Independent Thinking Blog

The Data-Trust Conundrum

Disney Corporation is testing a wearable technology that enables the company to track the movement of people in and around its theme parks. The new MagicBand looks like a watch-less wrist band and contains an RFID chip.

Disney clearly intends for the bands to replace the plastic cards that currently serve as hotel keys / park tickets / Disney credit cards—and to do a whole lot more. Theme Park Insider described the MagicBands as giving the company “the build systems that can identify distinct individuals within those environments and react to them.”

In other words, Disney’s wearable tech can track your every move.

Do you trust Disney with your data?

This isn’t a philosophical question. As consumers, we make decisions about data multiple times a day. We decide which platforms to frequent online and what data cookies to accept. We purchase SmartCards to move through transit systems and EZ Passes to facilitate toll road trips. We make decisions about which “loyalty” cards to accept. We’re constantly balancing data and convenience, data and savings, data and personalization.

These tradeoffs can have huge consequences.

Your customers want to trust you.

In What Google’s Larry Page Doesn’t Understand, Maxwell Wessell writes about a retail pharmacy initiative to screen patients at the point of sale:

For a handful of patients, the counseling sessions felt like an enormous violation of their privacy. They’d never opted into a program that examined their purchase history, they didn’t want to participate, and they were certain they were more than capable of handling their own medication management.


When we designed our program, we imagined how the world should be from our perspective. We didn’t consider how the world was from their perspective or the importance of our implicit agreements in their minds.


Wessell goes on to talk about data and customer trust (and, yes, Google).

This isn’t just about Disney or Google. It’s about your business too.

I’ve been thinking about the data-trust conundrum a lot lately after my own experience with Disney World’s MagicBand experiment. It left me with three takeaways.

1. Respect Your Customers’ Preferences. Disney sent a lot of e-mails imploring me to participate in its test program. I ignored them—but was still presented at check-in with a MagicBand with my name on it. That made me angry and feeling like my privacy was at risk. (I never used the MagicBand.)

2. Be Transparent about Data Collection. I talked to a tech guy who works for a Silicon Valley think tank who was wary of the information the company is collecting and paid cash throughout Disney World to avoid being tracked at too granular a level. He gets it and he opted out. Then I heard one man tell his wife that he thought Disney was probably moving to the bands because too many people lost their key cards. He doesn’t get it and thus never had a chance to opt in or out. How do you think he’s going to feel when he realizes his every step throughout DisneyWorld was tracked?

3. Embrace Your Outliers. Just because I don’t want to wear a tracking bracelet doesn’t mean I don’t like you. I love Disney World. I love data. I’d love to analyze just one month of sales and the flow of customers at the pool bar at my Disney hotel. But I don’t want Disney tagging whether I’m drinking beer or bourbon, nor do I want them watching me window shop my way through Epcot.

Balancing data and trust is a conundrum because there are no easy answers. There’s clearly a privacy continuum–a line along which we made varied decisions for different reasons. No business can accommodate everyone. But consistency, flexibility, and transparency will go a long way to building and maintaining your customers’ trust.

Do you trust Disney? What about Facebook or Google? And what is your business doing to build data trust with your customers?

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