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MasterCard has rolled out facial recognition “selfie payments” across Europe, as privacy-centric cryptocurrencies push in the opposite direction towards anonymity.
Beginning in 12 countries, MasterCard is employing Identity Check Mobile, a technology to allow customers to self-identify through facial recognition and fingerprints. An initial trial in the Netherlands revealed that over 75% of users surveyed indicated that they wished to continue using these methods of authentication, while 90% preferred to see biometric data used more in the future.
This constitutes a shift away from conventional methods of authentication such as passwords towards widespread use of biometric data instead, reducing instances of fraud, yet at the same time decreasing privacy one step further.
While banks and financial institutions continue to move further away from privacy, cryptocurrency moves in the opposite direction. While Bitcoin offers wallets solely controllable by the user and pseudonymous transactions not tied to any physical identity, transactions across its public Blockchain can still be traced to a certain extent. Some cryptocurrencies have taken Bitcoin’s original offering a step further in the direction of true anonymity.
Riccardo Spagni, the lead maintainer of the Monero project, a cryptocurrency which promises total anonymity, emphasizes the project’s commitment to improving privacy beyond even what Bitcoin has been able to offer:
“Our focus on enhancing personal privacy remains unchanged, and we believe that threats to our privacy will become more and more prevalent. At the end of the day, you want to be able to make payments without the people you're paying knowing your bank balance, and you definitely don't want criminals to be able to figure out how much money you have access to or what your spending habits are. Of course, enhancing privacy comes at a cost, and I think that we'll continue to see most people choose convenience over privacy until systems like Bitcoin and Monero can provide an equivalent level of convenience in layer 2 or layer 3 systems, without compromising the privacy of its end-users.”
Robert Wiecko, lead project manager for Dash, another coin which has implemented features to improve on Bitcoin’s privacy, explains how Dash similarly intends to go against the grain of the financial world in order to preserve user privacy:
“In Dash, we observe that many companies from the financial industry are going in the direction of privacy elimination. For us privacy is one of the fundamental human rights, therefore Dash wallet has an option to keep transactions private.”
Trends in decreased privacy by the financial establishment seem to mirror government pressures. The European Union, ostensibly to combat terrorism, has cracked down on anonymous Bitcoin trading. In the US, Poloniex suspended operations in New Hampshire because of government regulations that would affect the company.
Meanwhile, the reasoning behind maintaining financial autonomy and privacy is becoming more apparent by the day. In the first half of 2016 alone, Greece seized over 500,000 bank accounts for tax related purposes. PayPal suspended accounts related to families of the Bundy Ranch in the US because of the politically risky nature of those activities. Argentina similarly tried similar tactics against Uber for outcompeting taxi companies by freezing use of credit cards. However, they have so far been unsuccessful because of Uber’s switch to Bitcoin debit cards and other prepaid cards.
Eric Sammons, consultant for Dash, believes that the value of financial privacy, while not immediately apparent to the general public, will increasingly become more valued over time:
“Privacy is a bedrock requirement of any financial system, and Dash has wisely made it a focus from the beginning. Unfortunately, most people don’t value privacy as much as they should – they think as long as they are “not doing anything wrong” they don’t really care if their transactions are private from government eyes. But eventually, as more and more abuses of the system happen, people will hopefully wake up and realize that they need a truly private financial system in order to have true financial freedom. At that point Dash will be well-positioned for greater acceptance.”
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