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Robert Niles
Editor

How much do you want 'Big Brother Mickey' watching you on vacation?

Published: October 11, 2013 at 10:31 AM

How much do you want Disney, or any other theme park company, to know about what you're doing on your family vacation?

That's the question raised by an Orlando Sentinel report on what Disney's planning to do with all that data it will be collecting from visitors using its new RFID-enabled wristbands.

From the article:

MyMagic+ will allow Disney to track where visitors go across the vast resort; how they spend their money; and what and when they like to eat. Disney plans to use that information to devise more sophisticated and personalized sales pitches, in which everything from the message to the price could vary from one prospective customer to the next.

Such stories often play on an archetypal conflict: "Big Brother" vs. private citizen. The big company spies on us to collect information it will use to make a profit, while individuals try to protect some private space for themselves.

MagicBands
Photo courtesy Disney

But isn't that just too simplistic? Sure, sometimes people want their privacy, but sometimes they're okay with being watched. If you're Jesse Pinkman on the run from the law, yes, you want your privacy. But if you're hiking through the Rockies and get lost, wouldn't you prefer someone have the ability to track your location and send a rescue?

If I'm reading a magazine or website, I'd rather see ads for travel destinations and products that interest me, instead of offers for cigarettes, hearing aids, strollers, baby toys, or any of the thousands of other products out there I don't buy (or don't buy anymore). If publishers don't have any way of tracking my preferences, I'm going to get a random selection of ads all the time. How annoying.

If Disney can use its MyMagic+ data to tailor its offers to specific customers, fine. Do families whose little girls have grown up really want to keep getting offers for princess-themed attractions or events? Many won't, and Disney serves itself and those customers by shifting its offers as those customers' interests shift.

On the flip side, when tracking is used against customers, they're not going to like it. Do you really want Disney to know when and what you've ordered when you are "drinking around the world" at Epcot? Imagine getting to Italy and having a cast member refuse to serve you because you've ordered too many alcoholic beverages in too short a time, as tracked by your MagicBand (no matter if you bought a few extra drinks for friends). Not saying that would happen, but imagine the possibilities.

Part of the challenge for Disney in rolling out MyMagic+ will be to decide what data-driven actions help it win over more customers, and what types actions creep out those customers and drive them away. Let's help by offering some suggestions, in the comments.

What would you like to see Disney do with its MyMagic+ data, to improve your experience in the park? And are there times when you hope that Disney will "look the other way" and ignore data, or put in protections that help you continue to feel comfortable when visiting?

Replies (19)

74.202.118.163

Published: October 11, 2013 at 11:06 AM

An interesting issue. Let me just say that my family and I love the customized marketing products that Disney sends to us before and after our Disney visits. As hokey as they are, it's fun to have something come in the mail that greets us by name and provides tailored info on the subjects I checked in some pre-purchase survey that I don't even remember taking.

I absolutely agree with you about preferring advertisements in my emails that are geared to my interests. Having said that, there has to be a line drawn somewhere, and I personally am not sure where that "somewhere" is. Some people argue that you have nothing to worry about if you're not doing anything you shouldn't be doing. Ah, but at that point, it becomes a very politically charged issue, doesn't it?

Bottom line, it will be interesting to see where Disney goes with their information gathering. As long as TPI and the rest of us keep an eye on things, we certainly have the power to protest with our dollars if it seems like it is starting to infringe on our privacy.

Anon Mouse

Published: October 11, 2013 at 11:27 AM

The problem with trying to maintain your privacy is that you already lost it. Everytime you use your credit cards or your government issued identification, you're already telling them who you are. Disney is merely utilizing their own systems that they can control as opposed to the system that are maintained by other companies like the credit and banking systems.

To truly stay out of the grid, don't access the Internet. Use cash. Stay out of trouble. Don't get photographed. Don't walk outside. Don't have friendships, relationship, or get married. Good luck with that.

If privacy is important, you can't take the advantages that are offered in automation. MyMagic offers a easy way to have quick and easy transactions. Of course these tranactions can be tracked and you can be marketed. It is best for the customer to take advantage of such marketing with the discounts being offered. It does "pay to play" in some incidences.

