We seem to be in a societal tug of war about privacy. Facebook's CEO famously augured that people would happily give up their privacy on his social network. Financial apps like Venmo create a public data exhaust on individual payment history. On the other hand, initiatives abound in financial services to ensure privacy is upheld and comes first before anything. So, which is it? Do people really care about privacy?
Yuval Brisker believes privacy is the issue of our age. The three time entrepreneur is back in the founder chair with his newest company, Mezu. It's the first mobile payment app that allows users to keep their id entities and spending habits private. It doesn't use blockchain and it's just like a smarter version of cash.
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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
Solving problems and the problem Mezu addresses
I've always been a problem solver, seeing things that annoy me in the world. Things that need to be changed. I've always done that. This is my third company. I founded another company here in Cleveland, TOA Technologies, which I sold to Oracle in 2014.
The biggest problem of our time is privacy. People's personal intellectual property -- everything that you've accumulated throughout your life, details of who you are, what you do, what you're interested -- all these things have become commoditized and the system doesn't truly secure people's agreement to share them commercially.
Mezu is the first money app built to protect privacy and not to share, sell or trade your information with anyone. It's not just a philosophy but we built the technology to do it. We give our users the choice of what to share when they give and get money.
Caring about privacy
There's an emerging awareness about privacy now and people do care about it. I think the biggest question is 'what can I do?'. Do you really care? People don't really know yet that they can do something about it. We have lost a lot of our privacy and people feel helpless about protecting themselves. Our mission is to educate and advocate. This goes against the trend of social sharing. Control is the response to helplessness.
We give control over what you share. It's funny -- people give more attention to privacy in their communications. Look at the growth in Telegram and Signal. But a lot of communications they protect are really mundane.
Is Venmo safe for privacy?
I think providing choice in the market is key to competition. If you feel helpless and care about privacy, there is an alternative. Apps like Venmo are like virtual checks. You know the recipient. These are not alternatives to money. We provide that and more, including the ability to share money with a contact or to do so anonymously, like cash. Cash is anonymous, private, not trackable, portable, and versatile.
How Mezu works
The app creates an encrypted code for every transaction. You input the sum you want to exchange. The app creates a one time, self destructing encrypted code that is valid for 2 minutes or 24 hours. You give that code to someone else and that code encapsulates the transaction. When the recipient inputs that code, the value of the transaction is immediately credited to their account.
Moving to a cashless society
It reminds me of the mobile communications revolution. The initial steps in mobile were done mostly with the affluent who could afford the phones. Technology is all about the mass production of things, though. Once it crosses the chasm, the adoption was massive.
Right now, we're in the early stages of a move to a cashless society. In Africa, China, on one end and Sweden on the other end, you're seeing a real move. These are really indicators of where everything will go. I'm not saying cash will go completely away. I like the aspects of cash, like the immediacy of it and for paying strangers, but I don't like the inconvenience of it.
You need something that convenient and immediate to displace cash. That's what we've done. It isn't dependent on the other person having the app. That's the gating item -- the minute you have versatility in payment options, then you have a foundation for replacing cash.