Disney World’s MagicBand: ‘Welcome to Dataland, Princess’

“Cinderella Castle” by Katie Rommel-Esham. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-us via Wikimedia Commons.

Ian Bogost’s essay at Medium analyzes the unabashed tracking of customers at Disney World, where “Dataland suggests that once data surveillance becomes transactional, it rapidly becomes exhibitionist.” He and his family have just arrived in the Magic Kingdom and been issued with their MagicBand bracelets:

…Later, after deploying my MagicBand to allow entry into our hotel room, I read the My Disney Experience FAQ, which explains the operation of the MagicBand. It’s an uncharacteristic offering for a company so devoted to “magic” as a black-boxed secret sauce. I learn that in addition to the expected RFID allowing short-range communication at touch-points—room entry, park admission, and points of purchase—the MagicBand also includes a long-range radio transceiver, which communicates with receivers located throughout the Disney properties. The FAQ clarifies, in the vaguest possible way, that these long-range readers are used “to deliver personalized experiences…as well as provide information that helps us improve the overall experience in our parks.”

Disney assures guests that the MagicBands do not store any personal information, just a code used to reference your account in Disney databases. From a technical perspective, the design is ingenious. In a teardown of the MagicBand posted at the At Disney Again blog, the colorful, be-Mickeyed exterior is revealed to be completely stuffed with copper. The whole wristband is one big antenna.

I look up from my laptop. “Disney knows when you’re on the toilet,” I announce, placing my MagicBand on the counter before making my way to the loo.

Walt Disney, Futurist Traditionalist
A quick web search reveals that concerns about MagicBand and privacy are so common and so predictable as to meld into one boring drone. Yes, Disney can track your movements through their parks and resorts. Yes, Disney can use that information for more or less whatever they choose. But heck! Big retail companies have been tracking you for years. First with club cards, then with sensors and cameras—and now even with your own smartphone’s WiFi signals. And after all, you don’t have to wear a MagicBand to use the parks if you really don’t want to.

But MagicBand isn’t like any old data gathering practice, because Disney isn’t like any old company. And not just because Disney is a giant conglomerate that has good reason to collect as much information about you as possible. Rather, because Disney’s theme parks don’t have the same relationship to reality that Google and Costco and the NSA do. They are hybrids of fantasy and reality.

Walt Disney embodied two unlikely ideals. On the one hand, he was a traditionalist, fond of railroads and small town main streets of the nineteen-aughts, of classic adventure and of folktales. But on the other hand, he was a futurist, encouraged by the idea that technology could and would produce a more prosperous and equitable “great big beautiful tomorrow.”…

[continues at Medium]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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5 Comments on "Disney World’s MagicBand: ‘Welcome to Dataland, Princess’"

  1. Anarchy Pony | Jul 31, 2014 at 11:29 am |

    What could go wrong?

  2. Chaos_Dynamics | Jul 31, 2014 at 12:36 pm |

    Big Eyed Beans from Venus!

    Oh… I thought it was about Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Jul 31, 2014 at 1:06 pm |

    more benign than Screwgle
    who reads your mail and tracks your site visits
    or even more benign than the Homeland gruberment
    who assigns you a number at birth
    with which to track you for the rest of your life

    Disney is Mickey Mouse
    when it comes to invading privacy

  4. For many years, a disproportionate number of CIA recruits have been Disney Imagineers. Just sayin’.

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