99.189.140.131

Published: October 11, 2013 at 11:40 AM

This week was my first chance to experience the large amount of next gen project that has rolled out over the past year. I truly think it's going to pay off for Disney in the long run. Simply put, all that tracking is going to equate to better abilities to respond to guest and crowd needs. Think about being able to track crowd movements in such a way that you can no exactly when to add extra fast passes or open that second loading station or that auxiliary route out of the park. And how bout tracking lost children. Not to mention how the data will allow guests to track themselves as well. You could monitor the times you've ridden your favorite rides and see how you spend your time at Disney.

The fact is, there isn't a single entertainment company that hasn't been tracking it's guests in the past 20 years. The difference is, the magic band allows connections and context. Now, instead of just knowing that most people move counterclockwise around a park, they can see what time those guests get to the park, which order they visit attractions and how long it takes to get through a series of attractions. It can also help take the guess work out of food service. Disney already knows what types of food guests want (unfortunately bland and fried) but maybe now they see how different types of guests are purchasing food and better meet the unique needs of solo guests, couples, families, and large groups rather than just shoveling fries and burgers down our gullets.

All in all I think the hype about the dangers to guest privacy are ridiculous. After all, you are on Disney property, buying Disney merchandise, riding Disney rides, and sleeping in Disney beds. If you don't want to be tracked just don't go. It's not really public in the same way as if the government tracked your behaviors on the street or in your home.

4.30.21.226

Published: October 11, 2013 at 11:48 AM

Not sure why people think this is new? companies track your spending and other habits all the time, like someone said in a previous comment,don't use CC's, internet, cell phone or anything other than cash if you want to pretend to be anonymous.

When I was at Disney a month or so ago, I was speaking to someone about the Magic+ bands. One of the great features that could be utilized is if a child is lost or stolen, being able to locate them via the band. I would think this would be a welcome thing for any parent who has gone full fledged panic when they turned their head and the little one has wondered off out of sight. I'm ok with Disney tracking my spending and habits at their parks if 1 child is saved as a result.

Tom Rigg

Published: October 11, 2013 at 11:53 AM

This week was my first chance to experience the large amount of next gen project that has rolled out over the past year. I truly think it's going to pay off for Disney in the long run. Simply put, all that tracking is going to equate to better abilities to respond to guest and crowd needs. Think about being able to track crowd movements in such a way that you can no exactly when to add extra fast passes or open that second loading station or that auxiliary route out of the park. And how bout tracking lost children. Not to mention how the data will allow guests to track themselves as well. You could monitor the times you've ridden your favorite rides and see how you spend your time at Disney.

The fact is, there isn't a single entertainment company that hasn't been tracking it's guests in the past 20 years. The difference is, the magic band allows connections and context. Now, instead of just knowing that most people move counterclockwise around a park, they can see what time those guests get to the park, which order they visit attractions and how long it takes to get through a series of attractions. It can also help take the guess work out of food service. Disney already knows what types of food guests want (unfortunately bland and fried) but maybe now they see how different types of guests are purchasing food and better meet the unique needs of solo guests, couples, families, and large groups rather than just shoveling fries and burgers down our gullets.

All in all I think the hype about the dangers to guest privacy are ridiculous. After all, you are on Disney property, buying Disney merchandise, riding Disney rides, and sleeping in Disney beds. If you don't want to be tracked just don't go. It's not really public in the same way as if the government tracked your behaviors on the street or in your home.

TH Creative
Writer

Published: October 11, 2013 at 12:54 PM

From the article: "MyMagic+ will allow Disney to track where visitors go across the vast resort; how they spend their money ..."

I Respond: And why wouldn't Disney already be able to achieve this via someone's credit card swipes?

TH Creative
Writer

Published: October 11, 2013 at 12:55 PM

Mr. Niles writes: "Imagine getting to Italy and having a cast member refuse to serve you because you've ordered too many alcoholic beverages in too short a time ...:

I Respond: I'm sorry but your proposing a hypothetical situation where Disney would refuse to take money from someone?

Um ... (chuckle) ... okay.

Jacob Sundstrom
Writer

Published: October 11, 2013 at 1:11 PM

Disney does, you know, refuse to serve guests that are intoxicated.

So yeah, there are situations where the big bad capitalists do turn down taking money.

Okay, there is ONE situation. Fine :p.

