JETBLUE: WHY THE FUSS?

The fear of flying wasn't some abstract, idle concern for Joshua Gruber. It was as tangible as the pile of concrete and steel and flesh and ash, smoldering at Manhattan's southern end on 9/11, the day he was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.But flying home to California for Christmas on JetBlue -- his first cross-country trip after the tragedy -- made the whole thing easier to take. The staff seemed like human beings, not corporate automatons. The planes were brand-new. Best of all, as he flew, Gruber could watch the Food Network on his own private television screen."You'd sit down, watch Food TV, and, before youd know it, youd be there," Gruber said. "It made it easier to fly after September 11 to have that distraction."Although the airline is known for its cheap fares, he added, "I'd pay more to fly JetBlue. I had, in fact. And I had encouraged my friends to try it."All of which makes JetBlue's decision to hand its passenger records over to a firm doing a government terrorist-screening study even more maddening to Gruber."It made it sort of like I had been betrayed by a friend, rather than by a big company," he said.Businesses sell, trade, and swap their customers' data with each other all the time. That's why every product registration card includes information about income, age, occupation. That's why web-based companies even privacy-savvy ones like TerraLycos (which owns Wired News) -- "will sometimes share personally identifiable information with third-party companies and organizations."But the JetBlue privacy debacle has unleashed unusual passions in the public. Already, there's a class action lawsuit against the carrier for its data handover. Already, Gruber has received more than a thousand e-mails from outraged JetBlue customers. And already, the Department of Homeland security is beginning to conduct an internal investigation into how passenger data is used.Why the fuss? Passengers, privacy advocates and airline analysts all sound a common theme: fliers like Joshua Gruber developed powerful ties to JetBlue, ties that were unusual in business and especially rare the notoriously nasty airline industry.When the company turned over its customers' private records without their knowledge -- in violation of JetBlue's own privacy policy -- that sense of corporate love quickly exploded into rage.My Wired News story has more.THERE'S MORE: Defense Tech reader KH writes, about "an interesting popup ad I saw on the computerworld.com site. The text is: 'We helped JetBlue Airways do something unique with their data: treat customers like people. Unisys.'"Ah, the irony...AND MORE: Gen. Wesley Clark was on the board of one of the companies involved in the JetBlue data mess, Glenn Reynolds notes.AND MORE: The ACLU now has a web site where JetBlue passengers can file a request to find out what the government may be holding on them.

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