“Magical” Data Collection (part 2 of 3)


(cont’d from part 1)

Magic Bands work primarily off RFID and GPS technologies; the former is a marriage of radio frequencies and microchip technologies whereas the latter is built upon geo-locating satellite transmitters and receivers (Schnell, 2013). Think of RFID technology as the older IR (infrared) technology but not requiring the same line of sight. Both are limited to short distances. Writing on Near Field Communication (NFC), Schnell highlights that NFC is a “contactless exchange [of information] that takes place over short distances…NFC allows users to perform contactless (although sometimes brief contact is also used) access to digital content and connect to other electronic devices simply by bringing their mobile devices into close proximity” (Schnell, 2015 p.101).

Everything from reading and writing information to programming for specific tasks can be accomplished with NFC. Outside of the magical examples, NFC can be seen in the technology that tells a phone or computer to go to sleep when placed on a special stand or dock. More commonly known, there are mobile device charging stations that respond simply by placing the phone on the charging pad (with no cable connectivity required). NFC technology is also found in the growing number of consumers who are using ApplePay® to make purchases by holding the iPhone close to an ApplePay reader and using the security of a fingerprint. The method by which Apple is integrating ApplePay into the functionality of the iPhone and the experience in the Apple Store is the similar to the method by which the Magic Bands operate. Both perform similar tasks, but for different purposes.

The widespread ramifications of the Magic Band system will be felt not only by real theme parks (i.e. Universal Studios, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment) but also by museums, airports, and zoos, aquariums, and many more places that integrate hospitality, transportation, and merchandise into the daily operations. The intel collected from the use of the bands is unprecedented (Pameri, et al, 2014). The question at hand is two fold, (1) beyond the superficial uses, how else is the tracking information used? (2) beyond the vacation management system (MyMagic+), how else does this smart data affect other business decisions?  The two fold question has one common element: privacy.

The indirect results of weeks and months of smart data collection can be used to affect decisions like how many employees (Cast Members in the Disney vernacular) to staff at each attraction, restaurant, or resort. By analyzing the number of FastPass reservations made through the My Disney Experience app (the flagship app in the MyMagic+ system) and reflecting those numbers against the number of standby guests (guests without FastPasses who have to wait in the traditional queue) all the while just qualifying those numbers against the physical number of guests through the attraction entrance, Disney World can make effective decisions based upon copious amounts of dynamic data. This same smart data can even help determine what items to stock in the various merchandise shops and even how many character performers should be strategically roaming the park (Palmeri, et al, 2014). It is conceivable to conclude that this same information can also be used in the decision making process of a new movie, television show, or Broadway show. “To infinity and beyond” with this information as Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear would say.

At the end of the day, there really is not anything particularly magical about the Magic Band. It takes what, as Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm would say, “others have done and took the next step” (Jurassic Park, 1993). The Magic Band is next evolution in the wearable technology trend of integrating technology seamlessly into the everyday or more mundane tasks for which, otherwise, time has to be separately allocated. Experiences with a brand or product are customized by collecting, tracking, qualifying, and quantifying data created by the [perceived] end user. The word perceived is in brackets because it is truly the company who is the end user of the data because they decide what to do with it and whether to sell it to another buyer. According to Adam Thierer, “wearable technologies are among the fastest-growing segment of internet-based technologies and promise to have widespread societal influences in the coming years” (p1 2015). These positive and negative consequences can include challenges to present societal norms, mores, and more. Economic and legal norms and guidelines may also find themselves challenged by the data provided by wearable technologies. This is not so unlike Disney’s decision-making in the parks about staffing and merchandise.