64.118.2.220

Published: October 11, 2013 at 1:43 PM

This comment isn't necessarily regarding WDW, but I was wondering about using fingerprints at USO. IF their computers can link the fingerprint back to your on-site hotel reservation by using your name, etc. they would have a treasure trove of personal information PLUS your fingerprint to boot. Can anyone say "lost iphone"?

Can anyone say how long USO keeps your fingerprint on file?

TH Creative
Writer

Published: October 11, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Mr. Sundstrom writes: "Disney does, you know, refuse to serve guests that are intoxicated."

I Respond: Dude, I know a guy who got so hammered at EPCOT that we took him out of the park in a wheelchair.

Annette Forrest

Published: October 11, 2013 at 8:58 PM

I want to pay Robert Niles a compliment and illustrate why he is my favorite writer covering Disney. I don't always agree with Robert and personally I think the Magic Bands are going to be great...but Robert does such a great job of actually REPORTING on what's going on and really framing the issue. He lets people make up their own minds, instead of clobbering people on the head with his opinion. No one else covers Disney like Robert Niles. Probably my second favorite writer would be Jim Hill because I think he also is good at presenting issues.

Personally, I went to the Blue Lagoon Spa in Iceland about ten years or so ago when a group of friends and I went to a wedding in England, and flew Iceland Air because it was cheapest and offered us a layover in Rekyjavik where we could go to this spa for a few hours.

The spa had something like "Magic Bands". We got there, checked in, and each of us got a rubber wrist band (exactly the way Magic Bands work) to wear for the duration of our stay at Blue Lagoo spa. The band was used to open doors (instead of any keys) and I could order food and drink or anything I wanted by pressing my wrist band to a sensor at the register. When I got to the locker room, I touched the band to a locker, opened it, stored my things...and the locker would not open until I touched by band to it again! Only my band would open the locker I chose.

There were several areas of the spa that you had to pay extra for. I can't remember what they were, but they had like three packages available and we did not choose the most expensive one. So, some doors to special areas would open with our bands and some would not (the ones we did not pay for). It was a wonderful system. I didn't have to carry my purse with me all day...and I could just enjoy going into the Blue Lagoon water, relaxing a bit, then coming out and heading over to get a snack or go to my massage appointment (which I also checked in for and paid for with my band).

That was ten years ago. I've been waiting to see something like this in the US since then. It took Disney to bring it here...but I bet everyone else will follow since the system was so easy to use.

I never once thought about anyone trying to steal my identity with my band in Iceland...though I was just so in awe of the technology and magic of it all that I just couldn't stop smiling from how cool it was to use the thing.

AND, yes, it did make me spend more than I probably would have if I had to take my card out of my pocketbook to pay for things. I indulged in a few drinks and treats I probably would not have gotten...and I bought a few more souvenirs than I would have if it had not been so easy to use the band. Mentally, I am thriftiest when using cash because I can see the cash being depleted in my pocket. I can go a little nuts with my credit card, but physically taking it out and handing it to the cashier makes me think about how close I am to my limit and how long it will take to pay it off. But using those bands I just felt like I was using magic to pay for things...and I splurged.

I bet people are going to find them amazing and fun to use in Florida, too. Not sure how long before the novelty wears off. But, they really were super cool.

Paul J

Published: October 11, 2013 at 11:58 PM

It's nearly impossible to do anything on the Internet and not lose your privacy, and forget any privacy at Disney. I was at Disneyland and saw a couple of guys looking around, and then they took a beer can out of a bag. Within maybe 5 seconds two security guys came out of nowhere and hauled them away. They didn't even have a chance to open it. Clearly we're all under intense surveillance from the time we enter the park, probably even before then.
Charles Reichley

Published: October 12, 2013 at 6:59 AM

Doesn't Disney refuse to sell you alcohol for "friends"? Most parks require each person to show their own ID and buy their own alcohol.

