Private Payments: Why You Should Be Using Monero

I was 12 years old and accompanied by my mum when I walked into our local bank to open my first account. It was a place full of smartly dressed, smiling adults, stewards of regulated finance there just for me, directing us both to comfy chairs, surrounded by mini pens on chains and relaxed talk of things I didn’t understand.

It was a place of trust. It had to be, because that bank, along with who knows how many other connected financial services, has been watching over me every day for 18 years since. For 17 of those years I carried on through offline and online life with never a question in my mind as to the hidden inner workings which allow a person to buy a sandwich, hire a car and travel the world with nothing more than a small, signed piece of plastic.

But for the past year that piece of plastic has served to remind me of what we sacrifice for the irresistible convenience of card payments and online and mobile banking we see evidenced everywhere we turn.

So what's changed since those days when I was first guided in through the doors of a building and a sector propped up by questionable investment? Well, the cards look a little different. They have bright orange ones now. Some are even transparent. They have names like Monzo and Go Henry – these days even children are flouting debit cards. Pretty cool, right? Not really... “one card company has boasted that it can predict when a couple will divorce based on their spending patterns”. ¹

True costs

We need to consider the true costs of personal banking being made more effortless and seamless every year. A look at the privacy policy of your average high street bank may not be enough to raise every eyebrow, but this is yet another example of how we put too much trust in the major institutions which handle our data.

Of course, due to the nature of financial institutions, security is key, so there are many aspects of their policies which are understandable and shouldn't raise concern. But there are other aspects which I feel to be more difficult to justify.

It’s important to note that privacy policies don't always tell the whole story; and many of the people writing them are well-versed in using choice words to put a positive spin on questionable intent. Consider that 65% of American adults don't know that the statement “When a website has a privacy policy, it means the site will not share my information with other websites and companies without my permission” is false.

They're not inclined to talk about it, but some [banks] are experimenting with mapping customer data to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook so they can "listen" to their customers' conversations on these sites. And some use tracking cookies (which record a customer's website activity even after the customer has left the company's site and report them back to a company's database) to monitor online banking clients' website travels.¹

Now consider a sample from the current privacy policy of the bank of my youth:

Personal information may include...

Online profile and social media information and activity based on your interaction with us and our websites and applications, including for example, your banking profile and login information, Internet Protocol (IP) address, smart device information, location coordinates, online and mobile banking security authentication, mobile phone network information, searches, site visits and spending patterns.

[...]

The third-party companies we partner with include:

  • Doubleclick [of Google]
  • Facebook [say no more]
  • Amazon [just as bad]
  • OMG [indeed!]
  • Taboola [what?]
  • Google Search Adwords [Google’s back again]
  • AOL [they still exist?]
  • Lovemoney [yes you do]
  • Pinterest [-ed in your data]
  • LinkedIn [of Microsoft, the ones who make that operating system which tracks your every interaction]
  • Twitter [aka ‘birdsite’]
  • Snapchat [that app that uses the same psychological designs used in gambling to keep kids and young adults hooked in order to profit from their attention]

[...]

We will not share your information with anyone outside [our bank] except: [...] with social media companies (in a secure format) or other third party advertisers so they can display relevant messages to you and others about our products and services on our behalf. Third party advertisers may also use information about your previous web activity to tailor adverts which are displayed to you

Cash is dying

Cash has now begun to feel strange in people's hands. When you're at a bar or supermarket and you hand over a note or some change, the person opposite you momentarily offers you a card reader before expressing genuine surprise and accepting the cash.

They smile and maybe you both crack a quick joke about how uncommon it is to use cash nowadays, but beyond the jokes lies the evidence of the troubling situation we find ourselves in: cash is a relic of the past, offering an increasingly rare opportunity to provide the level of financial privacy we all deserve, and its days are numbered; cards are ubiquitous, sliding in and out of our wallets so easily that sometimes the only ones who have a clear idea about our expenditures are the banks, the businesses they serve and the third parties who capitalise on the spoils.

But whereas cash is slowly dying, becoming increasingly insignificant to the vast majority of people today, something else is born, something which has, and could continue to, provide us with a level of control we've never had access to before.

The dream is realised

Cryptocurrency was once only discussed by a minority of enthusiasts who understood it to varying degrees and sensed its promise in the context of an increasingly centralised world of finance and tech, a world in which to be social was to offer up your identity to the darlings of Silicon Valley.

We've now had at least seven years to grow more accustomed to the more well-known cryptocurrencies. The big 'B' has become a household name. If you're lucky you can even find one of a handful of Bitcoin (BTC) ATMs in some cities. But many people desirous of increased financial privacy learn too late that Bitcoin offers only pseudo-anonymity.

Enter Monero

Arriving fashionably late to the game with no intention of fitting in with the crowd, Monero (XMR) is a privacy-by-default cryptocurrency with the answer for anyone who believes the details of any transaction, personal or otherwise, should be between only the payer and the payee. There are a few key features to note about Monero:

Don’t worry if some of that went over your head. You can learn much more about Monero on their own website. All you need to know right now is that, though it’s still early days, in just a few years Monero’s passionate and dedicated community of developers have worked hard to introduce new features which allow people from all walks of life to make payments privately and securely – from citizens in oppressed countries seeking to avoid financial surveillance and censorship, to businesses simply wishing to conceal the details of the payments they make to their suppliers.

Here’s how you can get involved and use Monero yourself in order to maximise the privacy of your own payments:


Other useful links
Notes
  1. The Tradoff Fallacy (PDF)
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