Comment // Politics

The Cost Of Contactless Payments

In amongst the drive for an independent Scotland, as well as the mounting propaganda calling for war, the mainstream media has continued to nudge us towards a 'Brave New 1984'. In this weeks 'Weekly Nudge' we will be considering cashless payments and their wider implication.

Last week Barclaycard announced that it would be trialling its new wearable contact-less wristband 'wallet'  which users can swipe to gain access to a whole number of amenities, including access to London's public transport system which has, of course, now banned the use of cash and opted for the Oyster Card. The focus of this story, and the many others like it, is to prepare us for a world without cash. It is the medias job to convince us that cash is in some way inconvenient or that we would have to be some kind of crack peddling gangster to even use the stuff. 

Lets think about that for a moment. Just how inconvenient is cash? It is true that one may have to go to an ATM to acquire it, and it is most likely that 10% of it will be lost down the back of a sofa or car seat; there is also the worry that it is un-traceable, so, if it is lost or stolen, it is likely to remain that way since the British Police force seem unwilling to report such petit crimes as theft and fraud these days. 

However, It is easier to manage ones finances and barter with cash, since we can only spend what we have in our hand, and cash transactions are certainly made much quicker than with our plastic friend.

Perhaps the most important benefit of cash over cashless is that it is kept in the private. So long as we have the cash in our possession we are in control of it, and being in control of a thing is becoming increasingly more important in a world where we are very quickly losing control. The banks own our homes and the majority of cars on the road and anything else people have on hire purchase; media companies own our music and movies, which are no longer kept in CD format on our shelves but are instead logged somewhere within the ether of the world wide web of control; and gaming companies store our games online, which is great so long as we can access them.

Accessibility is a very important aspect of controlling a thing, because we cannot control a thing if we cannot access it. The most important thing in our society that we need to access is our money. If we cannot access money, we cannot access any amenities nor can we pay our rent or mortgages nor put fuel in our cars. The implications of this are huge, and a comparison can be drawn with the millions of people every year who suffer identity theft. The wrong I.D? No access. That is the future we are creating on the horizon if we continue down the road of a cashless society driven by the current zeitgeist. How many Identity thefts would there be each year if we used cash on a more regular basis? When we possess a thing we control it.

Last week Apple released its new iPhone 6, which was dubbed by the mail online as 'Simply the best smartphone ever made', which followed Apple's new wristwatch, alarmingly called 'Apple Watch'.  A feature of both these devices is that they too can be used to make a contact-less payment. More than 22,000 retailers are said to be accepting this method of payment including Sainsbury's and McDonalds.

Contact less methods of payment are expected to replace debit cards quickly, as users can upload multiple card details to their mobile phone, replacing cash within an estimated 5 - 10 years. Media organisations, retail companies and the like will all promote cashless payments as being the future and convenient. Both of those statements may well be true: as long as it seems fashionable and desirable  people will keep using these devices, but as for the convenience of it, well, no one said who it was convenient for.

Apple is inviting us to use their phones by simply holding it to the reader on the till and pressing our finger to the home button so it can verify our fingerprint - which Apple ensures us is much more secure than its iCloiud. Not only are we giving control or our finances to the bank - who can presumably turn off our account at its discretion - but we are also expected to hand over our fingerprint. Now we have a physical record of our body attached to a digital record of our income and expenditure. Link that with the many media social accounts we have registered throughout the Web and all of a sudden we start to see a digital character emerge. A digital version of us. Soon our entire lives will be stored online. Every conversation we have, every picture we take, music we buy, or rather lease, will be held, or be in the possession of, some other private organisation. Everything. And so long as we do what we are told we can have access to our own property. But who's monitoring you? Who's selling your data? It's none of your business. What about if you have a disagreement with your council, bank or tax office? Are you still going to complain, knowing that your account maybe switched off? That may seem a trifle far fetched, but just consider that only a couple of weeks ago HMRC announced plans to gain access into people's private bank accounts. 

The implications of the digital world merging with us so intimately are dangerous, but ask the majority of people what they think and they will say that it is great, "it makes my life so much more convenient." However, for that convenience we have to relinquish control. That is the real cost of contact-less payment.