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When Privacy and Enhanced User Experience Collide Online

Image One person’s creepy is another person’s cool.

That’s the thought I had when my friend Amber posted an article on Facebook about Disney World’s new plan to track visitors with wireless bracelets. Long story short, Disney is going to distribute the wristbands to park goers.

With the ability to opt out, the wristbands will be encoded with names and ages of the wearer, as well as be linked to your credit card information. Users can also opt to provide more information. And the wristband not only acts as your pass to the Magic Kingdom, but functions as your hotel room key. And while it may cost Disney up to a billion dollars to implement, they clearly think it’s worth it.

Imagine walking through Disney World, and Snow White walks up to you and wishes your child a happy birthday by name. Something like that could make an already memorable trip even more amazing. Or imagine booking your favorite ride before you even get to the park, so you don’t have to wait in line. These are all a part of the benefits of such a program.

Some will think aspects of this are creepy, while others will think it’s pretty cool and innovative. For me, within the confines of the park, I think it’s pretty cool.

Is there potential for abuse? Certainly. But you can bet that Disney will be working carefully to make sure your private information is kept safe, both internally and externally.

It’s a trade off: giving up some information in return for an improved user experience.

In fact, this is what grocery stores and other retailers do with rewards cards or frequent shopper cards. They have the ability to track our purchasing habits in return for discounts and rewards, and it’s a trade off that many of us are willing to make.

Now take a look at your online habits. Every major site and social network does the same thing. While they don’t charge you for using them, you do agree to their terms of service every time you sign up or log on, whether it’s to Google something or post something on Facebook. The more information you enter, the more they know about you. They track your patterns of usage, and use that information for both marketing purposes, and to improve your user experience. Not only are they improving the experience across the board, they are customizing it for you based on your own habits and preferences.

It’s a trade off: give up some privacy in return for a better experience.

Sometimes we think it’s cool, and other times we think it’s creepy. Or even both at the same time. Some of us are more private than others. Personally, I’m OK with most of what happens online. I’m very careful with the information I share, and I love when I’m presented with an online experience that is all my own.

This is where we are headed online. Search engines, social networks, and even shopping sites like Amazon are collecting our information and habits. In some cases we can opt in or opt out, but this is the future of the web. For instance, having a Facebook or Google account allows me to log into other sites much more easily. I like that, even though it means I’m ceding a measure of control to those sites.

It’s a decision we all have to make for ourselves. Do we choose to visit Disney World/Facebook/Google/the grocery store, and give up some privacy? Or do we stay home and stay private, and miss out on all the fun?

 It’s a choice we all need to make, and it’s not an easy one.

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