Who pays for privacy

Data protectionists warn: Those who pay cashlessly are selling privacy


Cash is becoming less important, and more and more payments are being processed digitally. Experts fear that this will lead to “transparent people”.

Paying contactless with credit card or payment apps is easy and convenient. And it's getting more and more popular. A number of banks and financial service providers are now vying for the favor of Swiss customers with different systems. This is likely to further strengthen the trend towards increasingly foregoing cash in daily use. Today around 60 percent of all transactions in this country are processed with cash. 25 years ago it was a good 90 percent.

But it is not just consumer behavior that causes cash to lose its importance. In an interview with the “Tages-Anzeiger”, Hanspeter Thür, Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner, expressed concern that there would be great international pressure on states to urge their citizens to forego cash. This, for example, to combat capital flight, terrorism or money laundering. "The trend towards more and more cashless payment transactions will be the next big construction site in data protection," says Thür.

Cashless society is not a utopia

"Should cash one day be abolished, the damage to privacy would be enormous," Thür is convinced. This is problematic because a very precise profile of a person can be created with the analysis of electronic payment transactions, “right down to their sexual inclinations or political views”, according to Thür in the “Tages-Anzeiger”. That cash could be abolished is by no means utopian. Denmark or Sweden are already on the way to a cashless society. In Denmark there are plans that from 2016 petrol stations, restaurants or small shops will no longer have to accept cash.

Andreas Von Gunten, member of the Digital Society and President of the Digital Allmend Association, which advocates public access to digital goods and their further development, also sees dangers in a cashless society. Especially with regard to the abuse of state power. «If there is no more cash, anyone can be excluded from transaction options. For example in the course of investigations and even if someone is innocent, »said Von Gunten to 20 minutes. In this way a person can be broken. As an example, Von Gunten cites the case of Wikileaks, where, under pressure from the American authorities, Paypal credit cards or PostFinance accounts on the disclosure platform were blocked.

Unevenly distributed rights

Private companies hope that the increased use of digital payment options will lead to customer data in particular, which can then be used for their own purposes. For example, in the terms of use of the Paymit payment app, which in addition to UBS, Zürcher Kantonalbank and Raiffeisen are affiliated with, UBS is authorized to “enter data, data in connection with the use of UBS Paymit and data from Save, edit and use third-party sources and create profiles from them ». These would be used in particular to provide individual advice, tailor-made offers or information about UBS products and services.

The problem is that the rights to use this data are unevenly distributed today, says Von Gunten. "Anyone who makes their data available to a company should at least have the right to view, copy and also correct the data collected."