Just a month ago I wrote here about my reservations concerning the use of mobile phones as hotel room key. A hotel I will be staying at in the near future yesterday started sending me multiple (unasked) SMS’s to download their hotel app to ‘make my stay smarter’. Sure, I will trust download links in unrequested SMS! Today as I’ve ignored their messages I received an e-mail imploring me to do the same.

The app they ask me to use is called Aeroguest, and their pitch to me is about easier check-in/out, using chat to contact staff, and using my phone as door key. The first two I’d rather do in person, and the last one is not a good idea as explained in the above link.

Why such an app might be seen as attractive to the hotel, becomes clear if you look at the specifications of the app. A clear benefit is direct repeat bookings, saving the expensive middle men that booking sites are. In my case I almost always book through the hotel’s website directly. And if I enjoyed my stay I usually book the same hotel in a city for my next visit. I do use booking sites to find hotels. In this case I’ve stayed in this hotel several times before.

The stated benefits for the guest (key, chat, check-in/out, choosing your room) are a small part of the listed benefits for hotels in using the app, such as up-selling you packages before and during your stay. An ominous one, when seen from the guest’s perspective, is ‘third party services’ access presumably meaning potential access to your booking / stay history and maybe even payment / settlement information, requested preferences etc. Another, more alarming one, is “advanced indoor mapping” which I take means tracking of guests through the hotel which can yield information on time spent in hotel facilities, time spent in the room, how often / when the key was used, and by matching it with other guests, whom you might be meeting with that is also staying in the hotel. In Newspeak on the apps website in the data and analytics section this is described as “With transparency, you can proactively accommodate your guests’ needs.” Note that the guest is the one who is being made transparant. That is quite a price in exchange for being able to choose your specific room when checking in with the app.

I’ve replied to the hotel my reasons for not wishing to use the app (linking to my previous blogpost), and told them I look forward to checking in at reception in person when I arrive. When I arrive I am curious to hear more about their usage of the app. For now “making my stay smart” reads like the “smart cities” visions of old, it may be smart, but not for the individuals involved, merely for the service provider.

It sounds to me like Superhuman e-mail service is in permanent breach of the GDPR by collecting the reading behaviour and geolocation of every recipient of an email from one of their users. So that user can get a ‘message read’ signal, except it shows the user every time you opened a mail and your geolocation at that moment. Without the recipient’s knowledge, and thus without explicit consent, which is definitely needed for something like geotracking.

Also: switch off loading remote images in your e-mail client, so tracking pixels and other image based beacons won’t automatically load upon opening your mail.

I mentioned it here six months ago, that US National Public Radio (NPR) provides a GDPR based choice: get tracked or get text.

If you don’t agree to their tracking ….

[We] use cookies, similar tracking and storage technologies, and information about the device you use to access our sites to enhance your viewing, listening and user experience, personalize content, personalize messages from NPR’s sponsors, provide social media features, and analyze NPR’s traffic. This information is shared with social media services, sponsorship, analytics and other third-party service providers.

…then you have the option to see their content in plain text, which is hosted on a separate subdomain, text.npr.org.

I find I only access NPR now through plain text. The pages are made from straight forward HTML, no loading of any other files or snippets, and are therefore as fast as can be. A breath to read, no distraction etc.

NPR’s plain text news page

NPR plain text article

Only HTML, here NPR’s news page in full. No frills, so very fast

The only downside might be that without imagery, self-starting videos, distracting calls to action and ads, you might notice that a lot of news stories are without much informational content. You can’t blame NPR for that, because news itself as a format has worn a bit thin. GDPR and AdTech (not advertising) are at extreme odds. I like the look of AdTech being stripped away, even if it makes the early 1990’s web fashionably Retro.

I wish more sites would offer the ‘get tracked or get text’ option.