MyMagic+: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown

Friday, January 11, 2013

Earlier this week, Walt Disney World announced MyMagic+, the long-awaited NextGen project incorporating RFID-tagged bracelets, FastPass+, and a variety of new options for Guests to plan and coordinate their visits, using the My Disney Experience web site and smartphone app. There's a lot to absorb, and some details aren't yet clear, but it's clearly a huge step forward both in customization of Guest experiences, and in data collection for both real-time adjustments and longer-term data mining.

I'm not the only one concerned about privacy here. And at the same time, I've drunk enough Kool-Aid (and am sufficiently Disney-addicted) to want to try some of these new features. I was especially interested to read the Terms of Service for My Disney Experience,  and the My Disney Experience – Frequently Asked Questions, as they reveal some of what we can expect as the new service gradually rolls out. 

The Good

My privacy concerns are somewhat eased by the fact that this is an opt-in system; Guests will have the option to use a different form of admission media (paper passes, perhaps?), opting out of the MagicBand (and presumably, opting out of the RFID (and unfortunately, also opting out of the FastPass+ system). And of course, nobody's forcing you to go to Walt Disney World (though my theme-park-hating spouse may beg to differ!), so if one really objects, one can simply not go.

Disney is (not surprisingly) adhering to basic good-practice of RFID data storage. From the FAQ, "The RF Devices contain only a randomly assigned code that securely links to an encrypted database and are configured not to store any other information about you." In other words, if someone with an RFID skimmer were to pick up the information from your MagicBand with malicious intent, all they're getting is a random-looking code, which doesn't include personal/private information and has no value outside of the Disney systems (i.e., that malicious someone would also need to imprint that skimmed code onto a MagicBand or somesuch, and then could make purchases within WDW, but it's hard to imagine that happening on a regular basis).

I imagine that Disney will be able to use information from MyMagic+ to make better, more pro-active decisions about attraction staffing, park hours, and other operations decisions which depend on Guest traffic. With FastPass+ reservations being made as far as 60 days in advance of experiencing the attraction, Disney will have an unprecedented amount of data for planning. And given how much time I've spent with spreadsheets of ADRs made at the 180-day mark, I'm sure I'll enjoy knowing I've got my place in line for Toy Story Mania a couple months in advance. (But I've got mixed feelings about that 60-day window . . . we'll come back to that in a bit.)

I'm intrigued by the options for "Connected Friends" and "Managed Friends." It'll sure be convenient to be able to reserve FastPass+ for myself and my fellow travelers, especially without having to appear at the FastPass+ booth at any given time. And at the same time I wonder how rocky a transition this may be, as I remember it seemed to take quite a few years before most Disney Guests understood how the FastPass legacy system works, and this certainly adds new levels of complexity. Let's hope the user interface is realllllly good.

No more worrying about losing FastPass tickets, since they'll be magically encoded to your wristband. 

And, of course, a lot of people will love love love hearing Disney characters greet them and their children by name, remember their birthdays, and perhaps even remember when they last met.  

The Bad

While information Disney collects online through My Disney Experience will be governed by Disney's online privacy policy, there's no detailed parallel privacy policy for information they collect through the MagicBands. This is especially notable with regard to children, who have special legal protections online through the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, and no parallel protections offline.

Guests won't always know when their MagicBand's RF device is being scanned. As stated in the FAQ, "When you touch your RF Device to touch points located throughout the Disney parks and Resort hotels, your location is determined based on your interaction with the RF Device reader. In addition, if your RF Device comes within proximity of one of the readers located throughout our Disney parks and Resort hotels that automatically recognize RF Devices, we are able to determine that your are near that reader. The readers that automatically recognize RF Devices may not be visible to you." 

The Terms and Conditions state, "You may make FastPass+ selections for one park per day." Also, once you've converted your paper ticket to a MagicBand, the Terms and Conditions state, "you will no longer be able to participate in the standard FASTPASS service upon arrival at the parks." Okay, so yeah, you really can't get FastPasses for two parks in one day, even if the legacy system is still operating for non-MagicBands Guests. I'm going to be very curious to see how this works out in the long run, both in terms of how Guests react to this change, and how it ultimately affects standby lines and traffic flow. Will fewer people park-hop? Will stand-by lines move more quickly as fewer people are using FastPass+ than currently use the FastPass legacy system? I dunno, but this doesn't look good to me. 

The Terms and Conditions state, "Once available, you may convert certain paper tickets or passes to a paperless ticket or pass in the Site/App. . . if you are a passholder you should keep your paper pass for validation of other passholder benefits." Um, with all this tracking they can't figure out if we have APs when we buy stuff? This is just silly. Probably it means they don't want to invest (yet?) in RF readers at every point-of-sale, which could be good news for my privacy concerns (i.e., if they don't want to make that investment, maybe they don't want to scatter them all over the place, either).

The Unknown

While it's clear that Guests will be able to customize their privacy settings, and the privacy settings of their children, it's not clear yet exactly what options will be available. Many people seem to have trouble keeping their Facebook privacy settings in line with their preferences; will this be similiarly challenging? I'm hopeful that Disney will create a better, more stable interface for privacy preferences than Facebook's. (I also suspect that this may be why they purchased Togetherville, the social networking site for young children which they then closed about a year later: To obtain the infrastructure for parental management of child information and interactions. This may have been a very smart acquisition.)

Now, back to that 60-day FastPass+ window. The Terms and Conditions state, "Magic Your Way ticket holders may make FastPass+ selections beginning 60 days prior to day of use. The selection window may vary for other admission tickets or passholders." Um, will certain attractions become the new Cindy's Table? Will this mean that I have to get online to make my Toy Story Mania FP reservations at the crack of dawn, 60 days out? And what about people holding those other admission tickets? I suppose it all depends on how they manage the FastPass+ availability levels and quotas.

Given that early reports indicated a tiered system for FastPass quotas, based on the category of resort (i.e., Deluxe Guests get the most FastPass+ reservations), this could become rather complicated (and potentially contentious) for "Experience Parties" staying across multiple resort categories. The resort category isn't specifically called out in the Terms and Conditions, but neither is it excluded. The Terms and Conditions state, "Availability of a FastPass+ experience, the number of experiences you may select and arrival windows are limited and vary based on factors such as the theme park you are visiting, the attraction or entertainment experience, the time of year and the day of the week, and prior demand. In addition, the number of days for which you can hold FastPass+ selections at any given time is limited." So, it might get kinda awkward if I'm staying Deluxe, and my Managed Friends are staying Value, and we want to hang out together all day but we've got quite different FastPass+ quotas. I suppose if we're making our FastPass+ reservations 60 days out, we'll have those awkward moments well in advance.

Also, what about Annual Passholders? Some reports say there will be a FastPass+ limit per-year, which could have some rather unpleasant affects on Annual Passholders. Could you book FastPass+ for every Sunday morning at Soarin'? How about Peter Pan? It's also not at all clear where Guests staying off-site will fall in the hierarchy of FastPass+ quotas.

 

I'm sure that plenty more will become clear in the months to come, as Disney gradually rolls out the new systems, and adapts them based on Guest response. As a technologist, a Disney fanatic, and a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I'll be very curious to see what happens next.