Online reception to Disney’s NextGen initiative, called MyMagic+, has been far short of what one could charitably call lukewarm. In fact, the more appropriate term is, probably, outright hatred. I’ve done my share of moaning about the wretched possibilities with this new system, particularly when it comes to the one-two punch of privacy concerns and shafting the annual passholders. But vitriol seldom tells the whole story, and on this topic, like so many others, I think there are two sides.

Disney has been quick to point out the main advantage to MyMagic+: it enables advanced planning for people who prefer that level of preparation, and removes a whole lot of uncertainty from the typical vacation formula. Think about it this way: imagine planning a trip to an amusement park that you do not often visit — Universal in Singapore, for example — would you be so completely opposed to advance reservation system that would guarantee you access to the top five rides in prearranged reservations? I would probably find that comforting. Admittedly, it’s only a small section of the population that can truly be called ultra planners, but it is also absolutely true that a vacation with the big question marks removed can mean more relaxation for a wide slice of the population. I’m not the biggest fan of all-inclusive vacation packages, because I think they usually save no money at best, and might make you spend more money at worst. But it’s also true that I absolutely enjoy myself on the Disney Cruise Line, which is an all inclusive vacation. I have noticed, and remarked upon, the relaxation factor that can kick in once you realize that all the bills are taken care of. It’s very likely that advanced ride reservations will have a similar effect on the overall vacation. It may calm and soothe those parts of the trip that were previously fraught with tension and anxiety. I’m not saying that the system will be perfect or nirvana for everyone, but I *am* saying that the opposite extreme reaction — thinking that absolutely everyone hates to plan minute details of the vacation or that a planned out vacation is not any fun — should not be taken as gospel either. This is one of those topics where both sides have validity because the spectrum of travelers is actually that wide.

At one point, Disney was not going to require a PIN code for purchases under $50 made with a MagicBand. Possibly in reaction to the online uproar, wiser heads prevailed at Team Disney Orlando and now a PIN code will be required for every purchase. With that fix in place, I don’t really have any complaints about using RFID for purchases. My 10-year-old assures me that he will absolutely hate it if he has to wear the band full-time while in the park. Disney has not explained the policy either way yet, but my plan is to stuff the bands into a pocket once inside the park. Otherwise, the resulting tan lines would be irritating indeed for us frequent visitors.

It’s apparently relatively easy for bad guys to scan and read RFID chips, even at a slight distance. Because a PIN is required for all purchases and the bad guy would only get an ID number, I wasn’t that worried at first. This ID number can be disabled server-side as soon as the guest notices it’s been compromised (and again, the thief can’t make purchases with it). But then I realized the number *can* be transferred onto a fake MagicBand and used for park admission. I shrugged at that one.  Only Disney would lose in such a transaction, not the guest. But then I realized a PIN is not required for entry into hotel rooms, either. That has me worried. Your stuff will be a LOT less safe in your Disney hotel than was true even last year. Couldn’t a bad guy watch you leave your room, scan your RFID from a distance, wait until you leave the area, and then enter your room?

Privacy is a hot topic with lots of questions. I’m not going to go so far as to say that I am completely convinced Disney will be responsible with its data, nor do I think it is inconceivable that the system can be hacked. I’m guessing it’s less likely that an outsider would breach the defenses and be able to crosswalk the data with identifying information about the visitors. But it may be more likely that data misuse could come from within Disney’s own ranks. Are they making it absolutely impossible for a cast member in the right department to track a guest for dishonorable purposes? We know that a small percentage of people will give into cyber stalking if given the opportunity — the regular Internet is proof enough of that. So what will happen when you marry big data and personally identifiable information in an environment where the stalking victim can be seen and observed?

So I am at least a little concerned about privacy. But I promised this article would look at the flip side of everything, and there is a flip side here as well. Namely, there could very well be advantages to the individual guests in the privacy compromised world. It’s not just Disney that benefits, there are some for us little guys too. Let’s assume that Disney knows how often we ride certain attractions in the future. Let’s say you typically ride Space Mountain three times on every visit to the Magic Kingdom. Disney may not have known that before, especially if you sometimes used standby instead of FASTPASS. But they will know it in the future. It’s true that Disney could use this information to take actions that are unfriendly to guests, like closing attractions early or manipulating staff levels so that people really only get on eight rides per day and not more.

But it’s not hard to imagine ways that Disney could use the information for good as well. Now that they know you are a Space Mountain junkie, might it be possible that they will use CRM software to invite you and visitors similar to you to purchase a ticket for a special Space Mountain event? Before you dismiss that it is something you would never pay for, remember the target audience here. If you’re a frequent visitor, you might not pay for it, but the very infrequent visitor might. I go to Disneyland Paris only every few years. But when I go, I ride the Phantom Manor an awful lot, probably more than most visitors. If Disney knew that, they could send me an invitation to an upcharge party involving the Phantom Manor. And I’d probably pay it.

Think about merchandising opportunities. If your favorite ride is Splash Mountain, there has always been merchandise available for you to purchase. That’s less true if your favorite ride is the PeopleMover. Disney is likely to be able to suss out new nuggets of information from all this data, such as who exactly is riding each attraction. Disney presently knows that 1800 people may ride PeopleMover from 3 PM to 4 PM, but they have no idea who those people are. I suspect they will discover some patterns that will be useful in identifying new product lines. Many of the locals that I know, for example, love the PeopleMover. I’m guessing Disney will discover that repeat visitors really enjoy the ride. If they compare that data set with the data set of people who spend on merchandise — something else they will know due to the MagicBands — they can create a Venn diagram of people who like the PeopleMover and typically by theme park merchandise. Then they can send e-mails or physical mail to just that sub-population. I’m sure that sounds like Big Brother to some of you, but it’s not necessarily negative. It’s possible that this will create a win-win situation. You get to buy merchandise that you’ve always wanted and Disney has never yet created, and Disney gets to make the sale.

Will the Seven Dwarfs coaster inspire such loyalty?

It’s important to keep in mind that we may be dealing with a paradigm shift here, perhaps big enough to call it an epoch. Just as there was an Age of Computers, followed by an Age of the Internet, Western society may be moving toward an Age of Big Data. Futurists and prognosticators are already claiming that many of the jobs in the coming decades will involve analyzing big data and evolving appropriate marketing strategies. In other words, Disney may be merely leading the pack, though certainly there are other companies already doing with Disney is proposing on a smaller scale. What I find most intriguing about the possibility of an Age of Big Data is that these epochs tends to evolve organically without much rhyme or reason, lurching from side to side and latching upon new concepts so quickly that no one could have predicted the direction eventually followed. Computers were just a toy at first, until they weren’t. The Internet was of limited value initially for most users, but that of course didn’t last. No one can predict at the start of one of these eras just what will prove useful and what we will find indispensable in the future. It may be a great big beautiful tomorrow after all.

What do you think folks? Will Disney use all of this data for good? Evil? Or some purpose in between?

 

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Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: