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Save the cash – for privacy’s sake

“Solo effective” (cash only) it says at the entrance to my grocery store. In the restaurant next door, a sign explains that the offer for today’s lunch only applies to cash payment and in a clothing store I get a 25 percent discount if I opt out of the payment card.

Just before the corona outbreak, I lived and worked in Buenos Aires, and as a Swede, this feels like being in an upside-down world. Cash is King in the Argentine capital, and a good friend who is a bar owner tells me how difficult it is for business owners to get wireless card readers. Anyone who wants to pay by card instead of cash can therefore usually go to the bar counter.

Yes, it is in contact with other cultures that you understand how deviant Sweden often is. In large parts of the world it is obvious to pay in cash, and for tourists the Swedish signs with “no cash” are as odd as “solo efectivo” is to me. Personally, I think both are equally crazy. The obvious thing should be that I, as a customer, get to choose.

But now, when I get home and look at my empty bank statement, I also realize something else. For the first time in a long time I am anonymous. My shopping in Argentina has left no digital traces.

In normal cases, it is possible to follow what I do down to the chewing gum level, and this information is used, for example, by ICA to tailor advertising. When I take pesos out of my wallet, however, it is not possible to see what I am buying and what I am doing.

In the discussions about The future of cash in Sweden is mostly about availability. We are talking about pensioners who have difficulty handling the terminals and new arrivals who do not have a bank account.

These issues are of course important, but the fact that we don’t talk more about privacy surprises me. This is a question that concerns us all, because what we consume can be extremely revealing. There is a classic story of how an American chain store was able to tell that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father realized it. The changes in the girl’s purchases revealed her.

No. I’m not a foil hat. At home I pay for everything by card – and I rarely have cash in my wallet. For me, convenience is simply more important than privacy and I have enough trust in both Ica and Mastercard to dare to take out my payment card.

As long as this decision is my own, it is unproblematic. As long as it is possible to use cash for those who do not want to be tracked, there is no cause for concern. But when shop after shop puts up “no cash signs”, it is a restriction on our freedom.

The experience of neighboring countries such as Poland shows that our democratic and liberal society is not given by nature. It doesn’t take major political changes for it to become a real problem to visit a gay cafe, a Christian bookstore, a hard rock concert – or anything else that the current powers may dislike. In this case, cash is the only thing that can protect our privacy.

Next year is forced the banks by law to handle cash. It is good. Personally, I hope that the politicians will avoid introducing a law that forces the shops to do the same thing. But then it is required that the industry takes its responsibility. Then the shops must stop putting up signs with the text “No cash”.

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