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Disney World to track visitors with wireless wristbands

New wireless-tracking wristbands designed to make the "Most Magical Place on Earth" even more hassle-free will hit Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., over the next few months.

The "MagicBands" will be linked to customers' credit-card information and function as room keys and park entry passes, thanks to radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, which are most commonly used in wireless toll collection and public-transit turnstiles.

The MagicBands are part of a bigger system called "MyMagic+," which also allows the theme park to collect sensitive personal information, including names of guests both young and old, their purchasing and riding patterns and real-time location data.

"Imagine booking guaranteed ride times for your favorite shows and attractions even before setting foot in the park," wrote Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in a blog posting on Monday. "With MyMagic+, guests will be able to do that and more, enabling them to spend more time together and creating an experience that’s better for everyone."

Granular controls
Compared with many companies foraying deeper into the world of data collection, Disney seems to make it very easy for customers to control what and how much information is shared with whom or to opt out of the program completely.

The New York Times reports that, for example, mascot characters could use the information transmitted by the MagicBands to greet visiting children by name — and even wish them happy birthday if so informed.

But parents could also choose not to share their children's information with park employees in that manner.

The Times said a new part of the official Disney World website, called "My Disney Experience," makes it fairly straightforward to manage MagicBand privacy controls for each member of a family. (There's already a MyDisneyExperience app for iOS and Android devices.)

Parents could share more information about themselves and less about their children, or choose whether to link a credit card to the wristband or simply use it as a ticket to a park or attraction.

Creepy or convenient?
The operation is a huge one. Analysts told the Times that they estimate the cost of installing the system, which will impact 60,000 employees and more than 100,000 guests every day, at somewhere between $800 million and $1 billion.

Some commenters on the StitchKingdom Disney fan site said they felt "a bit creeped out" and "not terribly comfortable with the idea" in response to an article on MyMagic+ posted in March.

But most commenters there and on other Disney fan sites either thought MyMagic+ was a great idea, or lamented that its users would be able to jump queues ahead of holders of other premium Disney ticket options.

There's no word on when the MyMagic+ program will spread to the four other Disney theme parks in southern California, Japan, Paris and Hong Kong.

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