The Privacy Risks of Disney’s Magic Bands

When you last visited Disney World, did you use a MagicBand as you traveled throughout the parks? Disney hotel guests are automatically given a MagicBand for their visit, but the “old-fashioned” hotel key card is always still an option. MagicBands are marketed as helping visitors have a more magical vacation — from FastPass ride access to facilitating purchases (you can tie your credit card to it) and collecting photos taken by Disney’s photography team. You can even access your hotel room using the bands. As an extra security measure, Disney requires the use of fingerprint or pin code to verify your identity.

We frequently hear of new instances where companies are found to be using personal data in ways individuals never anticipated or didn’t know was happening. Disney’s MagicBands are governed by six policies on the MagicBand’s Privacy + Legal page.

Oh wait, I just realized that those aren’t the policies. They are simply the privacy FAQs. I had to look further to find the real Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Both of these are significantly less user-friendly and make it clear that Disney is tracking users and collecting/sharing data in ways that aren’t apparent on those six pages.

The six FAQ pages explain the different features these bands integrate with, and provide a different lens to view the FAQ pages through. In an era of privacy where consent and notice is at the forefront (GDPR anyone?), a tangleweb of legal jargon for visitors to navigate does not line up with the visitor-first, “Happiest Place on Earth” mentality that Disney seeks to project.

The FAQ page says that it doesn’t track people around the parks via GPS technology, but the wristbands nonetheless interact with RFID readers throughout the properties. The RFID FAQ page specifies that the MagicBands are “used to deliver personalized experiences, as well as provide information that helps us improve the overall experience in our parks.” But the Privacy Policy also says generally that they’re collecting location data in various ways, including through beacon technologies. Does this mean, then, that Disney isn’t tracking their guests via GPS technology but they are doing so at various points throughout the park using RFID readers?

Is Disney storing fingerprint data? I couldn’t find anything about fingerprint data in the full Privacy Policy or Terms of Use. The only mention of fingerprint data collected at park entrances to verify the MagicBand wearer’s identity is the following language found in the Help Center here: “In order to use Ticket Tag, you simply place your finger on a reader. The system, which utilizes the technology of biometrics, takes an image of your finger, converts the image into a unique numerical value and immediately discards the image. The numerical value is recalled when you use Ticket Tag with the same ticket to re-enter or visit another Park. Ticket Tag does not store fingerprints.” How do they compare the fingerprint to the unique numerical identifier already stored in the system? I don’t know how the Ticket Tag system works, but without any sort of mention of it in the formal legal notices, I can’t help but wonder if the image deletion works the same way for Disney’s Ticket Tag system as it did for Snapchat…in other words, perhaps the images aren’t actually deleted.

I know companies frequently try to brush past certain types of data collection or tracking in the hopes that their consumers or visitors never notice, and it’s absolutely true that these MagicBands provide visitors with convenience and ease. However, Disney needs to be upfront about how they’re using their guests data or they run the risk of tarnishing their perfect reputation.

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