Do Brands Have Rights When Their Own Data Is Used Against Them?

Mitch JoelPosted by

**This is an interesting one, isn’t it?**
Here’s the deal: A direct flight from New York to San Francisco is $1000 (as an example). However, if you want to fly from New York to San Diego during the same time, the flight is $750 with a stopover in San Francisco. Why not just take the Las Vegas flight, hop off in San Francisco and not get back on the plane? Seems easy enough, especially if you’re ok with buying a one-way ticket and are not checking any luggage. Why would the airlines mind? Well, it turns out that they mind, and they’re worried that these types of fare discoveries would not be good for business. This type of fare is something called a *”hidden city”* ticket, and it’s been in the news a lot this week, because a site called, [Skiplagged](https://skiplagged.com/ “Skiplagged”), is being sued by both [United](https://united.com/ “United”) and [Orbitz](https://orbitz.com/ “Orbitz”) for [$75,000 in lost income](http://mashable.com/2015/01/01/skiplagged-legal-fund/), because the site helps consumers find these types of flights. Skiplagged is a startup created by 22-year-old, [Aktarer Zaman](https://www.linkedin.com/in/aktarer). Was Zaman looking to bring the airlines and travel sites to their knees? Doubtful.
**A little data is a dangerous thing.**
As a frequent flier, I’ve created my own [MacGyver](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGyver “MacGyver”)-like system to find not only the cheapest flights, but the ones that are most efficient in terms of times in/out, and length of flights with connections. It’s a dangerous game because I’m often finding better flights than the ones that the airline websites are showing at the top of their internal search engines. I’m sure that there are a myriad of commercial reasons why they do this. And, for the record, I am talking (mostly) about non-direct flights. Still, the ability to fly from one city to another can be done in a whole bunch of different ways, and it looks like Zaman was able to bring this information – that is readily and publicly available – in a format that was more useful to consumers. Of course, the most practical thing that the airlines could do in a situation like this, is to sue.
**Oh hello, [Barbara Streisand](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbra_Streisand).**
In the early days of social media, I would warn brands against creating something called, [The Streisand Effect](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect “The Streisand Effect”). The best definition of it comes from [Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page “Wikipedia”):
*”The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California inadvertently drew further public attention to it.”*
Beyond the attention, this lawsuit is also squarely pointed at another macro-trend that continues to emerge (and will have a huge role for marketers in 2015): the age of efficiency. Now that humans are so intimately connected through technology – and have a better understanding of how to access and leverage technology – we’re seeing products and services take on much efficient roles in our lives. We share our living space when we don’t use it ([Airbnb](https://www.airbnb.com “Airbnb”)). Professional drivers can take on different types of customers when they’re not booked for airport runs ([Uber](https://www.uber.com “Uber”)). Consumers don’t need to own DVDs when they can stream entire catalogs of movies on a monthly subscription ([Netflix](https://www.netflix.com “Netflix”)). Parents can “rent” toys (that are cleaned and sterilized in between users) instead of buying them and having their kids toss them to the side after a couple of days ([Pley](https://www.pley.com “Pley”). And, all of this is just the beginning. Startups like Skiplagged are leveraging data to not just disrupt traditional models, but to make an industry that much more efficient… and this includes companies that may not be so interested in their data being used to create this type of efficiency.
**Are these startups doing anything wrong?**
This may be for the courts to decide. It’s one thing to start creating businesses that disrupt regulated ones, by circumventing laws that have been put in place to protect both consumers and businesses over a number of years/decades, it’s another thing to simply access data and provide it to the public in a way that makes it more visual, findable and functional. It also demonstrates – in this age of efficiency – just how hungry the connected/digital consumer is to find the best flights (in this case). It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in this case. It will be more interesting to see what consumers think of United and Orbitz for pursuing this case. Will consumers see these companies as big, bad empires looking to shutdown a clever programmer, or will they respect the companies rights to protect which flights they sell… and how they would like them to be sold. Also, think about the safety factor here. How comfortable would you be knowing that people can (and are) hoping off of connecting flights without notifying the airlines?
**This is nothing new.**
Skiplagged is just another piece in a growing and challenging puzzle. Rules of industry are being rewritten in this age of efficiency. These rules have been around for a long time. There are many people (and corporations) – large ones – who have a vested interest in protecting these rules and keeping them just the way they are.
**Technology pushes on, but the legislation of industry moves at a different (some might argue, opposite) pace.**