Monday, April 16, 2012

Is Future Goldbuggery Bitbuggery?

CBC's The Current bugs me. Here we have a couple of interviews regarding the replacement of money with bits - Canada is exploring this option - and the interviewees are a consultant from the UK who makes money - HA HA - off conversion-to-digital efforts, and speaking about the relatively cashless society of Sweden is some American libertarian living there who hasn't got his shit together enough to name himself on his website. And then there's this nonsense.

To be fair, Mr. Libertarian brought up questions regarding tracking and practicality, but at the end of the interview he lets slip that he doesn't give a shit about electronic money as such: he just doesn't want the government to do it. Anna Maria Tremonti is no Eleanor Wachtel but maybe her producers - Pacinthe Mattar and Shannon Higgins - could have put her together with guys who don't worry about Sweden turning into Nazi Germany or North Korea. Particular complaints about this show broaden into a complaint about the program as a whole: interviews are too credulous, guests can often be marginal and agenda-driven, and what The Current tries to get done with two competing viewpoints is often ably handled by the As It Happens crew interviewing the right person. If you require the examination of Sweden to make your points about digital currency - presumably there are people at the Royal Canadian Mint to speak to about it - there are Swedish people right there in Sweden with some political pull who might have a handle on both the technology and privacy issues.

Moaning about the show aside, digital currency is interesting. After Debt it's hard not to view cash with suspicion: it can be kindly viewed nowadays as a tool for resource distribution but of course various manipulations of the tool - rent-seeking and bricks to the head for instance - can cause distortions in distribution that kill people. Even without the bricks. Is digital money going to be better or worse for an equitable society? Is it being adopted for cost-savings? Why are those cost-savings necessary? Are legions of dumbass security guys necessary for you to transfer $60 000 held in your cell phone? What if you walk too near a magnet with your digital money? Will this make people go even more bananas about precious metals? Will minor illegal transactions like buying drugs be possible? Can swap meets at the rec centre be held without electronic payments involved? Can you sell tomatoes out of a truck by the side of the road? Will giving your grandson $100 for his birthday be monitored as a taxable benefit? Will it be possible to throw a buck to the guy begging outside the liquor store or does he need a USB drive? Can people rob you via Bluetooth?

Mr. Consult Hyperion has a pretty readable blog even if the main page is too spartan for its own good. On it, this:
The headline of this NYT article sums up the frustrations of a lot of people. I was talking to my son about some sort of party that he's organising with some friends. They're hiring a hall and having some local bands play - they've done this kind of thing before. The whole thing is being organised on FaceBook and he asked me why he could send money to his friends through FaceBook as well. I don't have an answer. He doesn't use PayPal, doesn't have a cheque book, has a debit card but some of his friends don't have bank accounts (and in any case he doesn't know their account numbers). I told him to use PingIt, but he can't install PingIt on his iPhone because it's been jailbroken. What he wants is a stored-value account linked to his FaceBook profile, that he can load from his debit card and send money instantly to any of his FaceBook friends. Surely it's only a matter of time.
Yes, what I require is that the good folks at FaceBook know when I transfer money from person to person. THEY'LL be protective of my privacy.

It's worth following the link to the RCM's contest page: the winners receive their prize in gold.

CONTEXT-ENABLING UPDATE:

I should probably link to this other CBC item about a movement to make Sweden cashless.

24 comments:

Substance McGravitas said...

If I have the time I should really add a goatse with ones and zeroes and dollar signs gushing out of his ass.

wiley said...

Well, having been the victim of debit fraud recently, I'm thinkin' that you have a better chance of having the bank reversing the charges than you do of recovering cash.

On the other hand, the ability to steal data makes it much easier to steal a lot of money without having to leave the house.

Substance McGravitas said...

Sucks, wiley.

Among the methods of digital transfer they're talking about, though, is loading "money" on to your cell phone, not arranging for a transfer from one institution to another via the phone. Can your stolen phone then be used to buy a bunch of liquor?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

but at the end of the interview he lets slip that he doesn't give a shit about electronic money as such: he just doesn't want the government to do it

Fuckin' Libertarians, how do they work?

Will minor illegal transactions like buying drugs be possible?

There may arise unofficial "scrips" to be used in such exchanges, like letters of credit in the early days of banking... the only problem is one of trust- who would be a trusted intermediary for criminals of all stripes?

