What Privacy Should I Expect At Walt Disney World?

Posted By Debbie on December 4, 2013

There’s a lot of buzz about Disney’s new MagicBands at Disney World in Florida. In the old days, when you stayed and played, you got a card with a swipe strip. This was your hotel room key, room charge card, park tickets, and how you got your FastPasses (that let you dodge long line rides by coming back later).

MagicBands replace the cards. You wear a wrist band with an RFID chip and tiny battery. This wrist band gets waved all over the place to open your hotel room door, charge things to your room, get into parks, and get FastPasses. You can also associate pictures Disney staff and rides take of you with your PhotoPass account.

Since they’re using RFID, some people are getting nervous. They’re concerned that Disney will track their movements around the park. And think of the children! They might track children, and isn’t that a breach of privacy!!!

I don’t see it that way.

Thing 1, Disney World is a public place. What is my expectation of privacy in a public place? Not much when in theory, a marketing person could follow me ALL DAY and write down everything I do, eat, buy, ride, etc…

Thing 2, I’m sure before MagicBands tracked people, there were plenty of other ways to track people. The old card system knew where I was, what I was buying, where I stayed, and what FastPasses I got. Cameras can watch me everywhere. Experts track people’s movement through parks and shops. Disney even has/had a manual system that helps them know how long a ride wait is. They’d give someone entering the line something they had to give to the staffer who seats you on the ride. They then know how long that wait was.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think Disney weren’t the masters of tracking, understanding, and catering to human behaviour, even before RFID got involved.

Thing 3, I don’t remember a giant outcry when Disney World sold “Pal Mickey.” He was a stuffed plush Mickey that told you stories, asked trivia questions, and tried to keep you occupied when waiting on lines. But he also reminded you when parades were, and he told you when certain characters were near you. This means he had RFID or something in him that knew where you were.

Thing 4, let’s say Disney is using some long range tracking around the parks to see who’s moving around where and how. Let’s say your child is lost in EPCOT, which is a 300 acre park. And they don’t make announcements over speakers for lost children like it’s Walmart. Would you be happy that MagicBands saw your kid at The Land pavilion 7 minutes ago, helping you find your lost child more quickly?

Does that mean I’m for this? Well, it’s a vacation experience with a company known for forward-thinking technology. And you can opt out. They’ll give you the old card if you don’t want the wrist band. And I also believe Disney will keep the data for themselves and their use to improve the parks, guest experiences, and get people to spend more and stay longer.

I also think the data Disney collects is nearly useless to anybody else. What can Procter and Gamble do knowing how long the average woman is in a Disney bathroom? What can Coca Cola do knowing what the average guest spends on souvenirs? What can Siemens do knowing the average guest eats chicken fingers for lunch and then rides the carousel?

So I don’t feel particularly afraid of the data or how it will be used. It seems like a very specific application to me. I guess I can’t really find the problem here. This info won’t come up when you Google me. Nobody is going to call my house or mail me flyers. Pictures of children won’t be on the internet (more than Moms and Dads post them now).

So I’m not sure what the problem REALLY is. MagicBands are a more efficient way for Disney to do what they were already doing in a public place.