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.

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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?

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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