Paul J

Published: October 12, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Disneyland doesn't sell alcohol in honor of uncle Walt, Disneyworld sells alcohol in honor of the stockholders.
Anon Mouse

Published: October 12, 2013 at 10:44 AM

From the way Disney is pushing alcohol, I would think they have a high tolerance for public intoxication. I've been on a Disney cruise recently. The whole deal with the adult lounges is the selling of alcoholic beverages. They promote drinks at your dining table and at the pools. It is non-stop drink promotion. I am sure a few people are drinking too much, but the general public isn't drinking enough. I think most people have a misconception about Disney's attitude towards drinking. People are with their families most of the time. People have a hard time drinking with Mickey. That's why they need to take people out of the children's decor and put them in the adult sections to encourage more drinking. They'll deal with public drunkenness when its an actual problem. It sure isn't now.
Anthony Murphy
Writer

Published: October 13, 2013 at 6:35 AM

I still do not understand how this is any different than a Key to the World Card? If we are suddenly worried about Disney knowing too much, then I think we are about 20 years too late. The Magic Band is pretty much a glorified and smaller key to the World Card.

One portion that seems to have gone away (and I thought was the most valid question) is the child privacy question. Granted, I am not worried about that aspect, but I felt at least that concern had some legs.

I really don't care if theme parks know my habits. I would think they were fools if they don't already :)

Tim Hillman

Published: October 13, 2013 at 7:23 AM

If the Next Gen system becomes too intrusive or irritating, then I'll do my best to block it by using cash and possible an RF-shielded bag to isolate the RFID chip, but I don't think that will be necessary.

I like my privacy, but if I choose to go to Disney, and they want to track my riding and buying habits, that's ok with me as long as it improves my experience in the parks.

Really, if you think about it, the data gleaned from the system is not much different from the posts you make on this site. Disney is listening. It may not be the message that you want to send to them, since you can't filter it, but it is still usable data.

Ron A

Published: October 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Great topic, thanks for bringing it up!

There has been much said about Disney's NextGen/MagicBands, by myself as well as many others like Robert, and it will probably continue for at least another six months or so as they roll out the program at WDW.

I like the idea of them offering tailored ads before and after my trip to entice me to spend more, or even come back. Although, they've already had the information to do this in the past, and they seem to be using it more frequently over the last few years as I've begun getting emails announcing special offers, which I'm really okay with. I can't say any of them have enticed us to return prior to our planned next trip, but it's still enjoyable seeing them.

I think the tactic of using the data to stop a guest from buying too many drinks is probably a bit far-fetched, and I can't really see them using it, although they could as pointed out. I would imagine seeing them using data like that to get a better picture of which guests are drinking which beverages, and maybe tailor the offerings depending on groups that might be visiting.

One of the things I wrote on my blog was their ability to determine exactly how many guests from a specific resort or from all resorts were in the parks at a given time. With this data, they could many things. Most notably, at closing time, they could stage the exact number of busses needed to get those guests back to their resort. They could also use this data to provide guests with feedback who were maybe late leaving their resort and wanted to know which park was least crowded. That's kind of wishful thinking, but, I think it would be great to see, particularly, if you took a mid-day break, then planned to return to a park for the evening. I say it's wishful because, technically, they already have this information, but don't give it out.

Something else they could do with guest information, particularly if you've been many times, or offered them a full profile of your party, would be customized touring plans. For example, if you have small children, they could theoretically provide you with a pre-planned day with FastPasses to attractions based on your groups preferences and/or favorite attractions from past visits and advanced seating for shows and times tailored to your party and touring style. This is where I think the program has the potential to shine in that it can actually help them better manage crowd flow, if used in a smart way using advanced planning methods.

Those are just a few of my thoughts on it. Overall, I don't have any issue whatsoever with them using my data or even tracking me, so long as it makes for a better experience while I'm there, which I think they have the capability to do.

Tyler Stover
Writer

Published: October 14, 2013 at 10:12 AM

I agree with the point that targeted marketing can often be less annoying than ads that don't interest you at all. Facebook seems to be particularly guilty of this. They know I like racing so I get ads for various kart tracks (great! I'm interested in discovering new places to race) but somehow they totally ignore my location, and all the adverts are for places on the other side of the country, so back to being annoying and pointless when they could have been helpful. I don't mind data gathering for internal use. I do mind if that data is released, whether through sale or security breach, to a third party.

While the article worries about the possibility of this data tracking being used to deny a guest a drink because of what they've already purchased, the recent incident of a drunk guest assaulting multiple CMs at Epcot leads me to think additional measures to prevent people from being overserved would be in Disney's best interest. They are well within their rights to limit how much alcohol they will sell to an individual guest.

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