Disney Balances Progress and Privacy


By Samuel Greengard

Once upon a time, visitors to Disneyland and Disney World stood in lines … big, long lines that often seemed to snake into infinity. The FastPass system that was introduced in the late 1990s provided some relief.

Now, however, the Magic Kingdom is now going really high tech. Over the next several months, it will introduce disposable wireless wristbands that can track visitors across Disney World and beyond. The so-called MagicBands will use RFID and will link to credit card information, room keys and park entry passes.

Disney beckons with the promise of guaranteed ride times and no wait for shows. In return, the company plucks personal information that it feeds into MyMagic+, a database that ties into a mobile app for iOS and Android.

"No matter where guests fall in that spectrum, My Disney Experience gives them the flexibility to plan as much or as little as they'd like to create the exact Disney experience they want," blogged Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs.

The system, which is expected to cost between $800 million and $1 billion and accommodate upward of 100,000 guests each day, will radically change the way people visit the park. MyMagic+ will track everything from dining reservations to wait times for rides— and, reportedly, will even allow mascot characters to meet and greet children and other guests by name. What's more, the MagicBands will serve as a hotel key and can be encoded with all sorts of information that unlocks digital marketing and other features.

It's also easy to extrapolate on how this type of system could fundamentally change the way we attend shows, sporting events and festivals. The downside? Disney will collect and manage a lot of personal data—including the location of children at any given moment.

I think this system treads perilously close to the creepy zone. Not everyone wants Disney to know where they are and what they're doing every minute of the day.

So give Disney credit for doing things the right way. Visitors can choose what information to share and can even set up different levels of data sharing for adults and children.

Of course, remaining private comes at a cost: Certain features and perks may not be available. But in the rapidly evolving digital world, this seems like a reasonable trade-off. After all, opting out only negates the gains that would occur if a visitor chooses to use the system.

Expect to see more of these types of systems as we dive deeper into next-generation networks, more advanced RFID, mobile apps and real-time transactional capabilities. And, as this new era of business emerges, it would be wise for business and IT executives to pay close attention to the increasingly fuzzy line between progress and privacy.