|by Jason Steele|
Loveland Ski Area opened last week, here in Colorado. For the rest of the country, this news serves to whet your appetites for the upcoming ski season. While technology has traditionally been the skier’s friend, the ski areas are increasingly deploying new systems that may not be customer friendly.
Tracking Skiers, and their Credit Cards
The Denver Post had a story recently about how ski areas are inserting Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chips in your ski passes. The ski areas claim that this is a benefit to customers who will be able to learn how much skiing they did during the day. At best, the reason they are doing this is to track skiers so that they can gather statistics about where people are skiing. The next step is to use this data for marketing.
Where do credit cards come in? According to the article, “Any information the scanners acquire is to be kept separate from personal data — credit-card numbers, phone numbers, addresses — that are stored in resort point-of-sale databases.” This is simply not true, as I discovered last year. I was skiing at Breckenridge, using a lift ticket that was purchased for me as a gift. Unknown to me, the RFID chip in my discount card was scanned as well as my purchased lift ticket. Since the discount card was in my wallet, and it’s barcode was not scanned, I presumed that I would not be charged twice for my day of skiing. Only after a chargeback was I able to fix the problem, but it left me with a very sour attitude towards using RFID scanners that are linked to your credit card.
Fortunately, the article does point out some ways to disable the chip. These solutions range from punching a hole in your pass to encasing it in a shielded housing.
Why Non Skiers Should Be Concerned
I live in Colorado, so naturally skiing is an activity that I enjoy. When you ski, you carry with you a ski ticket, not unlike many other activities such as visiting movies, amusement parks, and sporting events. How long will it be until there is an RFID chip in each of these tickets as well? We can’t really expect the makers of this technology not to try to expand their market to other areas. At first, customers will be told some story about how much more convenient it will be to link your credit card to your ticket. Later they will attempt to show us the benefits of using our data to market products and services to us. Sure, the scanners might pick up our signal and charge us inadvertently, but isn’t that a small price to pay for these exciting benefits!?
The next step is when they start using location data against us. Maybe the computer determined that you skied down the beginner’s slope too fast? Perhaps the stadium determined that you weren’t sitting in the correct seat for a portion of the game? I fear that this is the world we are headed for.
My advice to you is to decline any offers to link your credit card to other passes or devices. If you really need to purchase something, you should spend a couple seconds taking out your wallet.