March 8, 2019 – The setbacks of going cashless in a SMART City

Down the memory lane, time has passed so swiftly that I did not realize it is my 5th year in SSC and this is my 5th article. Over the years, SSC has also contributed various papers that come with immersive benefits for cities/Olympic cities looking to adopt a Secure Smart City model. My kudos to all the great SSC authors and contributors.

SMART CITY can eventually mean a new way of life. Let’s GO CASHLESS!
But….wait a minute…, is going the direction of cashless really being ‘SMART’, I wonder? I begin to question the issue of going cashless after the following episodes that I have encountered.

I was at a shopping mall food court to fix my dinner needs. I’m asked to pay via an e-card and all I needed to do was to tap and go, “SO Easy”. I also saw a cash input machine where consumers could input cash without the need of having the stall helper to double up as a cash register. The helper could spend his/her energy to focus on dish serving or provide customer services while the cook is busying preparing the ordered dish.

I asked the stall workers if they preferred the cash input machine to the preference of collecting cash. I was given the flat answer of CASH. They cited occasions where the machine fault such as cash being jammed inside the machine while the machine was trying to disperse change for example. This had unknowingly created long queues and they stood to lose a lot of customers during the peak hours. This was bad for their businesses. I was then pointed to the e-card tapping system and was told that that had worked better than the machine, provided it did not breakdown due to the unavailability of the e-card provider network.

Based on the feedbacks, I made it a routine Q&A session of the same topic with the food stall workers whenever I came across one. The ground sensing was about the level of confidence on the machines which were supposed to bring about convenience. I made an interesting observation through this little research as well. SMART CITY shines brighter with Digital Mobile Apps. Consumers through such apps were able to present e-vouchers to redeem free food. This time, it presented a different problem. Consumers at times faced issues over the apps not working at the time of their redemption. Quick Response (QR) code was unable to be scanned for instance. However, consumers were lucky enough to be still able to redeem via manual entry of their redemption codes. At unfortunate times, the apps do not work and technical support was scare. This is needless to mention the support for cyber security related matters which tend to be more technically complex compared to apps just being mere malfunctioned.
CASHLESS could also equate to higher spending as well. I took a private hired car ride via Uber app and made the payment through my debit card. Uber sent me an e-receipt of $6.92. However, the eventual debited amount was $7.11. I queried the discrepancy and was greeted with this rather cold statement, “Fare does not include fees that may be charged by your bank”. I was also reminded by Uber that I should read the fine prints on the e-receipt in future.

SMART CITY leveraging on technologies indeed brings about convenience. Though going in the direction of being cashless as part of the way paved for SMART City, we should also try to minimize the inconvenience caused during the process. In my past articles, I mentioned about not forgetting the aged, the illiterate and the poor and the importance of investing in cyber awareness through education and continuous education. The key to ensure the supporting infrastructures is whether it is ready to take on the various impacts poised by Smart Cities.

As cyber threat continues to evolve and morph into sophisticated attacks, machines not working would mean that they are being part of a botnet. E-card provider system down may mean its data server is breached, apps malfunctioned may send the signal that one’s digital device is compromised and should your private hired car app provider experience data beach, your personal data is at risk. Thus, we should never take cybersecurity for granted especially in SMART CITIES.

In short, while paving the way to create a SMART City going cashless, one should always take note and be sensitive of the factors that may compromise it and not going for the direction of cashless for the sake of it, just to be ‘SMART’.

Alan Seow
Cyber Security Practitioner