Disney's Creepy New Surveillance Tool

The Mark of the Beast is coming… to Walt Disney World. According to The New York Times, Disney plans to roll out a new system — “MyMagic+” — that will enable the company to more effectively gather data on customer activities. All in pursuit of the the goal, of course, of improving the amusement park experience for Disney customers.

A crucial part of the system: “MagicBands” — bracelets equipped with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips that “will function as room key, park ticket, FastPass and credit card.”

Did you buy a balloon? What attractions did you ride and when? Did you shake Goofy’s hand, but snub Snow White? If you fully use MyMagic+, databases will be watching, allowing Disney to refine its offerings and customize its marketing messages.

Best of all, comprehensive use of the bracelets could help cut down on time spent in lines waiting to get into popular attractions. What’s not to like? If one definition of Hell is waiting in line with your children for an hour to get into It’s A Small World, then sign me up!

Then again, there are other definitions of Hell. In Texas, a high school student is suing her school district over a requirement that students wear RFID-chip equipped ID cards, in part because of her religious beliefs. Specifically: the warning in the Book of Revelations that “acceptance of a certain code, identified with his or her person, as a pass conferring certain privileges from a secular ruling authority, is a form of idolatry or submission to a false god.”

Whether the Disney Corporation constitutes a “secular ruling authority” might be an arguable point. And according to the Times report, wearing the bracelets will not be mandatory, so we’re not quite at the point of forced submission to the Number of the Goofy Beast. But at the same time, it’s hard to think of a metaphor that more deftly captures the pros and cons of our surveillance-made-easy future than Disney’s MagicBands. In return for shorter lines, “more personalized interaction with Disney employees,” and less overall hassle, we will give Disney unprecedented insight into our every physical move through the company’s amusement marks. Heck, our children will probably be clamoring for Disney’s “collectible sets of MagicBand accessories and charms.” We’ll be begging to wear our Magic Kingdom shackles.

Wear the bracelet, and your life will be better. Wear the bracelet, and Disney will be able to more effectively target you with its marketing. It’s the same pitch we hear everywhere today — from Facebook to Google to the grocery store. Tell us more about yourself, so we can better serve you — a message that, when fully translated, really means “so we can better extract cash from your pocket.” Most of the time the deal is disguised in a legally obtuse user agreement that no one ever reads. At Disney World, the deal will be made manifest. Hold out your hand, and submit! Somewhere, Beelzebub is green with envy.

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