BILLINGS — In the digital age, there seems to be a growing awareness about identity theft and cyber security, as we hear of an increase of reported attacks on individuals and organizations often in news headlines.
However, a Kalispell woman is telling a very different story about how her personal information was taken without her consent.
Now, the ordeal is raising ethical questions about the handling of your personal information by companies you choose to do business with, along with what's at stake if you choose to report the mishandling of private information.
Mariah Gladstone’s cautionary tale
This fall, Mariah Gladstone and a friend did some traveling overseas in Portugal. But during her trip, things took an unexpected turn.
“On the way back, I had a layover that was about 22 hours long,” she said.
It was a layover at the Casablanca Airport in Morocco where Gladstone was flying with a company called Royal Air Maroc.
“There was an airline employee that took my information off the computers and used about five days later to contact me.”
Gladstone said the worker contacted her with the very travel information she is required to give up to fly.
“My address and other personal information,” she said. “I knew immediately that it should be reported.”
Gladstone tried to contact the airline using social media and left a public post on Facebook that read: “Hey royal Air Moroc I was in the Casablanca airport on Monday December 2nd and one of your employees took my number off your system and used it to message me….”
Internet trolls then took over.
“It’s spiraled quickly into something that got shared in Morocco, and I was starting to be bombarded with tons of harassing and insulting and threatening messages,” she said.
Post after post on social media appeared from people around the world that she did not know, insulting her and threatening her life.
“I put my Instagram on private and I deleted over a thousand follow requests from that,” she said.
Gladstone says her personal information and social identity had been compromised, something that left her scared for her safety.
Safeguarding our personal information
Not only was Gladstone’s information shared without her consent, but the entire ordeal begs the question - what was this airline worker’s intent?
MTN Investigates asked Brian Gurney, a professor at MSU Billings who teaches cyber security to weigh in.
“You and I can have all kinds of formal policies and procedures, but if someone has malicious intent people will find a way to get around that, “ said Gurney.
He says, first, be mindful about protecting your identity abroad.
“You find yourself in a situation where you have to play some defense in order to protect yourself,” said Gurney.
But in the days of “hashtags” and “likes” do we even think about locking down our social media accounts?
“Minimizing what you do on social media. What you post,” he said. “Being aware of your surroundings, who you are talking to what is the nature of the discussion.”
Royal Air Maroc’s policy on personal information
Even still, MTN Investigates wanted to know the airline’s policy if any, for taking a traveler’s personal information.
MTN Investigates reached out to Royal Air Maroc on social media, but our inquires for comment were left unanswered. The company also did not respond to an email seeking comment.
However, Mariah did hear back from an airline official on Twitter telling her this:
“Hello Mariah, we apologize for the inconvenience caused. We will investigate thoroughly the issue you have raised and will get back to you as soon as possible…”
Upon taking a closer look at the terms and conditions on the Royal Air Maroc website, MTN Investigates found no details regarding the airline’s own responsibility for handling the personal information of its travelers.
Something major airlines, such as Delta and United, do choose to disclose online.
However, months after the fact, Gladstone still has no idea if the airline employee was reprimanded for his actions.
“That type of behavior should have consequences,” she said.
But after having her grievance and social identity put on display, she has a few things to share for the next adventure seeker.
“Other counties have different policies in place. This airline is a Moroccan-based airline, so their policies are different,” she said. “I think that there is a lot that we can do to make sure that our social media, for one, is locked down and protected and we are friends with only people that we know.”