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Bitcoin Government Privacy The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin's Success With Investors Alienates Earliest Adopters 158

Posted by timothy
from the who-has-the-gold-wins dept.
holy_calamity writes "Digital currency Bitcoin is gaining acceptance with mainstream venture capitalists, reports Technology Review, but at the price of its famed anonymity and ability to operate without central authority. Technology investors have now ploughed millions of dollars into a handful of Bitcoin-based payments and financial companies that are careful to follow financial regulations and don't offer anonymity. That's causing tensions in the community of Bitcoin enthusiasts, some of whom feel their currency's success has involved abandoning its most important features."
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Bitcoin's Success With Investors Alienates Earliest Adopters

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  • If you... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neo8750 (566137) <zepskiNO@SPAMzepski.net> on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:23PM (#43807671) Homepage
    did not see this coming then you must be new here...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:26PM (#43807687)

    I don't understand, how are they removing the anonimity of Bitcoin? They aren't changing how the algorithms work I assume?

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:37PM (#43807769)

      I don't understand, how are they removing the anonimity of Bitcoin?

      They aren't. Bitcoins can now be used in new venues, but that does not stop private transactions. The article is just stupid. If I deposit cash in a bank, I will be recorded by a security camera. But that doesn't mean I can no longer buy stuff anonymously with cash at the local flea market.

      • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:15PM (#43807987)

        But you can wipe your fingerprints off that cash. Coins don't even have serial numbers and the numbers on notes are not tracked in every transaction.

        You can't wipe your bitcoin address off the block chain.
        If you associate that data with a person, they're forever tied to that transaction and you can follow it.

        • by Immerman (2627577) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:49PM (#43808187)

          So? That's been the case with bitcoins since day one, the anonymity claims were always pure hyperbole. If you wanted anything more than security-through-obscurity grade anonymity you needed to pass your coins through an (illegal in most jurisdictions) money-laundering service and hope they didn't keep any records themselves. All that's changing is that now there's institutions joining the game who are doing their legal record-keeping duty to tie the accounts they deal with to particular people. Unless they refuse to honor any bitcoins that have passed through a money-laundering service recently nothing has really changed except the currncy is . And if they do so refuse, well then... nothing has really changed because they didn't honor *any* bitcoins previously, so your laundered coins are still just as good.

          • by kasperd (592156) on Friday May 24, 2013 @02:20AM (#43810001) Homepage Journal

            Unless they refuse to honor any bitcoins that have passed through a money-laundering service recently

            The fact that they can even tell the difference makes bitcoin less anonymous than physical money. Maybe the anonymity wasn't the selling point for bitcoin, maybe it rather was that they can be used without any regulation. Bitcoins can be used without regulation, but what you trade with bitcoins can still be regulated. That holds regardless if that something is goods or real currency. (The large focus on being able to exchange between bitcoin and real currency is a symptom telling us, that bitcoin is not yet a real currency. With a real currency you can have your income in that currency, and you don't worry about exchanging because you can also pay your expenses with that currency.)

          • by g4sy (694060) on Friday May 24, 2013 @07:46AM (#43811075) Homepage
            You don't need to put your coins into a laundry if you use zerocoins [cryptograp...eering.com] instead. End of problem. Whoever wrote this article (and everyone commenting) doesn't know how to do a little research. Total anonymity and pseudymity are possible.
          • by sacrilicious (316896) on Friday May 24, 2013 @10:22AM (#43812165) Homepage

            That's been the case with bitcoins since day one, the anonymity claims were always pure hyperbole.

            Please feel free to support your claim with facts.

        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:49PM (#43808195)

          You can't wipe your bitcoin address off the block chain.
          If you associate that data with a person, they're forever tied to that transaction and you can follow it.

          But you can create as many bitcoin addresses as you want. You can use a different address from every transaction. The only way it can be tracked to you is if "they" already know who you are by other means.

          • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @08:45PM (#43808465)

            Unless you use a different address for every transaction you will ever make, "They" find out your entire transaction history as soon as they match you to a single transaction, through one of these new services popping up that keeps and shares records with "Them"

            • by anarcobra (1551067) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @08:51PM (#43808495)
              I thought using a new address for every transaction was the advised method of using bitcoin.
              I don't use it myself, but I remember reading something along the lines of "never reuse your addresses" in the documentation.
              • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday May 24, 2013 @09:57AM (#43811925) Homepage

                I thought using a new address for every transaction was the advised method of using bitcoin.
                I don't use it myself, but I remember reading something along the lines of "never reuse your addresses" in the documentation.