Like with any new technology, safety (including, but not limited to privacy and security) is a major concern and the skeptics often outweigh those who are welcoming of new communications technologies with open arms. If safety was always paramount and truly dictated innovation, then it is likely that entrepreneurship, economic growth, ingenuity, and invention could be greatly mitigated (Thierer, 2015). There must be a balance struck between acknowledging safety (in the case of this paper, privacy) but permitting new communications technologies to breach it to a small extent to pave the way for a more efficient means of conducting business or creating experiences. The best means of dealing with privacy issues, in terms of wearable technologies, is to creatively deal with them as they rise up (Thierer, 2015). Unfortunately, sometimes privacy issues are ignored or seen as passé in order to commodify data. That is the crux of the issue. Beyond the obvious uses of the Magic Bands, is the privacy of consumers compromised and is the data being sold off? Without conducting an empirical research study and interviews with those who monitor and support the technology, it is entirely possible that the answer will not be known for some time yet since the MyMagic+ system is still relatively new. But, past research can show us how similar technologies are used, and by extension, apply those practices to the MagicBands and the data collected by them.

Interestingly, privacy awareness over what is now referred to as smart data can be traced back to 2006—a time in which many were unaware that the aforementioned technology existed, at least in its present form (Mokbel, 2006). The idea of location-based information is not new—that is how Google Maps mobile app works as well as just the basic GPS in your vehicle. But, that same technology has become smaller, less expensive, and can be integrated into many different items including the Disney Magic Bands. Why integrate this technology into items like the Disney Magic Bands? Simply stated, it is because “user requests to location-based services can be modeled as spatio-temporal queries that can be efficiently executed over large numbers of mobile users through database management modules, e.g., data indexing, query processing, and query optimization” (Mokbel, P1, 2006). The possibilities of channeling the data in copious ways provides an unprecedented quality and quantity of data that can be cited in the development of various decisions. It is not that this same data could not be quantified in any other way, but this method is far more efficient because it would take exponentially more hours and resources to achieve the same results through more conventional means—at least convention as it was known until the advent of smart data devices.

“Magical” Data Collection (part 1 of 3)

MagicBandsFrom watches to shoes, wearable technology is slowly but steadily making its way into the everyday life of consumers. Building upon traditional data collection methods while integrating wearable technology trends, Disney introduced the Magic Band® [from here on out referred to as Magic Band(s) or Bands] in beta testing in 2012 and more widely beginning in 2013. Park guests can use the Bands as their room keys at Disney resorts, book FastPasses®, and as admission into the parks. Connecting your Magic Band to the My Disney Experience mobile application and website allows for the park guest or passholder to do much of what a telephone representative used to do. Even while in the car, a park guest can book FastPasses and once in the park, the Magic Band can be used to access (or validate) the booked FastPasses. The Magic Band is the Disney guest’s key to the kingdom, so to speak. But, beyond the more superficial functionality of the Magic Band, what other data is collected by the media giant? And furthermore, how and does the data affect business decisions in the other investments Disney has in media, technology, and entertainment?

Looking into the data collection methods of the Magic Bands requires looking into a relatively new breed of data and collection methods referred to as smart data. Smart Data can be described as simply as big data with the addition of emotion behind it (Ball, et al, 2015). Smart Data allows companies to understand consumer behavior beyond just a set of numbers or algorithms. Smart Data provides realtime information to the company in order for the company to be preemptive and predictive, knowing where the consumer has been, is currently or will be going by reflecting present decisions on past decisions. This data opens a window into the mind and soul of the customer by tracking behaviors from online buying to peer-to-peer conversations (Ball, et al, 2015).

The brilliance behind the design in the Magic Band is the ability for the Walt Disney Company use smart data as a way to put smiles on the faces of its customers—well, most of the time anyway. But does this brilliant design come at a cost of privacy? Prior to investigating the privacy issues with this smart form of data collection, it is important to look at the design and implementation itself. The goal in the creation of the Magic Band system was to mitigate, with the eventual goal of elimination, the fiddling around with admission tickets/passes, forms of payment, room keys, FastPasses, and dining reservations all the while increasing personal/interpersonal interaction and time with family and friends without the hassle of the aforementioned (Kuang, 2015). All the tasks and elements of a typical Walt Disney World Resort® vacation can be handled and processed by the Magic Bands. Disney Magic Bands look like an unassuming rubber bracelet, and that is part of the magic. “The most remarkable thing about the Magic Bands is the fact that they don’t feel remarkable” (Kuang, 2015). Behind the colorized or photo-covered rubberized band is an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip and GPS tracking system. The bands are constantly connected to a vast system of sensors and transmitters within the boundaries of the park.

