Local 6 Theme World: Disney blasts back on privacy concerns

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January 29, 2013

Disney Blasts Back on MyMagic+ Privacy Concerns

You have to wonder what has Disney CEO Bob Iger feeling so defensive about MyMagic+. It is not every day you read a letter from a CEO to a congressman whose second paragraph reads:

''We are offended by the ludicrous and utterly ill-informed assertion in your letter dated January 24, 2013, that we would in any way haphazardly or recklessly introduce a program that manipulates children, or wantonly puts their safety at risk.''

And continues on to read:

"It is truly unfortunate and extremely disappointing that you chose to publicly attack us before taking the time to review our policies and/or contact us for information, which would have obviated the need for your letter. Had you or your staff made the slightest effort, you would have found most of the answers to your questions already existed and were publicly available online."

That was part of Iger's lawyer-crafted response to one Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who recently sent (IMHO) a relatively politely worded (though pointed) letter asking legitimate and detailed questions about how the new MyMagic+ & its MagicBand transmitters will work, what data Disney plans to collect with them and how Disney plans to use that information. 

Rep. Markey is co-chairman of the Congressional Bi-partisan Privacy Caucus.

The strongest quote I recall from Markey's original letter was:

"Although kids should have the chance to meet Mickey Mouse, this memorable meeting should not be manipulated through surreptitious use of a child's personal information."

Iger's ghostwriters accuse Rep. Markey's staff of not making the slightest effort before drafting his letter. Disney knows better than this. The congressman knew exactly what he was doing, and what he was asking. He likely wanted answers on the public & congressional record to start a debate.

Now  where this debate goes from here is, well, up for debate. But from reading many travel websites and fan forums, there are a great many parents out there who are worried about how Disney (admittedly) plans to track guests movements, spending habits, rides, shopping time and more.

Iger's letter points out: "MyMagic+ is "a completely optional program that was designed with privacy controls from the outset." But what is optional?

A key part of MyMagic+ includes replacing FastPass with FastPass+. Will people who opt out have the same access to skipping the lines at the most popular rides?
Disney answers in an addendum to Iger's letter that guests can also opt for a card that

"contains a short-range chip whose location cannot be detected by the long-range readers stationed in the park. We also plan to provide the option for such guests to use the Fast Pass system by simply providing basic contact information (name & email address)."

That alone could have some people asking "Why does Disney need my email address to let me ride Thunder Mountain with less of a wait?"

I'm not one of those people. As a very long-term passholder, I have known for decades that Disney has long collected my address, phone number, email address, etc. It is for tracking, ID & marketing purposes.

I get that. Frankly, I personally am not worried that Big Mickey and his MagicBand are going to personally target me for ill. Supporters point out that Disney already has many security cameras, and can track my non-cash purchases already. Mickey already knows from my annual pass exactly when and how often I go to each park.

Yes, eventually, Disney will likely end up using this new MyMagic+ information to send me offers based on demand (10% off at Morocco's quick service restaurant because I am in the area and business is slow). But, from what I understand, most of the data will be used to analyze guest habits on a big-picture scale: crowd patterns, the effectiveness of certain shops, etc. It will also likely be used for cost-cutting by more precise staffing: "Ok -- 5 guests went to the Hall of Presidents in the first hour of park opening. Maybe it shouldn't open until 11 a.m.", etc.

All of that said, I understand why parents have legitimate questions. I wonder how effective Iger's letter was at helping ease their concerns.

You can see it printed below.  I also wonder how Disney will explain to guests their options to "opt out" from a complex program many won't even know exists before arriving. Keep in mind, many many guests still struggle with the relatively simple idea of the current FastPass.  There is also the language barrier for the sea of foreign guests.

Coincidentally, the touch-to-pay system with MyMagic+ just expanded today to Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Typhoon Lagoon & several more resorts.
But  Disney itself is still very much tweaking, testing and changing how this first-of-its-kind system works. We'll keep you posted as it keeps moving forward.

Here's a link to my previous MyMagic+ Theme World entry "Will Big Mickey Be Watching You?"

And yesterday's Theme World post on upcoming festivals at the theme parks.

Here is a link to Congressman Markey's original letter

CEO Iger's response:


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