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IBM Makes Proposals For a Digital Euro Implementation

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In the wake of IBM’s recent guidelines on the rollout of a digital euro, aimed at bolstering the European Central Bank’s (ECB) digital currency initiatives, concerns around privacy and civil liberties are becoming increasingly urgent. While IBM meticulously outlines a series of recommendations for the integration of the digital euro into the Eurozone’s financial infrastructure, it leaves open questions about how these measures might compromise individual freedoms.

IBM’s blueprint, which aligns with the European Commission’s (EC) legislative proposals, emphasizes the importance of building on “existing rails.” Yet, the company’s push for greater expansion raises concerns that a centralized digital currency could exacerbate surveillance capabilities and governmental control over personal finances. The focus on “simplicity” as a catalyst for adoption conveniently omits a detailed exploration of the trade-offs in privacy and autonomy that may result from this supposed simplicity.

While IBM foresees a “multi-level” intermediary landscape for the digital euro, the role of intermediaries itself poses potential risks. Emphasizing the collaboration between large and small intermediaries to facilitate adoption is all well and good, but there is little mention of how this ecosystem would protect end-users from data collection, tracking, or worse.

IBM’s call for standardized APIs for easy integration is a double-edged sword. On one side, it may fuel market competition; on the other, it could also facilitate widespread data harvesting and surveillance. Furthermore, the company’s focus on strengthening offline privacy measures from the EC’s proposal to include online activities is lacking in specifics. What does “end-to-end transaction privacy” really mean when such a financial system is inherently tied to governmental oversight?

IBM’s advocation for harmonized privacy rules, aligned with existing regulations, might sound rational on the surface. But in an era of contentious debates around privacy, aligning with pertinent prevailing regulations might not go far enough to safeguard individual liberties, especially given that current rules are often criticized for being inadequate in the face of advancing technology.

While IBM does not insist on blockchain technology as a requisite, its endorsement of the technology as an “advantageous alternative” fails to acknowledge that even blockchain can be manipulated to compromise privacy, especially in a centralized model like a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).

IBM’s cautious approach to deployment, advocating for a minimal viable product backed by a “fail-proof” sandbox, might seem prudent. Yet, it’s important to ask who gets to define the terms of “failure” and “success” and what metrics are used. Are privacy and civil liberties included as key performance indicators in IBM’s envisioned sandbox?

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