Disney Magic Bands: OMG! TMI

Derrick Harris at Gigaom recently posted Here’s What Happens When a Data Scientist Goes to Disney World, where Mailchimp chief data scientist John Foreman made observations about the Big Data, targeted marketing and privacy implications of Disney’s new RFID Magic Bands. This was a follow up to a guest post for Gigaom before John’s family trip to Disney World. In that post, John describes the depth of marketing data that Disney is collecting from guests wearing Magic Bands – even when the guests are not aware the bands are being tracked – and the associated privacy concerns. Some of the reader comments expand on those themes (yeah, it’s a theme park after all), so they’re worth reading.

I happened to be visiting Walt Disney World at the same time, so I posted a comment on the blog about my personal observation that there are even some places where guests need to use the Magic Bands to gain entrance to the restrooms. It’s hard to get more personal than that!

I also noted there that to make an in-park food or merchandise purchase, Disney guests press the Magic Band to a POS device and enter a 4-digit PIN. An IBM employee visiting Walt Disney World when I was there last week cited statistics on purchasing behavior of guests wearing Magic Bands. He said that band-wearing guests spent a lot more (something like 70% more) than other guests. He attributed that to the convenience factor of the band and because guests don’t focus as much on the cost as they might with a cash or credit card purchase. I suspect it’s because the bands are principally issued to guests staying in Disney hotels, who are more likely to eat all their meals on Disney property, etc. Also, it’s easier to aggregate purchases with the Magic Bands, because everyone on the same room account is tracked. Without the bands, it’s much harder to associate cash and credit purchases to a room party.

Here are a few more observations about the Magic Bands:

If you want to look like an in-the-know Disney insider, personalize the bands shortly after you make your Disney hotel reservation. Otherwise, you receive a box of generic-looking gray bands like the one John Foreman displays in the blog post, instead of the cool orange colored band that I was sporting. It also makes it easier to distinguish the bands if you’re traveling with others. Although the guest’s first name is printed inside the band, that’s little help if you have the same first name (as with my son and myself). You can use the Magic Bands for multiple trips. The battery life is up to two years.

The Magic Bands are not yet fully integrated at the Disney parks. The employees are still learning how to deal with the bands, and their knowledge of the bands and ability to make changes to the Magic Band accounts varies by job function.

We encountered a problem when my son  purchased a park pass from the hotel concierge. Everyone in the same hotel party is on the same Magic Band account.The pass was mistakenly assigned to my Magic Band on the same room account, so that when my son tried to enter the Magic Kingdom park with his Magic Band there was no park pass associated with it. The Disney employee at the gate directed us to  visit Guest Relations, so my son could enter the park. Guest Relations was not able to reassign the park pass to my son’s Magic Band. Instead, Guest Relations cancelled the original pass and gave him a new park pass card. Guest Relations said the hotel concierge would have to assign the pass to the Magic Band.

That’s how we learned that your fingerprint, used for biometric authentication at the park entrances, is also correlated with your specific Magic Band. When my son used the card to enter the park, the fingerprint scanner would not accept his fingerprint – because it was looking for my fingerprint, which was associated with my Magic Band to which the park pass had been originally misassigned.

There’s no way to turn off the Magic Bands or remove the battery. If you don’t want to be tracked, you have to use a card or shield the Magic Bands.

Trivia: My employer, Zix Corporation, knows something about RFID technology. The company was originally named Amtech and was the inventor of the RFID toll tag technology used by drivers everywhere. That business was sold, and the company now focuses on email data protection.

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