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Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Orlando Florida FL.In a nearly $1 billion initiative, Disney plans to roll out a massive new system in all its parks that will allow visitors to simply swipe a wristband to check in for popular rides, make mealtime reservations, and purchase souvenirs throughout the parks. According to the entertainment company, the goal is to make visitors happier, because a happy Disney visitor is a loyal one. For skeptics though, the underlying motive is Disney’s unending need to collect more and more information about its consumers, including the youngest among them.

The new system promises remarkable changes to the way people visit amusement parks. The overall MyMagic+ system, including the My Disney Experience app, allows web visitors to choose FastPasses for specific rides and sign up for great seats at parades and character rendezvous, before they even leave their house.

For guests staying at the resort, MagicBands bracelets will serve multiple functions: room key, credit card, park ticket, and preference identifier. Thus Goofy might approach a MagicBand-wearing guest with all sorts of information in hand, enabling him to make a personalized appeal to a wondering child. While waiting in line for rides, MagicBand wearers can interact with characters lined along the walls too. What were once one-way, passive interactions will become totally interactive, with characters who literally know the guests’ names and how long they’ve been visiting.

Such data are, for Disney, a goldmine, of course. If the company can determine when and why visitors stop for lunch, whether they want employees to know their names, and what time of year they visit, it can improve its targeting to a nearly individual level. It also plaCinderella Castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom. Image shot 05/2007. Exact date unknown.ns to market the MagicBands themselves as collectibles, creating an entirely new market around its data mining technologies.

As has nearly every other advance in data collection efforts though, Disney’s moves have prompted backlash among privacy advocates and consumer protection agencies. Gaining access to personal information is always a risky proposition, but perhaps never more so than when the consumers in question are children with stars in their eyes. What’s to stop a Cinderella who knows a child’s name from convincing that child that she must have glass slippers before she leaves the park, for example?

Source: Brooks Barnes, “At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build Loyalty (and Sales),” The New York Times, January 7, 2013