                How do you get bitcoins into the new address? You either have to mine it, buy it, or transfer it from another address. Most likely you transfer it, and what account you transferred it from is public record. So, all your accounts are effectively linked, even if you use a new one for every transaction.

                Sure, you can have multiple completely-independent accounts, but you can't move money between them unless you pass it out through cash, or you mine it. The ability to pass it out through cash is limited due to the developments in TFA - banks are asking for ID. So, unless you mine ALL the cash you use in discrete unrelated bundles, you're traceable. Mining is pretty expensive and a hassle, though it can be done (though over time it will become less and less practical).

        • by pla (258480) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @10:38PM (#43809029) Journal

          If you associate that data with a person, they're forever tied to that transaction and you can follow it.

          Yes and no. Once you associate "me" with a transaction, you can always prove I owned part of block B at time T. You can't, however, prove that when I "spent" those bitcoins, I did or did not simply send them to myself, making anonymity (at least, at the "plausible deniability" level) always just one easy transaction away.

          And for the really paranoid, you can use any of a dozen "mixing" services, that take your bitcoins along with those of thousands of other people and stir them all together to make tracing the ones you put in to the ones you take out as close to impossible as matters.

          • by smellotron (1039250) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @10:52PM (#43809093)

            "mixing" services

            The term "mixing" sounds less pejorative than "laundering", but the principle is the same: disguise the transfer of wealth. I expect that some extreme pressure will be put on these mixing services as Bitcoins gain traction with nations.

            • by pla (258480) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:26PM (#43809239) Journal
              The term "mixing" sounds less pejorative than "laundering", but the principle is the same: disguise the transfer of wealth. I expect that some extreme pressure will be put on these mixing services as Bitcoins gain traction with nations.

              As I pointed out, though, you don't really need to use a mixer - You can accomplish almost the same thing just by sending your bitcoins to other accounts you control in more or less random chunks. You could even, if really motivated, create your own mixer with thousands of your own accounts. A handful of illegal sources go in, along with a large volume of legit transactions, stir stir stir, and who knows that you-#1701 equals you-#42 unless you tell on yourself?

              Granted, we already have laws against "structuring", but even as blatant of a cash-grab as those laws appear, they still require "you" to deliberately make a series of related sub-$10k deposits specifically to avoid filing a CTR/8300. Key point there, they need to prove both intent (the standard defense), and the "you" part (which Bitcoin's entire structure makes all but impossible, though ironically, if they could prove all the accounts as you, that would pretty much put a nail in the "intent" coffin).
            • by g4sy (694060) on Friday May 24, 2013 @08:07AM (#43811157) Homepage
              Mixing or laundry services aren't necessary. There is a cryptographic solution to this problem, zerocoins [cryptograp...eering.com]. Can someone please tell me how this doesn't solve the problem? It seems to me like the conundrum has already been resolved.
            • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Friday May 24, 2013 @05:39PM (#43816935)

              You're confusing wealth with money.

              As a side note, the poor - and everybody else for that matter - are wealthier than they've ever been. Not by a little, but by a lot. DVD players, cell phones, cars, personal computers...If you look back far enough, only the richest of the rich owned any one of these things. This is the difference between wealth and money. Try to find somebody who doesn't have any one of these things who wants one.

              http://buburuza.net/2009/01/homeless-bum-using-the-web/ [buburuza.net]

              Capitalism has done for the poor what the government never could.

          • by fastest fascist (1086001) on Friday May 24, 2013 @08:20AM (#43811201)
            I wouldn't say mixing services are only for the really paranoid. I think it's a good idea for anyone with significant funds in bitcoins to put some distance between their long-term storage and their spending wallets. You wouldn't want that bar owner in Kreuzberg to see you have thousands of dollars or more worth of bitcoins just because you paid them for a beer. If Bitcoin keeps gaining traction and people do not start mixing their coins, someone will get hurt because of this - mark my words.
      • by CodeBuster (516420) on Friday May 24, 2013 @01:31AM (#43809807)
        The difference with Bitcoins is that the entire transaction chain is by definition permanent public record. The bank might record the serial numbers of bills issued to you at the ATM, but the chain is pretty much broken as soon as you spend them because intermediaries rarely take steps to record serial numbers and link them with those who spend them. At best they might know what you bought and how much it cost, but not necessarily which bills you used to pay for the purchase. Unless you use your Bitcoins in a way that doesn't expose your identity, either by buying them in person at one of these ATMs or spending them in a way that links your wallet to your real identity, they can actually be less anonymous than cash and even one slip up exposes all of your previous transactions using that wallet.
    • Bitcoin is and always has been psudononymous. It's trivial to track the flow of coins between bitcoin addresses (which are essentially psudonyms). So how much anonymity there is depends on how difficult it is to associate those bitcoin addresses with real people.

