Escape to virtuality

Douglas Rushkoff writes eloquently about the rich moving out of the city to comfortable mansions in the country to avoid the pandemic. He talks about the rich building their “escape pods” and (with what I imagine to be frightening prescience) how the journey from video doorbell to autonomous robots sentries is constrained by money, rather than by ethics. Inept government responses to COVID are pushing those escape pods to escape velocity irrespective of the actual risk. …

A quarter of a century ago, a window into the money of the future opened in Disney World’s twin town in England, Swindon. Yes, Swindon.

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Mondex cards, a keyring balance reader and a wallet for P2P transfers

Last week saw the Silver Jubilee of the launch of the world’s first central bank digital currency (CBDC), Mondex, in my home town of Swindon. I sure a great many people have never heard of it, but it is important to remember what was an important milestone on the road to digital money worldwide.

A quarter of a century ago in Swindon, and in Guelph and in Exeter and in Manhattan and in Hong Kong and in Sydney, consumers were able to send digital fiat currency from one to another without going through a network.

Amazing, and worth celebrating, but not for reasons of pure nostalgia. The lessons learned from Mondex are so valuable and when we add them to the learnings from the last quarter of a century of (debit-centric) mass market payment evolution, at the dawn of the switch from contactless to contact-free payments with the mobile phone at the heart of transactions, I think that we can design a digital Sterling that is not only a genuine cash replacement but a narrative for Britain going forwards, a projection of our values in a vehicle of genuine benefit at home and abroad. …

The real story of the invention of the payment card industry

The excellent author, storyteller, authority on money laundering and all round nice guy Jeffrey Robinson wrote a piece on the origins of the payment card industry, and it was brilliant. The occasion for the story is the death of Matty Simmons (aged 93) who was the last living witness to an event which changed the world but, as Jeffrey points out, never actually happened.

It was the legendary supper in 1949, at 33 West 33rd Street in New York City, that is famous to everyone in the payments business as the birth of the Diner’s Club card and therefore the modern payments industry as we know. The apocryphal version as told by Lana Swartz, who has researched the history of this industry, is that lawyer Frank McNamara forgot his wallet and had to call his wife who drove into the city from Long Island with money for him to pay. …

What if coronavirus, rather than commerce, drives us to build the digital identity infrastructure that we so desperately need?

The role of new technology, and mobile phones in particular, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic is critical to getting things back under control and restoring the economy to some semblance of normality. The Economist made this point and described the three categories of tools being developed and deployed in the battle against the virus. The first is documentation: using technology to say where people are, where they have been or what their disease status is. The second is modelling: gathering data which help explain how the disease spreads. …

Neither the Fed nor any other central bank will issue digital currency to the general bank.

I am not an expert on American politics and I”ve forgotten all the cartoons about how a bill becomes a law and that sort of thing, but I was absolutely fascinated to read in a draft the Democratic Party stimulus proposal for the United States (the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act”, all 1100 pages of which are here) about the use of electronic wallets to make direct stimulus payments. The proposal says that a “digital dollar wallet” shall mean a digital wallet or account, maintained by a Federal reserve bank on behalf of any person, that represents holdings in an electronic device or service that is used to store digital dollars that may be tied to a digital [identity] or physical identity” (my emphasis).Wow. That’s a pretty interesting vision. …

People will (and should) give up personal data to help tackle an emergency, but that data should still be safeguarded

The current pandemic has thrown up a particularly interesting case where conventional thinking doesn’t help us to understand how things could work in the future. We’ve all read with interest the accounts coming from Asia, and now Israel, of the use of mobile phone location data to tackle the dread virus. In the UK, the government has used some aggregate and anonymised mobile phone location data to see whether people were following social distancing guidelines, but it can actually play a much bigger role in tackling pandemics.

China got the virus under control with lockdowns in areas where it was endemic and apps to stop it from getting a foothold where it wasn’t. In Shanghai, which has seen few deaths, QR codes were used to authorise entry to buildings and to collect a detailed contact history so that control could be targeted in the case of infection. The Economist (21st March 2020) reported that the use of these codes was pervasive, to the point where each individual carriage on a subway train had it’s own code so that if someone tests positive only their fellow passengers need be contacted rather than everyone on the train. …

Why HODL Bitcoin when you can HODL gold?

I went along to the Centre for the Study of Financial Information (CSFI) lunchtime roundtable on “Gold in the Internet Age” because I am fascinated by the link between gold, money and now (of course) digital money.

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Your Panel

It was an excellent event with a panel of experts as impressive as you would expect from the Institute. …

Time for money laundering on a global scale

(Updated 3rd March 2020 with World Health Organisation advice.)

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Let’s go contactless to beat the virus. Not my words, the WHO’s words.

China has been quarantining people to prevent the spread of the dreaded coronavirus (as has the UK and everywhere else) but now it has started to quarantine money as well. The government has stopped the transfer of old bank notes between cities most affected by the virus and has started to sanitise old money to reduce the risk of infection and well as producing heading toward $100 billion of new cash. Cash from hospitals and food markets is being segregated. …

In the long run, crime isn’t a good use case for Bitcoin

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Let’s talk about cryptocurrency and criminals

Ransom Rogues

The recent devastating ransomware attack on Travelex has once again raised the issue of cryptocurrencies, or more specifically Bitcoin, being used for criminal purposes. At the time of writing, my bank (Barclays) as well as other high-street banks including HSBC, Virgin and Tesco Bank, all of whom rely on Travelex for foreign exchange services, are still unable to offer online exchange services or process orders for foreign currency. …

The British computer industry, not my career in it

A nostalgic excursion into the history of the British computer industry triggered by some comments on Twitter, made up from a book review I wrote in 2012 and a couple of blog posts (here and here) that followed.

It is 1975, and at the Park Senior High School (as bog standard a comprehensive as they came) a group of curious schoolboys led by a farsighted maths teacher (Pete Bayley, who subsequently went on to become the Director of Qualifications at the British Computer Society) take the bus into Swindon town centre and enter the headquarters of the Nationwide Building Society. There, we potter down to the computer room where we are allowed access to their mainframe (a UNIVAC 1109 with drum storage, if my memory serves) because they didn’t use it in the evening. I will never forget that kindness from Nationwide and they still have place in my heart for it today. …



My opinions are my own (I think).

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