Disturbed by NSA Spying? Disney World's New "Magic Bands" Track Guests

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About a year ago, Disney announced that it would be moving away from paper tickets and instituting a system of "Magic Bands" -- computer-chipped, scannable, waterproof rubber bracelets that would work as entry ticket, FastPass, hotel room key, and credit card. Some preapproved Disney guests were first given Magic Bands to test this summer and fall, and more and more Disney guests who plan their trips online are starting to get bands in the mail now. Currently, use of the bands is optional.

When Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey dared to publicly criticize the bands, saying he was concerned about the privacy of millions of children, Disney's CEO, Bob Iger, barked, dashing off a letter calling him "ill-informed."

That was before Edward Snowden.

See also: Hard-Core Disney Fans Can't Be Corralled by the Corporate-Approved Fan Club, D23

The MyMagic+ "vacation management system" can track guests as they move throughout Walt Disney World and analyze their buying habits. If parents allow certain settings on the Magic Bands, employees playing characters will be able to see data with the use of hidden sensors --- so a child might walk up to Mickey Mouse, who says, "Hi, Bobby! Happy birthday!" Some rides will be designed so that there's interaction between the machines and people with Magic Bands in waiting areas, thus keeping guests entertained as they wait in line.

Would guests find this disturbingly Orwellian in a post-NSA-scandal world?

So far, the answer looks to be "no." The hard-core Disney fans who post on forums like Disboards, Mousechat.net and WDWmagic.com all seem pretty excited to get their paws on their Magic Bands, gladly turn over their personal data, and test them out. Most of the criticisms seem more concerned with functionality than privacy.

Some say that everything worked swimmingly and that it was a relief to have a single device and not have to fumble for keys, tickets, and credit cards. Others complained about system glitches: One guest said that her daughter's band didn't work and that staff were not well-trained in how to resolve the problem, resulting in many hours trying to get tech support instead of riding rides. Other guests said they had trouble if the hotel was in one person's name but restaurant reservations were in another's.

Techy types, however, debated more substantial fears: Could the data on the wristbands be read by smartphones? What if someone copied and pasted your data and cloned your band -- and could use your credit card and get into your hotel room?

Disney has explained that the system is based on RFID -- radio frequency identification -- chips, the type of device that is in a SunPass. (Here's how they work.) and that all purchases made with bands would require a PIN number. Disney has also said that information gleaned from the band would not be used to market to kids under 13.

True to its incredible moneymaking form, Disney has also announced plans to change the bands from time to time, creating a market for "collectible" ones. The company also conceived of "Magic Band accessories" called Cover Bands and "Magic Bandits" -- little plastic characters that can be attached to the Magic Bands for personalization, like this little buttons you can stick in the holes in your Crocs. (Same target buyer?)

One mom was game to try out the bands, if a tiny bit skeptical. She just warned: If she encountered problems, she'd take her tourist dollars to the competitor, Universal Studios: "Kids are going to have to learn about Harry Potter. "

Guess the takeaway here is for the NSA: Just stamp some mouse-ear logo on your surveillance equipment and Americans will be downright delighted to let you monitor everything they do!

Send story tips to Deirdra.Funcheon@BrowardPalmBeach.com



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23 comments
Curt Cole
Curt Cole

Funny ... I bet most of these people posting positive comments are some of the same posting negative comments about the NSA. I personally have been a wdw fan since it opened, taking a few trips a year to Orlando and even California to exclusively visit Disney parks, but they've lost a long time fan / customer in me with my magic+

Sam Smith
Sam Smith

As long as there is full disclosure of what they are tracking and what is done with the data, then consumers can choose. Some Disney fans will love this, others won't want to have a corporation track their movements and every purchase knowing that the data cannot be secured. Others may have concerns about the tracking of their children, who has access to that information, is it safe, could someone hack it, etc.

Michael Sauer
Michael Sauer

They work great and pose no harm what so ever. Disney has been tracking purchases (via your hotel key) for years now. Comparing it to the NSA is childish and nothing but click bait.

WiseOldUnicorn
WiseOldUnicorn

Come on, seriously? First of all, all the personal information about your kids (like their birthday, etc.) is entirely opt-in. If you're concerned about your kid's privacy, you have the option of not giving the bands any info at all--or even refusing to use them. Disney is letting people have their choice as to how much information they want to share. When was the last time the NSA gave you the option to opt-out of being spied on, hmm?

Secondly, while Disney can certainly track you with the RFID chips, what kind of information are they going to be getting? Things like what rides you rode at what time of day, how many times you rode them, and how long your wait in line was. Things that they already have less effective means of tracking, and things that have no possible use for anyone beyond being used by Disney to improve their theme parks. Not quite the same thing as having your phone calls and Internet traffic spied on.

