/ Money, Technology

Microchip wristbands and ‘cashless’ festivals – for or against?

A new microchip wristband has been developed for festival goers to top up with money and use as a payment method. It’s being introduced at a few festivals this year, so cashless festivals could be closer than we think.

Hannah Jolliffe, Which? Conversation editor, wants to see a wristband roll-out:

Imagine you’re off to a festival this summer.

In ‘scenario one’ you can take a big wad of cash with you to keep you going in food and drink while you’re there – and possibly a credit or debit card if there are cash points on site.

In ‘scenario two’, there’s no need for cash. You can take a device that you’ve topped up with money in advance and use that to pay for everything. The festival is a cashless community.

Which would you choose? For me it’s a no-brainer. I’ve spent many a festival nervously clutching on to my bag as I scramble through the crowds, knowing there are some nimble-fingered punters ready to relieve me of my money. Reducing that risk has to be a good thing.

A new wristband, complete with personal microchip, has been developed to do exactly this. It’s being introduced at a few festivals this year, so scenario two could be closer than we think.

Yes, there are questions I’d like answered – how much information will the microchip be allowed to collect about me and who will have access to it, for example – although Glastonbury guru Michael Eavis’s reaction has already calmed my nerves on that point:

‘I don’t want to take people into a land they don’t want to go into. And using information about people, I wouldn’t be happy about that.’

And he did add that it ‘seems like an incredible system’ and he ‘might be tempted’ to use it.

Doomsayers are writing the invention off as ‘too commercial’, but I can’t see how using a wristband to pay for your five quid falafel is any more or less commercial than paying with money – it’s just a different method. And if it gets nicked? Ring up and cancel it – you can’t do that with cash.

Sarah Kidner, Which? Computing editor, wants to keep the free spirit of festivals alive:

Anyone who’s ever been to Glastonbury knows what a surprising, surreal and ultimately sensational experience it is. It’s also the perfect place to unplug from work, so-called real-life and become anonymous for a while.

Now, a new hi-tech wristband – complete with personal microchip – could make that anonymity a thing of the past. Maker Intellitix claims the wristband could help wipe out ticket touting and could also be used to buy goods on site.

I can see why Hannah argues that a cashless festival is a good idea, but what worries me is that the technology inside the wristband – Radio Frequency Identification or RFID – can be used for tracking goods and for storing personal information. Potentially, this could be fed back to festival organisers about what I’ve bought at the festival.

Based on last year’s Glastonbury, this would reveal a couple of late-night trips to the festival’s famous cider bus, and that I paid the princely sum of £3 for one slice of cheese on toast.

More worryingly it could track my movements about the site, the stages I’ve visited and the bands I like. What’s to stop them bombarding me with marketing about those bands or with messages to buy the obligatory Glastonbury T-shirt?

In the past 20 years I’ve attended three Glastonbury festivals, each one more commercial than the last, but for me these wristbands are a step too far.

Are you for or against hi-tech microchip wristbands at festivals?

For (70%, 74 Votes)

Against (30%, 31 Votes)

Total Voters: 105

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Chris says:
20 January 2012

On balance I think this would be a good thing. I think providing there was the ability to opt out of having data collected on what you were buying and so on. But then, how many people have a nectar card or a Tesco clubcard, and give this information away every day without thinking about it?

I like the idea of not having to worry so much about someone nicking my wallet, dropping cash in the mud, losing change when I sit on the grass, and trying to find a cash-point when I inevitably run out at some point. Not only is it easier for festival goers, it’s easier for the thousands of people working on site who have to take cash and give change, thousands of times a day. The efficiency saving in time would reduce queues and so on too, so another bonus there.

For me, the most annoying commercial aspect of Glastonbury isn’t how much things cost, or what data they collect, but the fact that there is a monopoly on alcoholic drinks at the festival. Carlsberg only sell their own drinks. Just like a brewery owned pub I suppose – but in a festival the size of Glastonbury, I find it quite annoying. I think there were two types of cider to choose from in the whole festival last year. When I can buy 100s of types of food, I think that’s a bit silly.

Oh, and the mud. It’s not fun after the first few minutes – let’s ban it in the future!

Craig Bennett says:
20 January 2012

I don’t think Festivals like Glastonbury would want to use RFID to track their fans, but to enhance their experience.

It’s a misconception that RFID technology = privacy invasion, our RFID wristbands have been used around the world at festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza – not for tracking but for securing the site, reducing queues, speeding up transactions at drink stands and completely eradicating ticket touts.

