Opting Out of RFIDs at Walt Disney World

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I've been called a conspiracy theorist at least once. I guess it's time to embrace that label, because I believe that nine large companies are providing data to the United States National Security Agency for surveillance of virtually any person who uses the Internet from the United States. Disney's not on that list, but one can only imagine that the NSA could ultimately be interested in their data warehouse, too. So, with data privacy issues on my mind, it seemed like a good time to check back in on how and whether to opt out of RFIDs in my park ticket (and possibly room key) on my next trip to Walt Disney World.

Right now, it's not entirely clear how this will work. I emailed Disney's Guest Services today asking how to opt out of RFIDs in both my ticket media and my resort room key. They explained in their response, "Since the MagicBands have not yet been released, there is not currently instructions available for opting out of this option." Which is fair enough -- giving details on opt-out before the system is launched is perhaps a lot to ask.

And maybe it will all make more sense when the system is more fully implemented. But it's not clear to me that opting out of RFID entirely will even be an option; instead, it looks like if one opts out of active RFID, they'll be carrying a passive RFID instead. In Disney's FAQ on RFIDs at Walt Disney World, in a section about the MagicBands which will gradually take the place of Magic Your Way tickets, they state:

Each MagicBand contains an HF Radio Frequency device and a transmitter which sends and receives RF signals through a small antenna inside the MagicBand and enables it to be detected at short-range touch points throughout Walt Disney World Resort. MagicBands can also be read by long-range readers located at Walt Disney World Resort used to deliver personalized experiences, as well as provide information that helps us improve the overall experience in our parks.

If you prefer, you may elect to use a card instead of a MagicBand. Cards contain a passive HF Radio Frequency chip and cannot be detected by the long-range readers.

Harumph. Doesn't really sound like opting-out at all.

Plus, my understanding is that the new FastPass+ system relies upon RFIDs for distribution, so opting entirely out of RFIDs means opting out of FastPass. And I am apparently willing to give up a certain amount of privacy in exchange for convenience. Otherwise I wouldn't use a credit card, carry a cell phone with GPS, or send unencrypted email. So I may be willing to carry a passive RFID, provided that I have some control over when it's being read. I think I'll make myself a cute little wallet out of duct tape and aluminum foil; Consumer Reports tells me that aluminum foil is more effective and reliable than many RFID-blocking wallets on the market.

Given the levels of privacy intrusion recently disclosed, there's a certain argument for giving up the whole notion of personal privacy. So maybe I shouldn't care whether Disney's using an RFID in my park ticket and/or room key. After all, it would seem that the NSA may already have my Gmail, my Skype conversations, and info about whatever I've watched on YouTube, as well as any search terms I've typed while logged into Google. With all that data, what more does anyone have to gain by also knowing whether I rode Star Tours before or after The Great Movie Ride, or whether I stopped on my way out of the park to take one last look at that handbag I've been jonesing for?

But I just plain feel more comfortable safeguarding whatever shred of privacy I can convince myself I still have. Maybe I'll find some Disney-themed duct tape for making that wallet, so it'll coordinate with my Disney Dooneys. I might just make a tinfoil hat to match, too.