      How difficult it is to associate those addresses with real people depends hugely on both what records are kept and how many significant players there are in the bitcoin market (it's much easier to force a small number of large entities to hand over records to the cops than it is to force a large number of small entities to do it)

    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:29PM (#43808059)
      Bitcoin has never been anonymous. There is a public record of transactions. You have to rely on a separate mixing service, which almost nobody does.

      Most important, though, is this: very few people actually want to use Bitcoin. Most view it as a way to make an electronic transfer of government-backed fiat currencies, so they rely on services that do the Bitcoin transfers for them and exchange Bitcoin currency for fiat currency. Those services are going to comply with the law and require things like identification. To put it another way, cash is anonymous too -- but large numbers of people use credit and debit cards, which are not anonymous.
      • so they rely on services that do the Bitcoin transfers for them and exchange Bitcoin currency for fiat currency. Those services are going to comply with the law and require things like identification.

        This implies that you need another agent to complete a Bitcoin transaction which is not the case.

        Yes most bitcoins flow through currency exchanges (though personal transactions such as LocalBitcoins.com are pretty common still).

        I suppose of Bitcoin anonymity you could say you can keep track of the contractor you paid the BTC to, but you can't tell where his employees buy their groceries.

        Most fascinating about Bitcoin is that you can have it in a sense that applied to gold more than say bank notes, and the effect this will have on fractional reserve banking and other financial instruments, if someone has an article on this I would be happy to read it... or pen one if you'd pay me per word.
        • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:48PM (#43808183)

          I suppose of Bitcoin anonymity you could say you can keep track of the contractor you paid the BTC to, but you can't tell where his employees buy their groceries.

          Unless you bother to examine the public record of all Bitcoin transactions.

          This implies that you need another agent to complete a Bitcoin transaction which is not the case.

          Except that you need to broadcast the transaction to the Bitcoin network, which must then confirm that the transaction is valid. What I said is that most people rely on another agent to complete their transactions for them -- because most people want fiat currency, not Bitcoin currency, and they usually do not want to wait for confirmations (nor do they want to accept payments without confirmations) or deal with an ever-fluctuating exchange rate.

          Most fascinating about Bitcoin is that you can have it in a sense that applied to gold more than say bank notes

          Let's put it this way: try to use gold to buy a car, or even to buy something as simple as a single meal.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Friday May 24, 2013 @05:50AM (#43810727) Journal
      Bitcoin and anonymity seems to be the most misunderstood thing in this whole mess.
      Bitcoin is not by itself anonymous. It doesn't hide IPs, all the transactions are public, all the accounts balances are public. Bitcoin can be anonymous if you never link your identity to a bank account. That is, if you manage to hide your identity while buying bitcoins and while buying stuff with it.

      Bitcoin was touted as an anonymous currency because it can be used as such in the dreams of cryptoanarchists who imagine a society of anonymous (or rather, pseudonymous) persons collaboratively earning money and spending it through dematerialized goods. Bitcoin has been made with this very narrow economical niche in mind. Anonymity in bitcoin is good just as long as you don't link a physical identity and address to an account. And then, your whole network of transactions can be discovered (unless you have been really very careful). If you want anonymity for buying physical goods, use cash.
  • Hipsters (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:26PM (#43807693)

    "I liked Bitcoin before it was cool. It's too mainstream now"

  • by swschrad (312009) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:28PM (#43807701) Homepage Journal

    also, no "free as in beer" and no "quality goes in before the name goes on." the news knocked me right off my unicorn, and I am so embarassed...

  • by trims (10010) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:28PM (#43807705) Homepage

    ...I've got a bridge somewhere that needs to be sold that you might be interested in.

    Bitcoin does irrefutability (i.e. the ability to prove that a transaction occurred, and occurred only once). I can thus prove that I do, in fact, own all Bitcoin I possess.

    It never has been anonymous. There are characteristics that make it more difficult to trace the payer, but the protocol and implementation have never been configured (or designed) to be a strongly anonymous technology.

  • by TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:28PM (#43807709)
    But at the end of the day, once something becomes successful it loses its identity.

    Loss of anonymity and regulation happens to anything that becomes large enough to be noticed.

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:31PM (#43807725)

    Is selling out to the highest bidder. How dare they.

