FTML: Laundering Money / Data

In June a bunch of Design Informatician’s presented at DRS 2022 in Bilbao on the relationship between data and money. With Chris Elsden and Bettina hosting the track Designing New Financial Transactions: Theories, Case Studies, Methods, Practice and Futures, Chris Elsden and myself published Designing new money: Creative transactions on Twitch and myself and colleagues published The Future of Money as a Design Material the team introduced a series of perspectives that underlined the need for design to address money now that it has represented through data.

Central to the research and design propositions is the principle that:

Bank’s don’t hold your money, they hold your data

The statement was arrived at by reflecting upon the regulatory shifts that have “made money smart” through the advent of Open Banking and the Cryptocurrency turn. 24 years after the Google launched their browser in 2008, we share the realisation that the largest marketing corporation in the world built its business by encouraging us to give away all of our personal data. In stark contrast, financial regulations have existed for far longer that don’t allow banks to give away information about our most intimate of activities – what we spend our money on. However, for the past few years S,M,L and XL financial companies are starting to find ways into your bank account to understand how the personal data that is profiled in your spending habits can be used to make ‘your lives better’. Just like the personal data that you share through apps and devices, your bank account describes entirely your personal identity based upon everything you ever purchased. This led us to the provocation that bank’s don’t hold your money, they hold your data.

Rather than presenting / reading the paper, Bilbao offered the opportunity to present the ideas through a short, real-time performance (as we do so many occasions) that demonstrates design practice. An extension of the work that Martin Disley, Chris Elsden and I have been pursuing as FTML: Financial Technology Mark-up Language to demonstrate how easy it is to associate social and environmental values with the financial records. We began with laundering money…

Traditionally the term money laundering is associated with the process of dissociating large amounts of money that have been obtained through criminal activity, and associating it with a legitimate source. Laws against money laundering were established in the first half of the twentieth century, in particular to address the movement of money through organised crime that derived from racketeering and illegal sales of alcohol. The process of laundering money typically involves three steps: placement, layering, and integration. Placement surreptitiously injects “dirty money” into a legitimate financial system. Layering conceals the source of the money through a series of transactions and bookkeeping. Finally, in integration, the now-laundered money is withdrawn from the legitimate account as clean money to be used in normal circulation.

The technical and regulatory innovations around open banking, smart data and smart contracting present an interesting space to explore the metaphor of “washing” money; however, rather than dissociating money from the source it was obtained, it allows us to explore how money may be associated and “tainted” with certain histories and values instead.

To explore this, we repurposed the Campaign Supporter seesaw from the Oxchain project. One pound coins were performatively ‘washed’ through the Campaign Supporter seesaw and associated with the Twitter #cleanenergy hashtag. Every time somebody in the world tweeted using this hashtag, the smart contract would pass a pound coin into the lower reservoir. At the time of the event there were approximately 35 tweets per hour. ‘Washed’ pound coins were given away for ‘free’ to attendees of a climate neutral event with the strict instruction that they could only spend the money in the future on non-carbon based energy. The giving away of the money was intended to demonstrate how future money is likely to have data associated with it, and in this instance, data that corresponds with the values of a non-carbon based economy.

‘Washing’ money with clean energy values

Updating this analogue version for an FTML version that washed money in peoples online bank accounts, Martin used a Square bluetooth payment device that took payments and repaid them, only when someone in the world tweeted using the hashtag #climateaction…

Left: Washing money at the Future of Money exhibition, London, November 2022. Right: Impression left on actual bank account

In October, John Vines and myself ran a workshop that used speculative design methods to invite participants at the Society 5.0 Festival to explore a series of preposterous, possible and preferred futures for their relationship with banks and public services as it changes from being conceived of as a place to store money, into a store of data, and in turn into a link with other data streams and systems.

Once the penny dropped (excuse the pun) and participants realised that their bank accounts are the next personal informatics store that they will have the opportunity to associate with social and environmental values, the ideas began to flow…

References:

Elsden, C., and Speed, C. (2022) Designing new money: Creative transactions on Twitch, in Lockton, D., Lenzi, S., Hekkert, P., Oak, A., Sádaba, J., Lloyd, P. (eds.), DRS2022: Bilbao, 25 June – 3 July, Bilbao, Spain. https://doi.org/10.21606/drs.2022.574

Speed, C., Rankin, J., Elsden, C., and Vines, J. (2022) The future of money as a design material, in Lockton, D., Lenzi, S., Hekkert, P., Oak, A., Sádaba, J., Lloyd, P. (eds.), DRS2022: Bilbao, 25 June – 3 July, Bilbao, Spain. https://doi.org/10.21606/drs.2022.785

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