New Universal Studios Theme Parks Will Use Facial Recognition Technology

The Universal Beijing Resort is set to open in 2021, and the executives responsible for the park are implementing smart technology to ensure that visitors have "a seamless experience throughout every stage of the guests' journey", granting park visitors "unprecedented convenience." To make that happen, they'll use facial recognition tech from one of China's biggest conglomerates that will be applied "from park entry to storage lockers to express-lane access to even payment for merchandise and meals." And a new rumor suggests that these techniques won't be limited to the Beijing park – it's apparently going global.

An official press release announced that Universal Beijing is teaming up with Chinese tech company Alibaba for "a next-generation theme-park experience." Universal will use Alibaba's tech to completely digitize its operations and management of the new park, impacting the experience before you even get to the park itself: Alibaba has an online travel platform called Fliggy, which is being integrated into the Universal flagship store so guests can buy plane tickets and book hotel rooms through that.

The tech giant has several other subcompanies that are being worked into this deal: Koubei, a local service app that will provide food and drink recommendations based on user preferences and allow online ordering of food at the park to eliminate large wait times at its restaurants and food stands; Tmall, an online shopping platform which will be the resort's e-commerce sponsor; and Youku, an online video hub which will offer Universal content and movies.

Meanwhile, ThemeParkUniversity claims that an internal team at Universal is currently working on implementing facial recognition for all Universal parks worldwide. It's unclear if non-Chinese parks would still be utilizing Alibaba technology to make that happen or if they'll instead be striking deals with different tech companies in different regions of the world to achieve the same effect.

Facial recognition isn't being utilized (at least on this scale) at any other theme park in the world yet, but this seems like the next logical step for these parks to make. On paper, these measures sound like they'll be able to speed things up, minimize wait times, and smooth out the guest experience. As TPU points out, "just about everything a MagicBand can do at Walt Disney World, you will be able to do with your face at Universal Studios Beijing." Even a decade ago, I feel like there would have been a bigger pushback over the possible security and privacy concerns of a tech company being openly given access to track your every move across a theme park, but I wonder if we've crossed a point of no return in terms of data and privacy that most people won't even blink an eye at this kind of thing anymore moving forward.