I'm as pro-privacy and anti-NSA surveillance as anyone, but this article is nothing but fearmongering. Getting upset about something as harmless as Disney's Magic Bands is just plain overreacting, and makes it seem like pro-privacy groups are just paranoid and overly sensitive.

Sam Smith
Sam Smith

Big difference between signing up for tracking with a corporation and having the government spy on me (and you and everyone else) w/o a warrant. Disney can't lock me up, the gov. can.

JJMcClure
JJMcClure

These are the people that play on their iPhones while they scream how bad magic bands are... Good luck... a magic band is much better than your debit card or credit card, cell phone... If you think a magic band is bad because they know you rode space mountain 4 times and bought a pretzel then I hope you don't use a cell phone, a computer, a bank or have a job. In reality if you are reading this then the government knows much more about you than Disney does... Enjoy your pretzel because you already bought a ticket and went through security... That's more than what the Magic band will tell them.

mriker
mriker

Yes, this is definitely much worse than the NSA scandal. Just like someone bumping into me on the subway is much worse than the Holocaust.


Ridiculous fear-mongering article. For one, no personal information (including credit card information) is stored on the bands, so no, these bands don't lend themselves to data theft. If Disney wants to track my position in the parks, who gives a fuck? If these metrics can improve the guest experience and park design, fantastic. This is no way puts it anywhere near the level of the NSA scandal.


Shame on you, you click-baiting hack.

Curt Cole
Curt Cole

i'm completely disgusted with disney's my magic+ (magic bands aka billion dollar blunder). after being an annual passholder since the 70s, disney has lost a long time customer in me. they shoulda spent the billion dollars on a new theme park imo

smdrpepper
smdrpepper topcommenter

But hasnt Disney been spying on everyone for years anyway?

Rachel R Levy Lewis
Rachel R Levy Lewis

Interesting how the writer of this article actually contradicts herself at the end of her article. Are you actually so naive and stupid as to believe that the credit/debit cards in your wallets aren't doing the exact same thing? Give it a rest. You people will find absolutely anything to criticize and attempt to incite pandemonium. Are you not aware that the next phase of Disney park entry is facial recognition software? Let's see what you have to say then...

Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez

Cari Garcia, haven't read it yet but see what it says.

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@WiseOldUnicornHow do you know NSA doesn't take info from Disney like it takes it from Facebook, Verizon etc?  What about all those fingerprint scans?  Would that bother you?  Who knows, really? Its interesting to think about, though!

LPHastings
LPHastings

@Sam Smith But you realize Disney is one of the richest and most powerful corporations in the entire world? And you also realize that corporations are the ones who sway the government? 

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

NSA takes data from Facebook, cell phone companies, etc.  Why would Disney be any different? What if the govt wanted all those fingerprint scans of ppl going into park?  Would that bother you? 

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@mrikerSome people could care less that the NSA collects so much data; others found it alarming.  You might choose to shrug it off, but some people are really uncomfortable with a huge corporation having so much data - especially on kids.  There are parallels, whether you choose to dismiss them or not.  Target and Snapchat also promised their sites couldn't be hacked. Whoops! Weird to me when individuals are such big defenders of a massive corporation.

KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII topcommenter

The data mining folks love you and your ilk. When the roundup comes please do not look bewildered.

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

Wouldn't say I contradicted myself. People disturbed by NSA spying and privacy concerns will be interested in Disney's switch to magic bands. People who are Disney fans first, however, don't seem to mind, and Disney has tried alleviate any privacy fears.  I DO think we're being tracked by credit cards, SunPass, etc and that's interesting what you say about facial recognition software -- I'll look into it, thanks.

colin.scott.mcdonald
colin.scott.mcdonald

@funchey1 @mriker let's see - a corporation collecting data on you when you're on their property engaged in voluntary activities (last I saw visiting Disney was not a mandatory thing) and doing so with clear disclosure on what they're doing with the wrist bands versus your government collecting data on everything you do everywhere you go and everyone you call.


yeah that's the same.

skrenlin
skrenlin

@funchey1@mriker@mriker was right on target in their synopsis of this article.

   There doesn't actually seem to be *that* much data that could be snarfed from these. "Oh Noes, Disney is tracking my movements and stuff while I'm in their park, and they can greet my children by name!"  This level of tracking is NOTHING like what the NSA has been doing.  And it's also *optional*.  I.E. Nothing to see here.

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@skrenlin@funchey1@mrikerYet!!! You think they're going to be optional in a year or two? Who knows what they may/may not do with the data?  What a hacker might do with it?   The bands might not have your credit card info ON them -- but it's linked. Maybe Disney is in fact disclosing everything it's doing with your info; maybe it's not. Maybe there are hackers who can outsmart Disney's computer security team. Just letting people know that if you get a ticket and go to Disney, these are the capabilities they have.  Knowledge is power. You want to blindly trust Disney's promises?  That's your choice. I'm always in favor of a little healthy skepticism.

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