  • by idontgno (624372) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:31PM (#43807729) Journal
    is miffed that bitcoins are too mainstream now.
  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:33PM (#43807743)

    Bitcoin is and always will be just as anonymous as it was promised. No one EVER said exchanging Bitcoin for other currencies would be an identity protected venture. In fact it's always been assumed by anyone with any brains at all that Bitcoin is only anonymous as long as you keep it Bitcoin and don't trade it for any hard goods or currency.

    There have always been regulatory requirements that make transaction tracking easy for government when you convert to currency or goods. And this has ALWAYS been BitCoins greatest weakness because at the end of the day the currency is only as valuable as it's ability to exchange it for goods. That exchange will never be anonymous.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:05PM (#43807929)

      In fact it's always been assumed by anyone with any brains at all that Bitcoin is only anonymous as long as you keep it Bitcoin and don't trade it for any hard goods or currency.

      But if no one ever trades Bitcoins for hard goods or currency, then they are worthless.

    • by mysidia (191772) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:19PM (#43808003)

      That exchange will never be anonymous.

      I wouldn't say that... I would say that exchange will sometimes not be anonymous. Especially when that exchange is made from bitcoins to a currency, and one of the trading partners is a large institution with regulatory requirements to meet.

      But there will be other cases where it could be nearly anonymous. Mainly when neither of the trading partners keeps records of the identity of the other trading partner; or when they trade without learning the identity of whom they are trading with in the first place -- probably for intangible goods like data.

  • by wbr1 (2538558) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:53PM (#43807853)
    For a currency to be useful it has to be trusted. Unfortunately it would appear that after a certain critical mass is reached the people using it also want the other people using it to be trust able. Not easy to do whilst remaining anonymous.
  • by gTsiros (205624) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:01PM (#43807891)

    why do i have this suspicion that the whole bitcoin is some elaborate, very drawn out, convoluted, mutated version of a pyramid scheme?

  • by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:02PM (#43807903)
    The whole idea that you could create money by having your computer crack at a cryptographic algorithm is ridiculous, but so too is the fact that some professions earn so much more than others, that those professions form unions (oops! I mean 'professional associations') that limit supply of their professionals, or that during the GFC the Fed could pull billions of dollars from out of their ass and give it to banks who could then earn themselves interest off that. Bitcoin may be a bubble, but so is the entire stockmarket where you have computers buying and dumping stock microseconds later without any idea what is being traded. Hey did you know the big investment banks pay a premium so they connect their computers closer to the exchange's computers? As soon as they detect buys on a certain stock, they start grabbing massive amounts of it on the assumption others will follow and they can dump it microseconds later? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-frequency_trading [wikipedia.org] Please tell me how this is good for the economy and sensible investment?

    Bitcoin may have its problems and speculators are really bad for anything, but so called 'real money' is just as bad and maybe worse.
    • by GenieGenieGenie (942725) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:16PM (#43807989)
      Nice tirade. Can you explain to us in what sense is cracking a crypto problem more ridiculous than figuring out where there are more shiny bits of rock that people like to wear in their jewelry? Both require dedicated equipment, know-how, time and effort; Both produce something that other people find valuable and want to own, but are ultimately useless on their own (oh, alright, cue the wedding ring jokes...); Both are subject to market laws of supply and demand that determine their price. After you're done with that, we'll deal with the rest of the ridiculous stuff you seem to have in the same bag as Bitcoins (HFT? seriously?).
    • by Immerman (2627577) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @08:24PM (#43808375)

      If you think about it cash is at least as ridiculous. That's just some guys with a fancy printing press and government backing saying "Hey, let's print a few million bucks more today". Works great so long as the government is responsible about it, but as every case of hyperinflation in history shows there's no guaranty on that front.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:03PM (#43807911)

    It is impossible to build an anonymous irrevocably currency on top of a revocable non-anonymous. Thus, you can't make something like bitcoins as a layer ontop of credit cards, traditional banks, checks etc.

    However, it is possible to do the reverse: you can (and they did) build a revocable non-anonymous payment system on top of bitcoin. This is good: now bitcoin is being used for both kinds of currency. You don't lose the ability to spend bitcoins anonymously and irrevocably just because there are now ways to use them closer to traditional payment systems. Both have benefits, and both can be powered by bitcoin simultaneously. I fail to see the problem.

    Sure, if the goal of bitcoin was to force change on the world, it failed. If the goal was to allow access to a new technology, anonymous irrevocably currency, then its working. I won't argue thats its an ideal implementation of the idea, or that its a great currency to use, but it is usable, and proves that such a thing can exist should you need it.

  • by Rhacman (1528815) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:10PM (#43807955)
    I'm going to start a new currency called KidneyCoin! The currency is kidney stones! The proof of work is passing the kidney stone!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @07:44PM (#43808155)

    Lets look at the structure of silk road and we can come to some sort of understanding of how this may play out for anonymity.

