Secret band spying on Disneyland guests
THE "Happiest Place on Earth" is also one of the most surveilled - with Disney honchos using the park's wearable MagicBands and smartphone apps to reportedly spy on guests and collect data on not just their buying habits, but also what rides their kids like and who their favourite characters are.
The "unfettered access" to customer data has led to a major boom in operating profit, according to Bloomberg, which reports an 18 per cent jump last year to $US4.5 billion ($A6.3 billion).
Disney has been able to use the info it collects on park guests to study how they operate and find logistic solutions not just in Disneyland, but Disney World as well, Bloomberg says.
The move - when done by tech companies such as Facebook - has been blasted by many in the past. But Disney hasn't gotten the same treatment.
As a result, it's reportedly investing more money into its theme parks than it did when acquiring Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm combined.
The company recently rolled out a new virtual reservation system at Disneyland, which has led to reduced waiting times and less overcrowding.
According to Bloomberg, its MagicBand system brought down transaction times by 30 per cent - while also boosting park capacity.
The wearable tech keeps track of guests' spending habits, what they are riding in the park, where they are eating and what characters they're stopping to see. It can also serve as a hotel key and electronic meal plan voucher, should the person be staying at a Disney resort.
Company experts analyse the park smartphone apps, as well, to keep tabs on people's "fast-pass" selections and what they're buying online, Bloomberg reports.
The data mining is ultimately carried out to "keep the parks running with extreme efficiency," according to the outlet - and to find out which television and film properties are the most popular.
"It wasn't always this way," writes Bloomberg's Austin Carr. "Just a decade ago, Disney relied on paper tickets and old-school turnstiles, and, for the most part, didn't know that much more about resort customers than those who came to the park's opening 64 years ago this week.
"Finally recognising the growth of social media and mobile phones late last decade, the company embarked on a $US1 billion ($A1.4 billion) digital transformation of Disney World with the MagicBand, a gizmo that can hold your place in line, make payments and unlock a hotel room door."
Back in 2013, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger butted heads with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey - who recently introduced legislation to protect online "personal information" - over whether the MagicBand system would be unethical.
Senator Markey, then a congressman, reportedly argued that it would be used to keep tabs on children's whereabouts and their personal interests. Mr Iger said the program was "entirely opt-in" and that location data was only collected in aggregate. He blasted Senator Markey's claims as "ludicrous and utterly ill-informed".
"Disney's record and commitment to children's safety and security and the protection of their privacy is exemplary," Iger told the politician in a letter.
"People around the world trust Disney and its products. We are offended by the ludicrous and utterly ill-informed assertion … that we would in any way haphazardly or recklessly introduce a program that manipulates children, or wantonly puts their safety at risk."
Describing the system itself, Mr Iger said: "MyMagic+ is a completely optional program that was designed with privacy controls from the outset.
"Disney does not use personal information to market to children under age 13, does not personalise or target advertisements to an individual child, and never shares children's personal information with any third party for their marketing purposes.
"Additionally, parents have full control over their child's participation in MyMagic+. We have transparent privacy practices, guests can control and limit the amount of information they provide to us - and how their information is used."
Tech experts believe other big name companies would like to mimic the Disney data mining system, but have been unable to do so - partially because they don't have amusement parks or a giant talking mouse catering to kids.
"It's designed to anticipate your desires," wrote Cliff Kuang in a 2015 article for Wired. "Which makes it exactly the type of thing Apple, Facebook, and Google are trying to build. Except Disney World isn't just an app or a phone - it's both, wrapped in an idealised vision of life that's as safely self-contained as a snow globe."
This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission