Mickey Mouse knows what you did last summer
This spring Disney is introducing RFID wristbands that will record your activities inside the Magic Kingdom. Why? Because they love you -- and your data.
Don’t look know, but an adult-sized rodent wearing red shorts and white gloves is following you. He knows the rides you rode, the food you ate, and whether you barfed on Space Mountain. Or at least he will soon, thanks to a new tracking technology that’s about to appear in the happiest places on earth.
This spring, Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the $43 billion entertainment giant are planning to introduce MyMagic+, a program that will track visitors to Disney’s various Magic Kingdoms using wristbands containing Radio Frequency Identification tags.
An RFID wristband can replace your hotel room key, your park tickets, and your wallet – enabling you to gain access to attractions and pay for food and trinkets just by waving the MagicBand near a scanner embedded in a wall or turnstile. At the same time, it can suck down all kinds of data about you and your activities, the better to sell you more stuff.
The easily excitable Michael DiMare of DizFanatic.com describes the myriad benefits of having Donald Duck and his nosy nephews on your tail:
Need to get into your awesome Pirates of the Caribbean themed hotel room? Just hold your wristband up to the door.
At Magic Kingdom gates at 5:30AM for an 8:00 opening? Just hold your wristband to the turnstile (at 8:00 am).
Mmm, time to buy a yummy cinnamon bun at the Main Street Bakery. Just hold up your wristband to the paystation to pay!
Oh, hurry, FastPass to meet Mickey Mouse (or Tinkerbell in my case <3 ). Just hold up your wristband to the FastPass kiosk.
Next? Get that classic photo on Main Street with the castle in the background, and even daddy can get into this photo thanks to PhotoPass. Just hold up your wristband for the photographer to scan. (No more digging in your pocket for that card)
Love EPCOT's Kim Possible interactive spy game? Try some new adventures like a Magic Kingdom Pirate Adventure, an Imagineer's hidden secrets adventure or even "a romantic adventure"? Use your wristband to keep the adventure going.
Can't wait to show your jealous friends at home that awesome ride video of you on Big Thunder Mountain? Just hold up your wristband to be sure that it is added to your 'Enhanced' PhotoPass account.
Of course, that’s not all the Maus Hausers can do with that data. As the New York Times’ Brook Barnes reports:
Parts of MyMagic+ will allow Disney for the first time to track guest behavior in minute detail. 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…
MagicBands can also be encoded with all sorts of personal details, allowing for more personalized interaction with Disney employees. Before, the employee playing Cinderella could say hello only in a general way. Now — if parents opt in — hidden sensors will read MagicBand data, providing information needed for a personalized greeting: “Hi, Angie,” the character might say without prompting. “I understand it’s your birthday.”
How you feel about all that depends a lot on whether you find the notion of an adult dressed up as a cartoon character greeting your kids by name magical, or just creepy. Me, I’m voting for creepy.
Still, Disney isn’t forcing anyone to use the wristbands (yet). And the real privacy questions concern what else Disney might do with that data, besides allowing you to hit on Tinkerbell. To date, the company has revealed very little on that score.
For example, Disney says the wristbands won’t contain any personal data (besides, presumably, your or your kids’ first names) and that you’ll be able to choose what My Magic+ does and does not know about you. But for these things to work as described, the MagicBands will need to access a database where your payment information and other personal data is stored.
How long will Disney retain the data, and how else will it be used? Even if Disney decides not to voluntarily share this information with third parties, it could be forced to share it involuntarily – like with your ex-spouse’s divorce attorney, who wants to prove you’re a lousy parent because you feed the kids too much junk food; or an employer who wonders how you managed to ride Whiplash Mountain three times last month yet still collect disability checks.
I could come up with a dozen other hypothetical examples. With any tracking technology the boogieman is almost always how long the company stores your data and the unintended ways it could be used. The longer it holds onto your data, the more likely someone else will find a use for it besides giving Grumpy and Dopey the 411 on your kids.
Disney is hardly alone in this; there are many organizations and companies using a variety of different technologies to enable frictionless commerce, whether it’s RFID tags, near field communications, or mobile apps. This stuff is going to become much more common over the next few years.
This week, for example, a 15-year-old in Texas sued her high school over its insistence that she wear an RFID-enabled name tag to record her attendance. The highly evangelical student sued on grounds that the RFID tag represented the Biblical “mark of the beast” and thus violated her religious freedom. She lost that argument, by the way.
Is RFID the mark of the beast? Maybe. But who ever imagined the beast would turn out to be Goofy?
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