Although presently concentrated in parks and resorts, the idea of combining the convenience of a wearable accessory with the efficiency of a mobile application, is a trend that will most likely go beyond the borders of Walt Disney World and spread to other parks, resorts, or even academia. Think of the Magic Band as Disney’s answer to the Apple Watch®. It really is a beautiful concept that has many positive affects. The beauty behind the otherwise nondescript bracelet is the combination of a logical approach to business needs and the creation of a more efficient trip to the “happiest place on earth.” Instead of spending time in lines, behind the computer, at Guest Relations, or at FastPass kiosks, the park guest can spend more time with family and friends while customizing nearly every element of a trip to Disney World.

The Walt Disney Company may seem like its leading the pack with integrating wearable technology that serves as a massive way to collect, organize, and attribute data—and in may respects it is—but for many years now, retailers have recognized this trend for what the customer is looking for—a more experiential and participatory relationship with the vendor or brand. In a published study conducted at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, researchers uncovered some mega trends that are directly impacting the customer’s experience in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online retailers. Both traditional and non-traditional retailers are recognizing the need for the customer to be digitally linked to the brand or store just as they are digitally linked to social media and other media outlets. Between now and 2020, the digital world is estimated to double in size every year between now and then. And, it is projected that the number of smartphones will surpass 2 billion (US) dollars by 2016 (Bell, et al, 2015). Retailers cannot ignore this, and legacy retailers will have to restructure and adapt to the growing digital media trend or be left behind and face the inevitable.

By retailers and other providers of goods, services, or experiences embracing new media and digital connections via mobile technology, an additional layer in the retail landscape is constructed to further engage the consumer in multiple ways. On the plus side, everyone benefits. Consumers have a quicker and customized access to the goods and services they buy on a regular basis anyway, retailers are able to grow sales at an exponential rate, customers receive items in a fraction of the time it once took, information on both the customer and retailer are just a click away, and you can simply shop on the go—those impulsive buys continue way past the end caps at the supermarket or department store. However, there is a darker side to this symbiotic relationship: loss of privacy. This is not always a malicious action, but by integrating digital media and mobile technology into the retail and hospitality landscape, companies have a copious amount of data that can aid in decision making and provide the company with another revenue source by selling data to the highest bidder, so to speak (Ball, et al, 2015).

In respect to the Disney Magic Bands, which are currently an option in the newly launched MyMagic+® program of vacation/visit management, all the conveniences of the bracelet-like device come with NSA style monitoring by The Mouse (Dockterman, 2014). The constant monitoring and data collection comes in a shiny package. What parent wouldn’t want to set up a child’s visit with a “surprise” visit from his or her favorite Disney character? By signing up for (or you could think of it as signing away of privacy) certain features in MyMagic+, character performers (those employees that are dressed as a face or fur character) in the park can see that a particular child (or even adult for the matter) want to meet them. And by accessing the MagicBand’s GPS tracking system, the character knows where the park guest is and perhaps even where they are heading based upon dining, hotel, or attractions reservations. With the ability for the MagicBand able to track location and serve as a form of payment, post-Snowden, there are worries that a clever hacker can access the band and be able to steal the payment information or be able to be a stalker (Dockterman, 2014).

In the Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries researcher Eric Schnell explores information sharing and exchanging technologies. One cannot discuss the technology and implications of the Disney Magic Bands without investigating the technology that allows the MyMagic+ system to function. Although his research was conducted to better understand this new technology in how it relates to medical research and libraries of information sharing, this same understanding can, by extension, be applied to the Magic Bands. As RFID, GPS, and Bluetooth technologies continually innovate and develop into smaller, faster methods of communicating over short distances, companies and organizations will integrate, adapt, and change to meet the needs and desires of consumers to have more participatory experiences with favorite brands and these same companies will have a prolific amount of date on each consumer that can be used to target particular goods and services and will have data that can be sold off to other companies

(Continue to Part 2)