Each of these applications can improves the experience for the fans, while organisers get the additional benefit of knowing exactly how many punters are in each zone, valuable data when the health and safety inspector comes knocking.

RFID access control and cashless payments will soon be the staple of festivals and events around the world, and it’s only the beginning of what this technology can do for fans. Soon we’ll be deploying a system which allows festival fans to share their experiences with their online social network, all through an RFID wristband!

I can’t wait to see the technology rolled-out at a major UK festival this summer. Sure, like all new technology, this will take some getting used to for the festival stalwarts out there, but I can assure you, one day soon, the RFID wristband will be to a festival what the iPod has become to music.


CaptKirk says:
22 January 2012

I think this post has got a place but should have been edited to leave in the declaration of interest but remove the blatent advert. It’s just so un-Which?

Rob Taylor says:
20 January 2012

I can see the reasoning behind it… but it is a step to far for me… it’s just another thing that will be sponsored… probably by Visa or Mastercard, so you can only top up with their card. Or a mobile phone company where you top up by text… Tracking what you buy is one thing, but the point of festivals is that you do things you wouldn’t normally do, you might not want the “bong” you bought tracked… It would reduce theft, but lets face it most people are still gonna take iPhones etc which are what festival thieves are really after…

Then there’s tracking of who you saw…. before you know it each stage could have a sensor that knows where you went… before you know it you are being tracked on everything you do at the festival. The whole point of festivals is its an escape from Big Brother, live in a tent for a few days, get hammered, dance like a loon…and enjoy yourself… not become a data mine….

Dan Jupp says:
21 January 2012

I can see why people would agree that this is a good system, for the more commercial bars and food stalls. But take glastonbury for instance, all the small independent traders selling their fair trade goods, would they have to spend more money in order to have a wristband reader? My attitude towards it is dont fix something that isnt broken, ive worked festivals for five years now and theres never been anything wrong with handling cash. And those people who are unfortunate enough to have items or cash stolen from them, obviously are not being cautious enough…..thats my take anyway!

Ear tags could be the answer. I’ve herd that they work well to keep track of cows in muddy fields. 🙂

Should be used on cruise ships to keep track of passengers and crew in an emergency.

murrayzz1 says:
22 January 2012

A system like this adds cost. So why do it? Who is asking for this? Festival goers? I don’t think so. I’ve never heard anyone say “wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to take any money to a festival?” There is very little crime at festivals, so that’s not the reason.

The average on-site spend at Glastonbury is £145 per person. This would be like going to the festival with one £145 note, with your ticket printed on the back. Why would anyone want to do that? Imagine the inconvenience if you lost it.

The motive for introducing a system like this is certainly not the interests of the festival goer. It would be used to track individual behaviour and spending for marketing purposes, and to monitor how much stallholders are taking so that they can be charged more for their pitch.

Robert says:
23 January 2012

This is an idea that seems ahead of its time, but is the proposal to use it at festivals is just a pilot to test it for more general application? What are the other safeguards – will you have a pin number? If not what is to stop someone with a portable reader putting it near a wristband to download (steal) the cash without the holder being aware that anything happened!

Traders probably want this. I spoke to one who was stiffed for £400 in fake £20 notes at one Glastonbury. He regarded festivals as a bad risk for passing counterfeit notes.

Finally, are you going to leave home with no cash and cards at all? Your wristband will not buy you petrol or a meal en route unless RFID cash is more generally rolled out.

I can see the points that have been made about the drawbacks of this system (especially it adding another cost to an already expensive ticket), but part of me would be in favour, just for the convenience and peace of mind. I hate queuing up to pay £2 to use a festival cash machine so I normally carry all my cash for the weekend around with me. A money belt helps reduce my fear of getting it all lost or stolen, but it’s always a worry…

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads.
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

What mark would you suggest on the right hand or forehead? Maybe a QR code?

In order to have an informed debate on this all parties must have all the in order to make a decision. To be transparent, I work for an RFID wristband company (I will not name it here because its not appropriate). Therefore my stance will always be pro – RFID wristbands.

The only events in the world that have embraced this technology are doing so under the auspices of enhancing the fans experience. Fans are not expected to pay for the systems via the ticket price rather the technology when rolled out in earnest will pay for itself whilst delivering and enhanced experience to the fan. Some of the advantages are:

– eliminates fraud and counterfeit
– decreases queing time
– decreases the time taken to transact
– provides social media integration
– can aid health and safety initiatives
– protects the fans ticket

Yes there are some concerns but they are not entirely valid – lets look at some of them here:

Data Mining – i.e. more information available to the organiser by using the RFID wristbands. Anybody who holds a debit card, credit card, has a bank account, uses a passport or holds information online is already exposed to this and had been for years. Why is it different today?

