Editor’s Note – As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
As cash changes hands, what else is being transferred from one person to another? It’s estimated that virtually all banknotes are contaminated with cocaine within weeks of entering circulation; one in seven U.K. notes are tainted with fecal matter, while 70% of U.S. dollar notes may carry traces of heroin. Not only is legal tender contaminated by illicit substances, but studies have shown it can carry hundreds or even thousands of strains of bacteria and viruses. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that in the Coronavirus world, cash is being shunned in favor of its socially-distancing cousins, the credit and debit cards.
World Abandons “Filthy Lucre” in Fear of COVID-19
China and Korea have reportedly been destroying or sanitizing infected currency. Stores still open around the world have moved away from cash, with some only willing to accept card, or even better, contactless payment. The U.S. has not been as quick as Europe to embrace contactless card payments, and neither has jumped at mobile wallet (payments using phone apps) as eagerly as China and India. The Coronavirus may just speed up Americans’ acceptance of contactless transactions.
According to a survey by market research firm The Futurist Group, 38% of Americans see contactless payment as a basic need in March 2020 compared to 30% during the same month in 2019, while the number of respondents who said they don’t need the service dropped from 41% to 33%.
“Despite issuers pumping out millions of contactless cards and more stores accepting Apple Pay, U.S. consumers have just shrugged their shoulders while the world embraces contactless payments,” Demitry Estrin, founder and CEO of the company, told Payment Source. “The question has always been ‘what will get consumers to change their payment behavior?’ Given Coronavirus fears, I think we now have the answer. This is something that is forcing consumers to re-examine their behavior. When people are worried about touching something for fear of it being infected, the meaning of contactless in a payment all of a sudden takes on a new meaning in a very good way,” he added.
Various prominent media outlets have published recent articles describing a predicted move to cashless transactions – or even promoting them. Peter Gordon, executive vice president and head of emerging payments at U.S. Bank, predicted to CNBC that online financial services would receive a boost due to the pandemic. “I think this is an opportunity for a move to digital,” he said. “I believe this crisis will accelerate and move people to utilize all forms of digital financial services.”
With mobile and contactless payments poised to increase over hygiene fears, is abandoning cash the smart move on the part of consumers? Sure, it may prevent you from getting a virus, but, as LN’s Andrew Moran describes, the ongoing war on cash is hardly without its dangers:
“The primary beneficiary in a cashless world is the government. By abolishing cash and utilizing a digitized system, the state can spy on the public, coerce the people to hold opinions that conform to the hive, and transform the world into a prison planet. The next recipient is the big banks. Financial institutions are incentivized to facilitate the evisceration of physical money. In a cashless economy, consumers are forced into the banking system, and depositors are unable to withdraw their savings, even when their capital is threatened by subzero interest rates. If cash is gone, then you cannot avoid the system, shield your assets from negative rates, and potentially live off the grid to escape mob rule.”
Stuck at Home with Alexa
With professionals being asked to work from home where possible, some are wondering what data is being collected in the household. One may expect that digital devices and home assistants like Alexa would prove useful during such a time as this, but the U.K.’s prestigious Mishcon de Reya LLP law firm evidently thinks the devices are more of a danger than a help. The company warned its staff to turn off and remove smart technology from their vicinity, out of concern that the devices may listen in to confidential phone calls or discussions about clients.
Not only is the firm worried about home assistants, but also smart products, such as the Amazon Ring security system, closed-circuit TVs, and even baby monitors, reported Bloomberg. “Perhaps we’re being slightly paranoid but we need to have a lot of trust in these organizations and these devices,” said Joe Hancock, who is in charge of cybersecurity for the business. “We’d rather not take those risks.”
Reportedly, Hancock is more concerned about cheaper, copy-cat devices than about name-brand versions such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Supposedly, these devices are only turned on when they detect the programmed “wake word” intended to activate them from a dormant state. However, a variety of incidents have brought that into question. Most recently, a team from Northeastern University and Imperial College London set out to answer the questions: “what exactly are these systems recording from their surroundings, and does that include sensitive and personal conversations that were never meant to be shared with companies or their contractors?”
The researchers recently published preliminary results of the study into voice assistants – Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and OK Google – being activated or “woken up” in situations other than a user saying the word intended to activate the device. The experiment, which exposed the gadgets to audio recordings of Netflix shows, aimed to test whether home assistants could be triggered by sounds other than their wake words.
Fortunately, the results showed the devices were not continuously recording. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the researchers confirmed that all the devices tested awoke as a result of “hearing” words only somewhat similar to their programmed wake words, or certain combinations of sounds. This happened on average between 1.5 and 19 times per day (over a 24-hour period). The more speaking (in this case, TV dialogue) the devices were exposed to, the more frequent the activations. Every show the devices were exposed to caused false activations – 12 programs were tested in a variety of genres.
The researchers judged that the recordings were long enough to capture sensitive material, with the longest activations being 43 seconds. With many of us stuck at home under optional or mandatory lockdowns, there is, in theory, no better time than now to be using “smart home” devices – or at least that’s what the marketers would say. But could it be that the more time spent at home with these devices, the more information they can collect?
That’s all for this week from Tech Tyranny. Check back next week to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.
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