/ 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 (st