Too Commercial / Sponsorship – very few events survive without sponsors or commercial partners. The largest overhead by far are the artist fees and they demand a lot and the fans demand big artists. Commercial sponsors fill the gap that avoid cost being passed on to ticket prices. It makes perfect sense for organisers to embrace platforms that provide a mechanism for commercial sponsors to gain exposure to the fans whilst the fan benefits from an enhanced experience and a subsidised ticket price as a result.

Tracking people at events – this is misconseption. RFID is used to provide access control, cashless vending and socail media integration platforms. In order to do this you have to actively present your wristbands to readers or scanning devices whihc in turn will read the wristband and let you use the application. It does not do this without you actively soliciting the interaction. It cannot monitor you from afar. The reading distances are typically 3-5 cms. The technology is designed to be non-invasive and organisers are insisting on this too.

Traders are asked to pay for it. This is another misconception. They won’t be. They will be forced to use it.

The system adds cost. This is also not true. The business models being talked about at the moment are quite innovative where, the fan does not pay, the organiser does not pay and the individual traders do not pay. Using a platform like RFID can provide new sources of income for the organiser buy providing value addded services that fans will use to enhance their experience at a festival. Revenue generation can be shared accross the cost bearing entities.

There are wristbands that can act a debit card. RFID Wristbands exist where the payment scheme providers (MasterCard, Visa, Amex etc) can load everything you have on a contactless card onto your wristband. You can use it on the way to the festival and outside of the festival at contactless enabled outlets. Pin numbers are required for some of these too depending on the risk portfolio of the set-up

I hope this goes someway to explaining some of this and I apologise if this is too pro-wristband. But I was transparent from the start. I really beleive in this technology and I think it is coming.

Robert says:
23 January 2012

I’m glad I subscribed to this comment string otherwise I would not have known about the post 2 hours ago quoting from the book of Revelation about the mark of the Beast being required on anyone who wants to buy and sell. Has it been taken down? If so why? As far as I can see does not infringe the T&Cs. I thought it was a very prophetic comment on the direction technoplogy is taking us in. Just because it may make for uncomfortable reading is no reason to censor it.

Hi Robert, the comment was in our moderation queue due to the unconventional wording, which can often be a sign of spam. The comment has now been restored.

I’m not sure if these bands are quite as foreboding as the poem suggests though!

The book of Revelation written thousands of years ago predicted a cashless society. It clearly states that in the future cash will not be an acceptable method of payment and you won’t be able to buy or sell anything without a mark in your right hand or forehead (The mark of the beast). Many people will be fooled into taking this mark believing that a cashless society is a good thing as it would eliminate theft and hundreds of other crimes.
It is widely stated that the mark of the beast could be a microchip implant of some sort.
I will not be attending any festivals that require me to wear some kind of prerequisite to this mark.

Although this may make for uncomfortable reading, make no mistake…the world is zooming towards 666!

666 is not an acceptable security code. Please select a code containing both uppercase and lowercase characters and at least one number, and do not disclose it to anyone.

Ron Davies says:
14 December 2012

Radio Frequency Cards
I just had a look at this video link sent to me recently (about the new wi fi technology on credit/debit cards, etc.)
I’ll not activate that any such card I receive after seeing this. I guess I’ll go to the bank and see if I can replace it with a non wi fi (Radio Frequency Card)….?
Watch the news video link below, and tell me what you think.
A copy was sent to the Which? magazine, but no response received!

Perch says:
11 February 2015

As a festival trader I have been working festivals since 1988.
I do not like this idea at all it means the organizers will not pass on funds until a week after the event I still have to pay wages fuel and other expenses I will not have the cash to do the normal wholesale buying among traders all this will mean that I will have to carry bundles of cash on to site with all the security headaches this will cause.
It is no surprise that it is the most commercial festivasl run by big american corporations like live nation are the most keen as they are not interested in festivals or festival goers but squeezing as much out of them as possible in profits.

darcy says:
12 April 2015

Well said Perch-the point about onsite wholesale purchases from fellow traders was something I hadn’t considered.Get on the fb Festival Traders group page and add some comments before the meeting with Livenation goes ahead