New Disney World Visitor Tracking System Raises Privacy Concerns

Starting this spring, visitors to Disney World in Florida will be able to take part in a new program called MyMagic+ that allows them, via smart wristbands, to pay for purchases on the fly or reserve a spot in line for a ride. But is this coming at the expense of customer privacy?

The bands, which contain information — including credit card numbers — on embedded RFID chips, are being marketed to visitors as a remedy to gridlock and a way to speed up shopping and food-buying.

For Disney, it’s not just about selling more stuff by getting people through lines more quickly; it’s also about tracking everything from their purchases to their movements and interactions.

Writes the NY Times [via DigitalJournal]:

Did you buy a balloon? What attractions did you ride and when? Did you shake Goofy’s hand, but snub Snow White? If you fully use MyMagic+, databases will be watching, allowing Disney to refine its offerings and customize its marketing messages.

The Times gives the example of an encounter with Cinderella. Currently, the woman dressed up as the character probably has no idea what your name is or if it’s your birthday. But the MyMagic+ system would be able to instantly tell her that your name is Chris and it’s your 37th birthday and you need a hug… maybe not that last part, but you get the idea.

“We want to take experiences that are more passive and make them as interactive as possible — moving from, ‘Cool, look at that talking bird,’ to ‘Wow, amazing, that bird is talking directly to me,’ ” the chief creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering explains.

Since this is both a new, and potentially controversial, program for the park, Disney is not requiring that visitors use the smart bands. Additionally, those who do opt in to MyMagic+ can go into an online interface and cherry-pick the info they want to share on their bands.

However, reports the Times, even with the most restrictive settings activated for the bands, Disney will still be tracking and gathering information on users. Though the park says the bands contain no personally identifying information.

An obvious concern is what happens to lost or stolen bands. Disney tells the Times that guests can use a smartphone app to deactivate an errant band and that park employees will also be trained to turn them off. Furthermore, purchases of over $50 — which would encompass a lot of things at Disney World — will require a PIN to complete the transaction.