Information Technology and Ethics/Privacy and Finance

Privacy for digital transactions is becoming increasingly important. Data breaches are now an inevitable part of our digital lives, but unlike other global events, many financial institutions collect information about their customers as a regular part of their business of providing products or services. For example, when you apply for a loan, you provide your name, phone number, address, income, and details about your assets. As the institution considers your application, it may collect additional details from other sources, such as credit reports prepared by credit bureaus. Even when you use a financial product-a credit card, for example-your institution will have a record of how much you buy and borrow, where you like to shop, and whether you repay your balance on time.  Besides leading to more unwanted junk mail and telemarketer calls and credit card cramming, privacy invasions and information sharing could lead to denial of insurance or loans. Privacy invasions also lead to expensive rip-offs, identity theft and stalking.[1]

What do they do with your information?

Banks share experience and transaction information, but also share Social Security Numbers. On the positive side, federal regulators have determined that Social Security Numbers are non-public personal information that cannot be shared by financial institutions if consumers exercise their right to opt-out under the new law. Banks have been sharing names, addresses and Social Security Numbers of customers with credit bureaus, which subsequently sold this information to internet information brokers, private detectives, and debt collectors. Most experts believe the sale of these products, known as credit headers, leads to financial identity theft and stalking. Up to 500,000 Americans a year are victims of identity theft.[2]

There is Someone Listening

Gregory Mankiw from Harvard University wrote about the nature, features, and functions of money. He explains that Money is the language via which societies transact goods and services and coordinates. As cash starts to disappear from societies and new digital forms of payments are introduced, for example credit cards and digital payments, transactions without intermediaries also start to go away. This means that people lose the ability to have privacy on our financial transactions and many of our fundamental rights and freedoms are undermined. By stripping away financial privacy in many ways people lose their fundamental rights.[3] For example with modern credit cards people are surveilled via their associations they form, the contents of their purchases and also their geographical location. This means that people can no longer transact privately as an intermediary like a bank is there surveilling these associations. People can be tracked through the whereabouts of their bank accounts. All of these are critical aspects of rights and as cash starts to fade away our freedoms gradually start to go away. Governments can also gain significant power from such a system as they can control the people and their political opponents and also penalize expressions. Privacy is crucial to a liberal and democratic society.[4] Even the most prominent advocate for ridding economies of large note denominations, Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, acknowledges “we need cash for privacy.”[5]