Is Disney?s New Customer Tracking Technology Big Marketing or Big Brother?

When marketers talk about tracking customer activity it almost always is discussed within the context of an Internet marketing environment. For instance, tracking how a customer arrived at a website (e.g., via a search engine), what pages were viewed on a website, or even what other websites a customer viewed prior to arriving at another website. But tracking is not limited to activities taking place online; it also happens offline. For instance, retail stores track customers by matching purchases to the use of loyalty and membership cards; cable television networks track customers’ viewing habits through set top boxes; and package delivery companies track product movement using scan codes and follow their vehicles using GPS.

While these offline examples are interesting, Disney’s new MyMagic+ technology, now being tested in its theme parks, seems to raise offline tracking to a higher level. According to this Businessweek story, Disney has invested $1 billion for technology that tracks customer activity. The key component for capturing data is wearable wrist bands, branded as MagicBands, that customers flash when entering the park, making purchases and even opening their hotel room door.

In addition to collecting data on when customers arrive, what part of the park they visit and how long they stay, Disney’s tracking technology is also used to improve customer service. For instance, the story explains how a food server can locate a customer and deliver their food even though the customer ordered a meal from a kiosk and found their own table. It also explains how this technology can be used for other purposes, such as adjusting staffing depending on the anticipated crowd at an attraction.

While all this is very intriguing, it is important to note the story also raises potential ethical issues. For some, the constant tracking, particularly if a GPS element is used, reeks of Big Brother control. This has led to backlash, including some people taking Disney to task on discussion forums and social media.