It’s amazing how quickly trends catch on especially as far as digital technology is concerned. These days, it is very rare you’ll find me carrying cash around.

Such has become the convenience of a cashless society that wherever I go, I can pay for goods and services using different non-cash alternatives.

This is especially true across the continent where mobile money (delivered mostly via USSD) has become somewhat the norm. The cashless society trend has likely caught on because of its convenience for customers and for merchants its less of a risk, generally speaking, to not carry cash and accept card or mobile money payments.

However, there is something I think is missing from all the talk and push towards a cashless society.

M-PESA is arguably the poster child of a cashless society in Africa as it has gained popularity in East Africa. So much so that you could go without cash and live day to day just using M-PESA to pay for goods, services, and even transfer money to friends and family. However, what are some of the unspoken implications of a cashless society?

Surveillance economy

The biggest point that is sometimes missing from the whole cashless society discussion, especially in Africa where most people are celebrating every new FinTech startup, is the point about how it turns us into a complete surveillance economy and society with little (if any at all) freedom or privacy when it comes to how we use your money.

In recent years, online privacy has become a hot topic, rightfully so.

We continue to experience an increasing number of data leaks and breaches and privacy abuses/negligence by technology companies. Now, if you add into that mix a society where every single monetary transaction can be digitally traced to a person (or organization) and is controlled and handled by state sanctioned entities (banks, etc.), we literally lose whatever little freedoms and privacy we have left.

The right to privacy

Many a time when I raise this privacy angle around digital currencies, some people counter it with the point that if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t be bothered. Well, that’s not how this works.

Firstly, privacy is a right. You don’t have to disclose (as long as it is legal) to anyone what you do with your money (with the exception of the tax man). Secondly, with digital money surveillance (as we are currently witnessing with our personal data on various digital platforms) comes control and the ability for various actors in that cashless society supply chain to restrict how you use YOUR money or withhold it.

I am not opposed to digital money, in fact, I believe Bitcoin is the (almost) perfect solution in this scenario. Without a doubt a cashless society has many benefits especially for us regular people. I remember the first several times I used an Uber and didn’t have to check if I had enough cash or haggle with the driver. The driver just stopped at my destination, I hopped out, phone beeped, driver was paid.

We can still do all this with Bitcoin and retain control of our money and a certain level of privacy (despite popular belief, you can trace Bitcoin transactions but that’s a topic for another day). A cashless society means surveillance, it means possible censorship (of your money), unless maybe we are talking about Bitcoin.

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