Despite a number of concerns, European cities are now far ahead of the U.S. in the transition to a cashless economy with everywhere from hotels to grocery shops to the kindergarten kids selling cookies in the neighborhood accepting cashless forms of payment. While using hard currency is fast becoming outdated, not everyone is happy with the turn of events. Money offered the convenience of anonymity and full custody of one’s funds while with cashless systems, individual card information can be accessed by anyone including a grocer, jeweler or even the local tailor raising the prospect that this could be the end of privacy as we know it.
Europe’s fast transition to a cashless society has been heralded as the dawn of a new age. Traditional monetary operations were both time wasting and financially constraining. Grocers spent a lot of time ringing purchases and processing cash transactions, taxi drivers stalled beside roads for up to half an hour counting money and looking for change, banks handling bills and coins were forced to spare a huge chunk of employee turnover time in physically accounting for money. With the cashless system, Europe has been thrust into a new era of increased productivity and business efficiency.
Cashless transacting is exploding in Europe and the tap-and-go contactless credit card model is the most preferred. Finextra, a leading news service in Europe, put it ideally, “contactless is the new normal in Europe, with more than a billion tap-and-go purchases worth €12.6 billion on Visa cards in the last 12 months.”
However, all is not rosy with the new system. Worried Europeans are increasingly becoming alarmed over the massive amount of data companies are collecting on them. Retail chains give a unique number to new card buyers and build data on the buyer’s buying habits. Through the data, retailers can figure out intricate details such as if a buyer is married, their drinking habits, when they shop, their favorite cologne, if they are pregnant and if so, how far along they are. The cashless system has basically eroded all privacy and laid individual persons bare before all.
European citizens have had to make a tough call, choosing between the convenience of paperless transactions and their inherent right to privacy. With companies hoarding mountains of information on unaware citizens, unease is being directed toward just how much information can be gathered from individual spending habits and just how identifiable people have become.
Just what do companies do with all this personal info? Is it sold to the highest bidder? Are individual rights to privacy being breached on a global scale? Does the freedom from intrusion still hold meaning in a cashless economy? As much as a cashless system is intended to benefit the end consumer, these concerns must be addressed before its full benefits can be enjoyed.