I recently went to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures with a friend. I usually go every few years and try to stay at one of the on-site hotels. Though they can be ungodly expensive, the benefit of being right there (and being able to return to your hotel midday to escape the Florida heat), combined with early park admission and unlimited express pass ride entrance almost makes up for the costs.
I haven’t been to any of the Disney parks in quite some time, just owing to a number of circumstances. I keep threatening to return, but haven’t been in almost ten years. Interesting since I use to go annually as part of my summer family vacation. I remember back in the days of yore, Disney actually issued a booklet of tickets f or each area of the park (Tomorrowland, Adventureland, etc…). Sometime before 1981, when Epcot opened, Disney began issuing entire park passports which would give you admission to all the rides in the park, with no need to use up tickets for each ride. The modern day equivalent of Express Passes, which grand someone willing to pay more priority admission to the ride.
In those days, if you wanted to leave the park and come back in you got your hand stamped indicating you had left the park and that along with a ticket valid for that day would suffice to allow you re-admission. As the ticketing system continued to evolve they eventually got rid of the ticket system and moved to an electronic ly read ticket, which eliminated the stamp as all the data was centralized. I still have one of these tickets today which was last used in 2001 and still has 2 days left on it (I had to make notes on my ticket otherwise I wouldn’t have a clue if it still had any days left). Also back in the 90’s Disney and other theme parks began issuing yearly passes (mostly to state residents in an effort to get them to come often especially during non-peak times). The yearly passes, issued to an individual, as opposed to the bearer, needed to be identifying. They included crude pictures and the persons name. Eventually, the entire ticketing system transmogrified over to to one precipitated on identification. Initially, the park attendants just had you sign the ticket when you first used it and allegedly validated that signature against some form of identification upon future ticket uses. Now, the more common practice is to require you to state the name of ticket bearer upon purchase which is imprinted on the ticket. Upon initial entry, the bearer does a finger scan which is matched against future entry attempts. Somewhat sensitive to customer concerns you are able to opt out by showing your ID which is supposed to be matched by the attendant against the name of the ticket. In the 5-6 times I entered the park last weekend, only once did at attendant look carefully (too carefully in my opinion). Most attendants realize that your one of the few people who won’t scan their finger so you probably aren’t trying to skip the line by standing out like that Interestingly enough, though I’m quite used to making a fuss about privacy, my friend who came with me said she felt like she was being treated like a criminal when she had to ask not to scan her fingers. Way to make people feel wanted, Universal!
The scanner are not, allegedly, finger print scanners but rather finger geometry scanners which just get some statistically significant measure to match you to your ticket. It’s unclear whether they match your name with your scan across multiple tickets or do anything else with the data. According to this old article, they purge the finger scans 30 days after the ticket expires, which in the case of my older ticket it does not. Then again, I never scanned my fingers so they have nothing to purge.
In addition to the whole name/finger scan issues, I was irked during my recent trip to learn that I need to have my picture taken for my Express pass. The pictures are printed onto small Express Pass cards. I’m assuming it was supposed to be that the attendant would look at your picture to compare it against you to make sure someone else wasn’t using your Express Pass. Two reasons why this may not be the case:
1) I never had an attendant look at the pass and look at me. Many times I held my thumb over my picture just to see. They mainly wanted to scan the barcode to make sure the pass was valid and wasn’t one of the limited use passes (once per ride, remember the OLD Disney ticket system?)
2) The pictures are of such low quality that you could barely use them to distinguish people. To demonstrate, I’ve even posted mine and my companion’s passes here with nary a worry that they are going to be used for facial recognition.
I just found this article which talks about the Express pass system at the Universal hotels and the need to prevent “fraud.”
I’m certainly not the only one to recognize the failings of the Theme Parks at privacy. Bob Siegel over at Privacy Ref discusses his run in with automated call centers providing details about a person based on an entered telephone number.
FOLLOWUP: 7/28/2014 I’ve been receiving solicitations from Universal (seems like almost daily since my trip.) Interestingly, though not unexpected, clicking the unsubscribe link in the bottom of the email brings you to a page that a) requires to you to enter an email address and requires you to further check a box to affirmatively opt out of email marketing (for each of 4 different services). This is a far cry from industry best practice, which is one click unsubscribe. If one wants to know how to do privacy wrong, one need only look to the practices of the Theme Parks.