Walmart, the retailing giant that has already taken several steps in the blockchain world, may be going all Facebook on us and creating their own stablecoin to bank the unbanked, according to a recent patent. The application, filed last Thursday, relates to a “system and method for digital currency via blockchain”, but investigation of the patent reveals the worrying level of control that could be exercised over the coin, right down to what customers are allowed to buy and when.
Credit, Saving, Spending, and More
Much of the patent is technical in detail, but what we can glean makes for interesting, and potentially scary, reading. Rather than being a Walmart-specific coin, it seems that the company wants to create a coin that can be licensed by organizations who wish to implement, both private and public sector. The patent goes into great detail about the variety of uses for the coin, which include savings (with interest), credit, paying for goods and services, crowdsourcing, and more, with companies able to tailor the coin to their specific purposes so they can only be used within specific parameters.
Governments Can Restrict User Spending
While some of the ideas in the patent are laudable, and even quite exciting, some are a little more worrisome. Among the parameters organizations can put in place when they license the token are who can buy what and when. For example, the patent discusses the option of “a government-assistance restricted currency (that) may be good for food or even certain types of food but not alcohol or cigarettes.” This would mean that should any government agency decide to swap cash/credits for a token-based system, they will be able to restrict or entirely ban individuals from using the token to buy certain products. Not only would this be a futile endeavor that would create a black market almost immediately, it would also create huge resentment of the government in low income areas, and rightly so.
Potential Manipulation Over Shoppers
Those not in low income families could also feel themselves more and more under Big Brother’s watchful eye, as the patent discusses the various ways retailers could impinge upon individual freedoms when it comes to using their own money. This includes increasing or decreasing the purchasing power of the token depending on the perceived business of a store to encourage customers to come at a quieter time, or restricting the quantity of certain purchases, for example pain relief medication. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with retailers able to manipulate individuals’ lives and spending habits to an unprecedented degree. Walmart paints this as a very rosy picture for all concerned, but given that this kind of interference is the exact opposite of what cryptocurrency was intended to do, if anything like this ever comes to fruition you can be sure that this isn’t the last you will hear of it.