The goal of this blog series is to factually prove or disprove rumors and myths in the Disney-verse. Today I was surfing Facebook and came across a thread where people insisted that MagicBands could be used to track people (ie be used to find lost children) as well be used by CM’s to acquire personal contact information of a lost child. Main Streeters, I have to tell you I was shocked and disturbed to see some past CMs and current Disney Travel Agents informing people that these things were in fact possible. Tonight we are going to jump in our MythBusters time machine and go back over this information, as well as provide you with some tips and tricks. I truly hope the group of Cast Members and Guests that were a part of the discussion I saw today read this in depth as it really worried me that people may in fact believe some of the information from that thread as being fact. While I am all for people researching on their own and understand that differences of opinion happen, when the safety of a child is involved, facts not rumor on how programs like MagicBand work are key.
Before we go into tonight’s mythconceptions, let’s take a quick moment to explain RFID, mainly because many people just have no clue what I mean when I say RFID signal. “Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the wireless use of electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects.The tags contain electronically stored information. Some tags are powered by electromagnetic induction from magnetic fields produced near the reader. Some types collect energy from the interrogating radio waves and act as a passive transponder. Other types have a local power source such as a battery and may operate at hundreds of meters from the reader. Unlike a barcode, the tag does not necessarily need to be within line of sight of the reader and may be embedded in the tracked object. RFID is one method for Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC).” In layman’s terms RFID is what stores use for their alarm systems, those little stickers that set off proximity alarms. Toll sensors, race timing chips, even cell phones use RFID.
MagicBands can track you like a GPS
Many people seem to think that if a child is lost they can be tracked through their MagicBand like GPS allowing Cast Members to walk right to where a child is standing. Others think that Disney is able to track your every move down to the exact spot you are standing through your MagicBand. To tackle this MagicBand mythconception we first need to explain WHAT GPS is.
GPS works with a constellation of 27 Earth-orbiting satellites. The GPS in your car or phone needs to connect to four or more satellites so that it can figure out the distance between them and then find you through a process called trilateration. (In geometry, trilateration is the process of determining absolute or relative locations of points by measurement of distances, using the geometry of circles, spheres or triangles.) For trilateration to work, it must have a clear line of sight to four or more satellites, which is why GPS works great outside but not so well inside.
Though they can both track things to a certain degree, GPS and RFID are two very different things.
Inside your MagicBand is an RFID tag. RFID tracking utilizes a passive electronic tag that can tracked from up to 300 feet away using radio waves. RFID readers transmit radio waves that activate RFID tags. Once activated by the reader the tag then sends information back to the reader on a set radio frequency. The information transmitted is captured and sent back to a central database. RFID is passive and can only transmit data to a nearby RFID reader. Meaning if you are within 300 feet of a RFID scanner in the parks, your band can be scanned and it’s number recorded like you see with your Seven Dwarfs mine ride video. Also, your video on the 7D is not something you can instantly access, it takes about a day to appear in your PhotoPass account.
Simply put, though RFID can track things, but it doesn’t work like GPS. It doesn’t allow Disney to track you down to the exact food line you are in until you tap your MagicBand to pay and once you leave that register all it knows is that you are in the area of a reader. Also, we aren’t sure who gets access to that long-range data, but we are pretty sure it is a very limited amount of people for privacy reasons.
That being said, thanks to science, and satellite arrays, we can happily say to all of you racing out to buy Alcoa made hats, that the mythconception that your MagicBand can allow Disney to track you on the same level GPS can, is in fact busted.
Cast Members Can Call The Parents of Lost Children
Another interesting forum mythconception about MagicBands involves lost children and their parent’s cell phone number. Parents have always been encouraged to teach their children their name and the parent’s phone number in case the parents get lost and a Cast Member has to help the child find their wayward parents.
When MagicBands hit the scene once people started realizing kids would in fact wear them, the idea that the child of said wayward adults would merely need to go to a Cast Member and have their bands scanned and the adults phone number would magically appear on the screen in from of the Cast Member. Then the Cast Member would call the astray adult and tell them their minor would for them to return to X location.
Unfortunately this mythconception is just that. In confirming with a friend that worked on the MagicBand project (thank you L!) Cast Member can not access that information. The majority of scanners in the parks are set up purchasing or entry, that only allows access to select personal data on a users MDE account. The other issue is that a 4-digit pin (usually not told to minors due to their desire to return adults impulsive shopping items) is needed to even look up a guest’s resort information, and that still doesn’t provide personal contact information. While many wish this busted MagicBand myth was in fact true, many others simply are not ok with a random Cast Member being able to access personal information like address and phone number. Due to this we recommend you wandering parents either write your Name and cell phone number on your child’s MagicBand with a fine point Sharpie, or look into custom information items like temporary ID bracelets, special waterproof Lost Parents Magic Band decals, or special temporary tattoos to ensure your child is able to find you when you have run off in the parks!
Writing and Decoration Mess With The Signal
Our final mythconception about Magic Bands is one that truly baffles me. People constantly ask us if painting or decorating their MagicBand will effect it’s ability to work. As I mentioned earlier MagicBands have two antennas. The Near field communication (NFC) antenna is a type of antenna that is the set of protocols that enables smartphones, MagicBands and other devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching the devices together or bringing them into proximity to a distance of typically 10 cm (3.9 in) or less.
The MagicBands NFC range has about a 1-2 cm range.This is the antenna you use when you are making direct contact. So things like resort room key, ticket, room charge, FastPass+, and Photopass Photographer band scans use the NFC option. The long range antenna has up to about 50 ft line of site and is used for things like ride photos.
That being said, things like Cover Bands, duct tape, nail polish, acrylic paint, spray paint, event “bedazzles” won’t effect a MagicBands antenna. The thickest of these items is the “bedazzles” and those tend to be about .25 cm thick and don’t block or modify the NFC signal like many fear will occur. In TMSM Fan Nation we have seen (and personally used) pretty much every type of MagicBand adornment you can think of, and none of it has effected the band’s signal.
So based on the FCC filings about the MagicBand’s range, our own personal testing of the band itself, and Main Streeters testing of pretty much every decorative items known to man having been slapped on a MagicBand, we can say without a doubt, the mythconception that paint or decoration will effect a MagicBand signal is in fact busted.
What this all means is that, yes you can write your information on your child’s MagicBand. No it will not interrupt or “mess up” the signal. No you can not depend on MagicBands to find your child if they get lost, nor can you be guaranteed CMs will be able to get your information from your MDE account via your child’s MagicBand. What we have also recently learned is Cast Members can not remove items from your child, even when the child is lost. Meaning you want to ensure that what ever item you put on your child that has your information on it it easy for the child to find, and remove. Many CM’s suggest using the BACK of a celebrating button to write your name and number on. Parents in the discussion suggested temporary tattoos, writing on the child with a sharpie, or the ID bracelets we mentioned above. The biggest tip mentioned over and over again was “Teach your child to recognize what a CM’s name tag looks like so that they go to an adult that will be able to help them immediately.”
I would once again like to thank “L” who was an original member of the MagicBand team, and Drew TMSM’s own Cyber Security Specialist who holds 2 Masters in Cyber Security and a slew of Networking, Software etc Certs for assisting in this article!
- WDW Makes Update to Face Mask Policy for Dining - February 27, 2021
- Favorite Things Friday- Magic Cookie Bars, Wilderness Lodge - February 26, 2021
- City Works honoring women-owned or women-led breweries with “Her Hops” beer flight! #DisneySprings - February 26, 2021