Biometric data in hotels not in the clear yet
Biometric data in hotels not in the clear yet
12 JULY 2019 7:18 AM

The use of biometric data to help travelers skip long lines at airports might make its use even more tempting in hotels, but don’t forget to take security risks into consideration.

Biometric data continues to make its way into the travel industry. If you fly frequently, you’ve likely seen signs for Clear, a new way for travelers to quickly get through the security line at airports. It’s not a replacement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, but it does get you to the front of the security line without having to present your ID and boarding pass to the TSA agent.

All you have to do is pay $200 a year and share your fingerprint and iris scan with the private company. That shows that technology has advanced enough that we can scan a person’s iris and fingerprints at such a degree of definition and clarity that the federal government is comfortable allowing that as a replacement for an ID to board a plane.

Several sports stadiums are also using Clear’s technology to help cut down on long security lines before games.

I’ve heard for years now about hoteliers looking ahead to the (near) future when hotels can introduce facial recognition technology to streamline the check-in process for guests. No need to go to the front desk, just walk through the lobby and the hotel’s systems will know you have arrived and have all your personal information at the ready for any requests you’ll make.

What Clear is doing at airports and stadiums shows that the hotel space could soon introduce the use of biometric data to identify guests during the check-in process, to provide access to guest-only areas of the hotel and even pay for food and drinks and items in retail space.

My main question here is: how willing are you to associate yourself with a company that will likely be targeted by hackers who want to steal guests’ biometric data?

It’s become cliché at this point to say cyberattacks are a matter of when, not if, but that has proven to be true over the years. Just about every major hotel company—brand, owner, operator—has experienced or been closely associated with a data breach that affects its guests.

When those data breaches happened, they involved guests’ personal information, including names, addresses, email addresses, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. Though a hassle, just about all of that information could be changed if necessary to rectify the breach. That’s not the case for a data breach of biometric information. You can’t change your iris if the scan of that is stolen. You can’t change your fingerprints.

A company like Clear is no safer from attacks than any of the other technology vendors or hotel companies that collect guests’ personal information, but the data it collects is arguably more valuable to the users of the system. Don’t count on its government ties to mean it’s any safer or better protected than another company. Just look at what happened with a vendor for U.S. Customs and Border Protection: The license plate reader company violated its agreement with the government agency by storing license plate images and photos of travelers on its own system, which was then hacked.

Facial recognition or other biometric systems are going to be part of the hotel industry at some point—I concede that point. I don’t think you should risk such personal information about a person in the name of a better guest experience (that’s also a bit creepy, honestly), but I’m not the one making the decisions. Instead, I will ask you to take all of the security and privacy concerns into account before you start scanning your guests. We aren’t there yet, but we’re close, so explore carefully.

What do you think about using guests’ biometric information in your hotels? Is it safe? Is it worth the risk? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me at or @HNN_Bryan.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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