. The output is what’s called a Known Traveler number. Given the amount of time and investment put into physical security screening, it was a bit surprising that a Known Traveler program wasn’t implemented sooner. If individuals want to opt in to sharing data in return for less physical inspection, they have more options besides refusing to fly.
On both legs of my JFK - SFO trip, I skipped long lines by utilizing the TSA-Pre-check status. I was through security in under 10 minutes without the need to take off my shoes, coat or take my laptop out. Finally, TSA feels like a civil process.
Trade in to trade up?
The GOES application will cost you $99 for an 8 year membership and require a trip to a local enrollment center for an interview. If you plan on flying at least a few times in the next few years, it may be well worth it to you. On 4 round-trip flights I’ve already saved a few hours in line and fewer rounds in the full body scanners. I think it’s well worth the price and the data cost.
What do you think? Have you enrolled? Please share in the comments below.