Good old cash retains one big advantage: No one knows where you spend your spare change.
But once electronic currency comes into play, it's unclear if consumers will remain that anonymous.
Although some e-money experiments shield the buyer's privacy, other schemes identify the buyer during each transaction in order to cut down on fraud.
"There's a little bit of a trade-off between security and ano-nymity," says Ann Owen, an economics professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and former Federal Reserve economist.
At the moment, the issue is bubbling below the surface.
Since no one knows which e- money schemes will win out in the marketplace, it's hard to forecast how anonymous they'll be. But as they catch on with the public, online payment officials expect privacy will get much closer scrutiny.
"There's a real large concern that's waiting to happen ... about monetary privacy," predicts Paul Herman, chief executive and cofounder of iCanBuy.com.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society