The anonymous cash of our analog parents is fast disappearing, and in its wake comes trackable and permissioned debit cards to our children. While convenient, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In the last article, we looked at how our analog parents could anonymously buy a newspaper on the street corner with some coins, and read their news of choice without anybody knowing about it. This observation extends to far more than just newspapers, of course.
This ability of our parents – the ability to conduct decentralized, secure transactions anonymously – has been all but lost in a landscape that keeps pushing card payments for convenience. The convenience of not paying upfront, with credit cards; the convenience of always paying an exact amount, with debit cards; the convenience of not needing to carry and find exact amounts with every purchase. Some could even argue that having every transaction listed on a bank statement is a convenience of accounting.
But with accounting comes tracking. With tracking comes predictability and unwanted accountability.
It’s been said that a VISA executive can predict a divorce one year ahead of the parties involved, based on changes in purchase patterns. Infamously, a Target store was targeting a high school-aged woman with maternity advertising, which at first made her father furious: but as things turned out, the young woman was indeed pregnant. Target knew, and her own father didn’t.
This is because when we’re no longer using anonymous cash, every single purchase is tracked and recorded with the express intent on using it against us — whether for influencing us to make a choice to deplete our resources (“buy more”) or for punishing us for buying something we shouldn’t have, in a wide variety of conceivable ways.
China is taking the concept one step further, as has been written here before, and in what must have been the inspiration for a Black Mirror episode, is weighting its citizens’ Obedience Scores based on whether they buy useful or lavish items — useful in the views of the regime, of course.
It’s not just the fact that transactions of our digital children are logged for later use against them, in ways our analog parents could never conceive of.
It’s also that the transactions of our digital children are permissioned. When our digital children buy a bottle of water with a debit card, a transaction clears somewhere in the background. But that also means that somebody can decide to have the transaction not clear; somebody has the right to arbitrarily decide what people get to buy and not buy, if this trend continues for our digital children. That is a horrifying thought.
Our parents were using decentralized, censorship resistant, anonymous transactions in using plain cash. There is no reason our digital children should have anything less. It’s a matter of liberty and self-determination.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.