Data and Consumer Consent

Consumers as a whole may not be the savviest bunch when it comes to sharing personal data. The news is peppered with stories of data – leaked, breached, and tweaked. We also hear of social media users losing their job and reputation due to insensitive posts or inappropriate photos. Some things are common sense.  However, when you are doing all you can to maintain a professional, vanilla profile, and companies still manage to direct creepily specific advertisements your way, the fault lies not with the consumer, but with the companies profiting off our vulnerability. Recent events have left social media users up in arms about how companies track, store, analyze, and sell their personal data.

A Smackerel of Honey: How to Get Consumers to Willingly Provide Data

Corporations are faced with a conundrum – how can they get consumers to willingly offer up marketable information? How can they draw as little attention as possible to the practice? How can they maintain consumer trust?

Consumers acclimate quickly to new technology if that technology solves issues that consumers were not even aware of. If the technology takes away some of the friction of day to day life, consumers do not stop to question how that technology functions. Take, for instance, Google Maps, and how few voices are raised against the mining of Gmail accounts to create a personalized Maps experience. Google Maps uses location searches, landmarks, and venue names from user email threads to offer a highly customized map experience. I won’t explain the features of Maps – we all use it, we all love it, and likely can’t imagine living without it. Businesses can’t expect customers to give up personal data unless they offer high value incentives which do not inconvenience the customer in any way.

Disney Does Data Right

The absolute leader in providing friction less customer experiences is Disney. Disney has enormous resources and can tap into talented teams of innovators who are commissioned to dream up ways to remove as much friction as possible from guests’ experiences. Secondly, Disney strives to maintain brand loyalty, ensuring that Disney parks are remembered as utopic spaces to recapture feelings of childhood. Finally, Disney is its own microcosm – it is a world within itself, as contained as a snow globe. All guests opt-in to Disney’s services because they are so good. Thus, Disney is granted permission to explore new services which would seem invasive in any other context.

Since 2013, Disney has been able to identify each guest, their preferences, and how they navigate in real-time through parks, taking note of which rides, concessions, shows, and purchases they make. Disney uses this information to optimize routes, scheduling, ride balancing and to get to know their customers. They are able to learn all of this via a tracking device each guest wears around their wrist. These devices are ensconced within Disney MagicBands.

Here are few criteria which makes Disney’s data-centric approach to its parks and MagicBand system so successful.

Disney has a Clear Vision

Disney’s MagicBands and the sprawling, pervasive sensor system which turns each theme park into an enormous computer was, from the very start, focused on guest experience. In 2008, then-president of Walt Disney World Resort, Meg Crofton, assembled a team which would swell to include over 1,000 members to tackle all the pain points within the Disney experience. She asked the team to uncover the barriers keeping guests from getting into the Disney experience faster. The initial team, “came back with a drawing of the Magic Kingdom without turnstiles,” she said. This vision snowballed into a complete overhaul of the park via the complete integration of new real-time tracking technologies.

Inspired by the emerging wearables market, the team developed blueprints and prototypes for a smart object which guests could wear throughout the parks which would be their passkey, payment, and personal location system. The wristband they developed comes equipped with a Bluetooth Low Energy Chip capable of transmitting the radio frequency and unique identifier of the wristband to nearby sensors. The sensors are everywhere – in ceilings, props, tables, gates, fences, and merchandise stores.

Disney’s Approach is Consumer-Centric

According to Tom Staggs, COO of Walt Disney, the MagicBand system helps vacations unfold naturally. Walt Disney guests can set a number of must-see, must-do goals for their trip, pre-order food at restaurants, and access fast-passes for rides with ease through an online portal and mobile application. “There are missions in a vacation,” Staggs said, “and the ability to plan and personalize has given way to spontaneity.” The MagicBand system saves visitors from languishing in line and frees up time for them to see, buy, and do more in the park. Knowing that everything is taken care of helps put people in the right mood to enjoy their experience and make memories.

The MagicBand allows guests to tap their wrist-band against Mickey-marked readers in front of rides to redeem fast-pass tickets. Guests no longer need to sprint throughout the park to collect time-stamped passes in the early minutes of opening.

At restuarants, cast members are equipped with modified Apple phones and are able to greet guests by name and know their dietary preferences. Further, the tables and ceilings within restaurants are equipped with sensors which allow servers to triangulate the position of visitors to deliver meals. This is especially handy in cafeteria-like settings like Be Our Guest. Carrying a numbered placard to a table is one less task for visitors to worry about.

A tad more invasive is Disney’s idea of a Story Engine which would stitch together a photo/video timeline of candid moments captured by cast members within the park. The system would work by geo-tagging the location of pictures with a time-stamp as well as the locations of a visitor’s MagicBand.

This sytem of micro-location tracking will also tell Disney cast member’s how long a visitor has waited in line for a ride or meet and greet. Disgruntled visitor’s experiences may be ameliorated by digital coupons and fast-passes transferred directly to their MagicBand. These small perks cost Disney next to nothing but can recast a negative memory into a positive memory – ensuring visitors will consider return visits.

MagicBands also replace paper guides and maps. Paired through Bluetooth with a mobile app, the system notifies and guides visitors to their pre-booked points of interest. Guests are free to explore the park, absolutely worry free. Essentially, the MagicBand replaces the former asynchronous system of payments and ticketing, allowing guests to spend more time making positive memories and spending money.

Disney Leverages By-Product Data to Improve Operations

The sensor system allows Disney to optimize employee tasks and have them engage in personal interactions with visitors rather than fiddle with payments and tickets. Each week, Disney must schedule over 240, 000 shifts for 80, 000 employees. After the implementation of the sensor system, decisions on staffing are informed by historical and real-time data of customer flows, bottlenecks, and stock levels. Within one year of implementing this rule-based, on-demand system, Disney’s ability to manage their human resources improved by 20%.



Disney’s Mechanics are as Hidden as the Legendary Tunnels beneath the Park.

The technology behind Disney’s MagicBands and their overall sensor system is hidden deep within the silicon of their friendly, colourful wristbands. The wristbands track visitor movement and behaviours using radio-frequency identification technology (RFID), a wireless tracking system which transfers data between tiny, near-invisible, tags attached to everyday objects. The enormous amount of data generated through this system is hosted on time-series database platforms Hadoop, Cassandra, and Mongo DB.

The Bluetooth and RFID technology within MagicBands keep visitor stress to the barest minimum. Disney has aggregated a host of systems into one solution, allowing guests to simply tap their wristband against readers to unlock hotel rooms, make purchases, and gain access to rides. As mentioned, the band work in conjunction with a mobile app which allows guests to make reservations, order food, and book fast passes in real-time. The application sends alerts to a users smartphone to remind them to enjoy their upcoming activities and also provides an optimal route to reach the destination complete with ETAs.

Any person, company, or city looking to implement IoT should take note. Disney has unlocked a trove of operational and consumer behaviour data which will inform their every business practice. Consumer consent is easily obtained if you are offering services which streamline processes. When done right, digital technology quickly becomes interwoven into everyday life, and becomes indistinguishable from magic.


I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Are you interested in creative RTLS and IPS solutions? Would you like to be kept in the loop? Subscribe to receive our twice-monthly newsletter containing the latest news on proximity detection technology.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.