    You have a account with Mt. Gox, So they know your starting wallet number. They then trace it to a ID over at silk road, however they have no idea that it is silk road, for all they know it is simply another wallet of yours, or your friends. Then silk road handles the transaction between the two wallets it has. After that the seller needs to transfer the bitcoins back to a agency like mt. gox (or another seller on silk road). Even if they have the information for the start and the end of this transaction they have no real way of finding the in-between. You could also do a simple money laundering exercise by creating multiple wallets to protect yourself.

    It may not help if the government comes knocking and asks where you got the bitcoins though.

  • by argoff (142580) * on Thursday May 23, 2013 @08:01PM (#43808255)

    ... but once you get in, you can take any ride you want.

  • by ildon (413912) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @10:21PM (#43808935)

    Bitcoin NEVER afforded real anonymity. It only afforded slight obfuscation. See: http://anonymity-in-bitcoin.blogspot.com/2011/07/bitcoin-is-not-anonymous.html [blogspot.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @11:11PM (#43809173)

    The weakness is not with bitcoin itself, but with trading traditional currency for them. There will be a point where only people with extravagantly modern mining rigs will be able to make any profit from mining.

    Therefore, the average person will have to buy bitcoin from an exchange where it will undoubtedly be regulated.

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Friday May 24, 2013 @12:37AM (#43809501)
    Yay, another one. This is one side of the story. They're getting shut down by the feds EVERYWHERE. There's the banking secrecy act that killed some big time operators. MTGox is even getting screwed with with Dwolla lately and they're around 85% of all exchange transactions. Small little operations don't attract attention. The big ones are under so much scrutiny, it's like the feds are just waiting for any reason to shut them down (they actually are by the way). It's so hilariously stupid too because by design, it's stoppable. They could throw $50 billion at it and not destroy the network unless they literally but all bitcoins with it and then delete them, lol. Actually, that wouldn't "destroy" the network either.
    • They could throw $50 billion at it and not destroy the network

      If they want to destroy bitcoin then all they need to do is get more hasing power than the rest of the bitcoin network put together. I'm fairly sure that with the current level of hashing power that is within the reach of most governments.

      Once they do that they can create arbitary rules for refusing transactions they don't like. For example they could require that all bitcoin addresses used as transaction destinations are registered with the government before use. They would enforce these rules by refusing to accept transactions that violate them into blocks they generate and refusing to use blocks that contain such transactions as a base for blocks they generate. Occasionally a non-governement miner may generate a block with your non-government approved transaction in it but the government miners would fork it off before it got any significant number of confirmations.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Friday May 24, 2013 @02:28AM (#43810031)

    The regulatory agencies that control the major banks won't permit overt laundering schemes that are within the reach of any but the most sophisticated bankers.

    That said, f' them. By all means, allow bitcoin to become whatever it is going to become. But the technology that built it can be made again and again and again.

    Set up another bitcoin currency. And this time learn from the mistakes. We might have to proxy the money into and out of the system through cash. That is... no electronic deposits or withdrawals. Rather, use cash. Cash is by its nature opaque. Set up accounts like pre paid debit cards. The cash in the system but no names. Only ID codes linked to the money but not to people.

    This will shield the next system behind the legitimacy of physical currency itself. Physical currency won't go away. The governments say they don't like it because its hard to trace but there are many purchases they make that are intentionally murky. Remember the giant bricks of cash sent to Iraq? Literally pallets of 100 dollar bills stacked and shrink wrapped. Why did they do that? Think we couldn't have come up with an electronic and documented system? We chose not to do that. And think the big banks are entirely upfront about all the money that flows through their systems? Most of it is tracked and documented. But some of it is intentionally obfuscated. Go to Switzerland or Luxemburg and you'll find whole industries based on the practice.

    All Bitcoins would do is let the middle class have access to the same financial toys afforded to the very rich.

    I believe in the freedom of money. I understand that controlling money makes law enforcement easier. You can track what people are doing by following money. But you could say the same thing about putting cameras in people's homes or tapping every phone in the country.

    I have the right to privacy. And while many will disagree with me, I will respond that they can TRY to stick cameras down my throat to see what I ate for breakfast but I won't make it easy for them.

    We can be free. If even 1 percent of the economy flows through these systems it will break the control the government has on us.

  • by coldsalmon (946941) on Friday May 24, 2013 @11:32AM (#43813139)

    This 1,000,000% increase in Bitcoin's value has made it soooooo uncool.

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