Once upon a time, you could just go to Disneyland. You could get tickets at the gates, stand in line for rides, buy food and tchotchkes, even pick up copies of your favorite Disney movies at a local store. It wasn’t even that long ago. The last time I visited, in 2010, the company didn’t record what I ate for dinner or detect that I went on Pirates of the Caribbean five times. It was none of their business.
But sometime in the last few years, tracking and tracing became their business. Like many corporations out there, Walt Disney Studios spent the last decade transforming into a data company.
What comes next is not convenient at all. Companies use that data to corral us into dead-end streets, to limit our choices, choose what we watch, and shuttle us into certain purchases over others. That data divides us into filter bubbles, helps spread misinformation like wildfire, drives wedges through families, and splits us up by political beliefs, race, gender, and social class. Thanks to data-munching algorithms, we are each on very different data-driven pathways through the same world: as if only people with the right data profile were given directions to Tomorrowland. Our journeys are lit by one “convenience” after another, but each path is paved with fool’s gold.
These small conveniences are an entreaty to forget about what we are losing in return. If Disney’s only goal was improving guest experience or safety, their park wouldn’t be so busy feeding a Big Brother–esque to rival China’s Social Credit System.
It’s not just Disney. Just shopping at a store is now pricier without an app, a loyalty card, coupons, or a digital wallet that traces your consumption patterns and habits. Just chatting with friends is now laced with trackers, bots, beacons, and other technological hitchhikers listening in: lock these out and websites break or connections are lost. People who don’t have the app, haven’t logged in, or didn’t get the discount code face more and more barriers. Resistance no longer feels like a reasonable option, even if it is the responsible thing to do.
We don’t often talk about “convenience” when we talk about data privacy, but we should. In the game of personal-data gathering, convenience is the bait. Privacy is essential to a well-functioning democracy, but companies have noticed that we are willing to throw it away and declare it “dead” for the sake of a few manufactured conveniences.
Worse, in making the tracked path appear convenient, companies go to great lengths to make it inconvenient to go without. What was once just a normal experience—an untraceable day at Disneyland—is a disappearing option, one now layered with extra time, cost, and expertise. In other words, these “conveniences” are manufactured, but the resulting inconveniences are not.
There must be more opportunities to opt out without going to crazy extremes. If companies wish to manufacture convenience as a lure, they cannot invent parallel challenges reserved for those who choose to resist.