A deep dive into the technology of corporate surveillance by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explores how modern technology tracks and profiles user behaviour, including cashless payments, and how this harvested data can be sold and used. It concludes that paying cash is one way to protect privacy.
The term ‘financial technology’, or fintech, describes the relatively recent industry of tech companies that connect long-established financial institutions and newer technologies, and the EFF notes they are typically subject to less government oversight than traditional financial organisations such as banks. Of particular interest among them are payment processors, which accept digital payments on behalf of other businesses, and are privy to vast quantities of information covering what, when and how customers buy, and businesses sell.
Given most financial transactions involve card or bank account details and names, it is straightforward for payment processors to tie all the data they collect directly to people’s identities. Some use this data solely to facilitate money transfer, but others construct business and consumer profiles and sell them, for example to enable targeted advertising for third party companies, or data mining to inform stock market moves. Many users are unaware their data is used for anything other than facilitating the payments they have requested.
Laws exist in many countries to protect people’s personal information. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides citizens the right to access and demand deletion of information collected about them, and require companies to have a legitimate reason to use the data gathered. In the U.S., the California Consumer Privacy Act offers similar protections, but in most states, third-party data collection remains unregulated. Where protections do exist, not everyone is aware of the rights they have, or when and how to wield them.
Cash offers many benefits unmatched by other payment options, and anonymity is an increasingly compelling one. Paying cash, people can make purchases without oversight, without leaving digital trails, and without the knowledge or permission of any other person or company. This offers unrivalled freedom that is a valuable commodity in this digital age.