You don’t want your privacy


Disneyfication is the transformation of something real or unsettling into carefully controlled and safe entertainment, or an environment with similar qualities. We talk about it like it’s a bad thing. The truth is we work extraordinarily hard to come up with software and devices to contain and tame our environments towards the hope of reaching something seamless, like it is for the characters in The West Wing, always running into the people they want to talk to as they are pacing towards their offices.

For a prime example of that, look to, well, Disney World. John Foreman, chief data scientist at Mailchimp, has written a smart article on Disney’s practice of digitally tracking consumers in the physical world, and how it will be reaching everywhere, from theme parks to our homes. It starts with Magic Bands, specially personalized with names for the sake of digital data purity. Strap them on, and pretty soon Disney’s imagineers will know every ride you took, every food you ate, every stop you made, everything you bought.

The aim is optimization – how can they deliver a better experience so that you have a better time and, ergo, spend more money?

If the goal is to keep you in the park longer so you’ll spend more money, it can build AI models on itineraries, show schedules, line length, weather, etc., to figure out what influences stay length and cash expenditure. Perhaps there are a few levers they can pull to get money out of you.

Or perhaps its models know that your family is staying in a high-dollar luxury Disney resort and that this morning you forked over lots of money at the Cinderella character breakfast. But right now your high-dollar family is stuck in a long line at an attraction. If your family gets too tuckered out or frustrated, you might be inclined to call it a day.

So, a model marks you as a candidate for “encouragement.” Within the park, a character is notified to make its way over to your children and entertain them until they can get on the ride. This increases enjoyment, decreases perceived exhaustion, and hopefully keeps you around for more meals, more trinkets and more arcade games.

The research questions that might be answered with this type of tracking data are endless:

  • What menu items served at breakfast at the resort hotel restaurants will result in the longest stay at the park?

  • Do we detect an influx of park-goers into the bathrooms for long stays on the toilet? Perhaps they all ate at the same place, and we can cut off a foodborne illness problem before it gets worse.

  • Is there a roller coaster that’s correlated with early park departure or a high incidence of bathroom visits? That means less money in the park’s pockets. How might that coaster be altered?

  • Is there a particular ride and food fingerprint for the type of park visitor that’s likely to buy in-park high-dollar merchandise? If so, can we actively get vendors in front of this attendee’s eye by moving hawkers to them at just the right time?

The fact is that Disney world has the advantage of being a closed environment. Many other companies do not have the luxury of operating in a contained environment, but they’d also like to optimize their operations/your experience. Or to put it more crassly, to control your life – nudging you to buy this, on top of that; to come again this week, instead of next.

It’s not new. It’s one of the fundamental goals of marketing. For example, a discount pricing model implemented on airline seats wants to control your booking decisions by adjusting prices. The control is targeted and specific, so you feel pretty good about it.

We now know this is Google’s end game. Self-driving cars, Google Glass and the purchase of Nest — Google is dying to get out of your computer and all up in your life. With Nest, Google won’t just know how you like your air to feel. It’ll know when you’re at work and when you’re at home. It gets pieces in a data puzzle that is your entire observable life.

Loyalty cards (those things you swipe at the grocery store) were the first salvos into this real-world data gathering. Now, department stores are doing a lo-fi version of MagicBands by tracking the hardware ID on your cell phone’s Wi-Fi card as you wander the store.

Hey, look! That’s the same Wi-Fi ID as the person who bought a necklace from us last week. Maybe a sales associate should propose a pair of earrings to them?

It sounds disturbing. But consumers, and not just Americans, are willing to give up their data in a heartbeat if it’ll make their lives easier.

Same with Angry Birds (tracks location). Same with LinkedIn (can read AND WRITE my phone call data, can read my “calendar events plus confidential information”, etc.). Same with the freaking Shazam app that let’s me identify that song playing in the mall. Have you heard of Stylitics? You get your wardrobe mirrored back at you in a virtual closet –whatever that is — and Stylitics gets to sell your clothing data to retailers to better understand where else you shop beside their stores.

We’re all wringing our hands over the NSA, and meanwhile we’re handing our data as fast as we can to other entities for next to nothing. If the NSA were smart, it would buy Candy Crush Saga, change the permissions, and be done with it.

Jose Ramos is an academic at the Queensland University of Technology, and wrote an article in 2013 on the futures of power in the network era. In it he posits that in the struggle for power in network politics and network economics, four scenarios may emerge in the near future:

four futures of power in the network era


What is our preferred future? Judging from the 2 billion Angry Birds downloads, perhaps we can should roll out the red carpet for our Google overlords now.


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