Beware Trading Privacy for Convenience

June 11, 2013 No Comments

We pay for things with the swipe of a finger. We ask Siri how to get to a restaurant. Our friends can track exactly when we’ll show up. We can monitor our heart rates and calories burned — and compare our results with friends and strangers. We’re in the early days of a digital, mobile transformation. The benefits can seem limitless. And as a society, we are already becoming accustomed to the convenience, the connectivity, and the new insights that surface.

This democratization of technology impacts all races, incomes, cultures, and geographies. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the U.S. now distributes all its benefits — what used to be called food stamps — electronically via Electronic Benefit Transfer debit cards. These can be used like any other debit card for food purchases at grocery stores, local farmers markets, and some restaurants. Benefit recipients do not need to have a bank or deposit account. The cost savings are huge, with the federal government spending $200 million less on paperwork and administration. It’s also more convenient for beneficiaries than carrying around a stack of actual food stamps.

We also see savings and other benefits as tollbooths go away and electronic payments take charge. Just recently, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge got rid of all its toll collectors. In Texas, the six toll roads around Austin have also stopped taking cash. Drivers using the TxTag can whiz through the 52 toll points and 45 ramp toll plazas, and the state will save an estimated $8.5 million each year.

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