Substance McGravitas said...

This is the thing that made me think of gold.

mikey said...

The largest problem with digital cash has always been the anonymity problem. You don't have to be a libtard to recognize that a society that lacks the ability to make anonymous purchases is probably going to be less "free" than it had been previously. Gold is completely inefficient because it cannot be denominated in small enough value units.

There's also always going to be an inherent security problem with any kind of digital value, because, just as Wiley says, it's just data, and as such can be stolen, deleted or duplicated. The problem can be mostly alleviated by leaving the actual "funds" in some kind of secure institution (a bank or some commercial equivalent) and relying on them to execute the transactions, but as soon as you decentralize the storage of that value (stored value, digital wallets, cell phones etc.) then the security is much weaker and the exploits much better known...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Gold makes me think of pirates.

So does the internet.
~

Dragon-King Wangchuck said...

I'm up to Chapter 6 in teh Graeber.

Unless you have one of those fancy mattresses with hidden compartments and such, most of your dollars are already just electronic bits - ready to be stoleded. This is just about making it easier to use them bits to turn into goods and services. Folks smart enough to rob you blind under teh new system, probably smart enough to already rob you blind.

Teh privacy issue is a thing though. Although, I wouldn't be surprised if some enterprising entity came up with an anonymizing buying agent application.

Also too, pirates! Arrr!

M. Bouffant said...

I'd spend a lot more (Read: Any.) time on Facebook if my so-called friends were sending me money instantly. Where in hell do I sign up for that?

wiley said...

A few years ago, at Christmas-time, there were record-breaking levels of credit card fraud because of mall stores using wi-fi and weak encryption. The stores didn't want to spend the money on wiring for security purposes and without credit there wasn't going to be much of a Christmas. Digital thieves took the ball and ran with it. They had a terrific season.

mikey said...

I'm deeply suspicious of Wiley's claim here. One of the most interesting questions in data security is whether there has EVER been a successful man-in-the-middle attack. I'd have to see some righteous documentation to believe it.

That said, the biggest reason for that is the widespread use of SSL and TLS for online transactions, which makes it pretty much impossible for somebody to intercept the communications and exploit them. The thefts have always been from the server side, either in directly collected CC numbers and associated information, or Identity theft. So if there were vendors who were doing live credit card transactions without an SSL certificate, well, maybe. Otherwise, I'm gonna suggest it's a bit of a scare story....

Substance McGravitas said...

I dunno, mikey, I think the ability to sniff goodies out of the air has been demonstrated. I still haven't really played with Firesheep. Gonna have to give that a shot at the Starbucks, but there aren't as many HTTP sites around to steal passwords from.

Substance McGravitas said...

Also the post is updated with this. Is Sweden gonna be the cashless test?

M. Krebs said...

All this makes me glad that I will soon be too old to care.

mikey said...

Yes, Subbster. Packet interception is common. See the google challenge just today (for the record, they held that intercepting packets from unencrypted wifi signals is not illegal, and it turns out that they're right, or at least not wrong).

But a man in the middle attack that actually could steal valuable information is the classic "Bill and Mary" scenario, and I am unaware of one ever taking place outside of theory...

Substance McGravitas said...

Brian Salcedo is probably the example; it was an unsecured wireless network that allowed the break-in, but the real magic involved installation of packet-sniffers on the servers rather than just snagging granny's credit card as she paid for her undies.

Substance McGravitas said...

Albert Gonzalez too, same general technique.

Smut Clyde said...

Is Sweden gonna be the cashless test?

Some would say that the US is well on the way to becoming cashless.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

some of us have already gone cashless....

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

DAMMIT SMUT.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'm working on it...
~

wiley said...

Maybe someone fudged that truth in the news story I read. But while looking for it, I think I found out how I got snagged.

"...the personal data of 24 million customers was stolen from online retailer Zappos in January."

Ha! I bought my rainboots from them.

I wouldn't want to store my credits on a phone either. That sounds exceedingly vulnerable. Wicked as they can be, banks were created for good reason.

Substance McGravitas said...

I do a little bit of banking by computer, but I fear it. I do it from home only and via a browser on Macs in which only the bank is whitelisted, but if a single experienced person takes an interest in you (or you do something silly) you're fucked. And then you gotta trust that the banks know their shit.

Most of my transactions are in cash.

Substance McGravitas said...

Whitelisted to run scripts that is.