Are You Ready for Disney’s MagicBand RFID Bracelets?

February 17, 2013
Total Recall Tracking Device

Total Recall Tracking Device Removal

Big Brother Mickey Mouse to monitor behavior via Disneys MyMagic+ RFID wristbands.

The Computerworld article by Darlene Storm (link above) is worthwhile reading. The article profiles the Spring 2013 introduction of RFID bracelets for visitors to Disney’s theme parks, under their “MagicBand” branding. I have never visited Disney, but have read they also fingerprint visitors, so are not averse to using biometrics to identify their patrons. In a sense, using ID bracelets to track your activity, enable purchasing, provide hotel room access, shuttle you through lines, and build up valuable preference marketing databases is less intrusive than biometrics. There are a number of services tied into these identifying bracelets, including social friending, and of course the consumer’s information is stored in the back end, not the bracelet. So this SoLoMo experience qualifies for the 2013 Hotel California scenario I outlined in a post late last year. It is equally interesting to read the reader reactions in the comments on other blog posts on this topic.  The most popular comments in terms of likes are skewed to privacy concerns and negative reactions to Disney’s marketing machine. Of course, one cannot ascribe any statistical validity to those who feel so strongly about issues as to comment on blog posts since those who see nothing wrong with it may not feel a need to post.

For full disclosure, I was instrumental in introducing a people tracking solution using a bracelet/watch like device for LoJack SafetyNet. However, this tracking is only done if a person with a pre-diagnosed risk of wandering due to something like Autism or Alzheimers is lost. It’s a great solution that has provided peace of mind to caregivers, helped rescue many people and helped optimize public safety resources.  If you have a loved one in that situation, I highly recommend you visit their site.

I think Disney’s bracelets must use a combination of NFC for purchases and ticketing authentication, possibly pairing low energy bluetooth or other rfid with nearby sensors for tracking throughout the park.  I assume Cinderella will have an earpiece telling her who you are and if its your birthday, etc., but am unsure if a human is needed on the other end to communicate that info or if it will be computer generated speech from a database. I am wondering how they minimize the lag time between identifying a visitor either approaching a character like Cinderella or shaking the character’s hand to informing her about the patron so it all seems natural and “magical”. Using a method like Google Glass combined with facial recognition would not work in this case because it would detract from the dramatic experience of seeing your favorite personalities in character. It’s one thing seeing Sergey Brin wearing Glass, but it would be another to see Cinderella wearing it – at least for now. I guess Pluto could have the glasses within the costume head, but security details might be a more appropriate use.

While this wireless identification bracelet system is being introduced in a controlled park environment, the obvious next question becomes, “To what extend will something like this be rolled out using your handset / watch / glasses / other wearable device to your local mall or Rodeo Drive / 5th Avenue type shopping area in the future?”  What about using it in ballparks, football stadiums and concerts? These venues can follow Disney’s lead by incentivizing people to opt in and give up some privacy in exchange for faster / better access, smaller lines, coupons and give-aways.  That opt in privacy waiver might be re-used elsewhere later as you continue to be a member of their “club”. This happens now when you use your smartphone to text to a special # for voting or rewards – the ToS allow direct marketing later. So someday soon as you walk up to the gate at an airport, maybe the attendant will greet you by name and try to up-sell you on something you reserved in advance through their frequent flier plan, for example.

Anecdotally, people seem to be following the trend offered by marketers of forgoing privacy rights for convenience.  The more this happens, the more consumers use the “inevitability” rationalization in a self-reinforcing march toward total transparency, i.e., “They track you so much everywhere now anyway, why not opt in to this too?” The benefits of better personalization everywhere are compelling.  It’s also a marketer’s dream. At this point, it still makes one wonder if we won’t all end up with a wet towel wrapped around our heads yanking a tracking device out of our noses like Arnold in Total Recall.

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