Bitcoin has one flaw: it is too transparent. That’s what Matt Odell, advisor to bitcoin payments company Bottle Pay and prominent bitcoiner, claimed yesterday, in a podcast hosted by Ministry of Nodes co-founder Stephan Livera.
Every problem has a solution, though. In this case, it means accepting the transparency of the Bitcoin blockchain and adapting to it by protecting your own financial privacy. If enough people do this, Odell argued, it could do wonders for the Bitcoin ecosystem—and, potentially, its price.
“I think Bitcoin becomes more valuable, becomes more resilient and robust long term if individual users practice financial privacy because that is the single biggest vulnerability that Bitcoin has today,” he said.
Mixing services are one option
One way of achieving financial privacy is by using mixing services. Mixing is a process where you anonymously swap bitcoin with some other anonymous person, making it harder for anyone trying to keep a bird’s eye view of the money shifting over the blockchain. But it's not without controversy.
The podcast focused on the relative merits and drawbacks of using mixing services to hide the transaction history of some bitcoin. While they do make it harder for blockchain analytics companies to track what's going on, if you use a mixing service you could be swapping your coins for stolen bitcoin, or bitcoin that had been used to fund a terrorist attack.
- Should Bitcoiners Coinjoin?
What sparked off the recent coinjoin conversation, where are bitcoiners falling down privacy wise, what tools can be used, and what's at stake.https://t.co/Mj6MrLQgAV pic.twitter.com/PB9ohIb8KV
— Stephan Livera (@stephanlivera) January 1, 2020
The issue had been raised by Trace Mayer, known for leading the proof of keys movement—encouraging everyone to take their bitcoin off custodial wallets—who had pointed out the downsides of using mixing services in recent interviews.
Odell defended mixing services, arguing they are akin to virtual private networks (VPNs), where individuals swap IP addresses to mask where they are accessing the Internet. “Because these projects are to protect the average user, they have to protect all users,” he argued. “There’s no way to know what’s a good user and a bad user. Because as soon as you’re able to delineate what’s a good user and a bad user, then you have centralization.”
While Odell acknowledged that mixing services currently have low volumes, making them less effective, he said this proves people need to use them more frequently. In particular, he said that anyone using centralized exchanges would benefit from using them to counteract the amount of data the exchange is collecting about them.
However, exchanges are legally required to perform know-your-customer protocols on their users, and this can include using blockchain analytics companies to survey their users. Were everyone to start mixing their coins, it could lead to a crackdown by exchanges. Odell said, “I think [Mayer] is right in that a lot of these exchanges will start blocking transactions with CoinJoin history.” CoinJoin being a popular mixing service.
There may be trouble ahead
This could have wider implications for those wishing to look after their own bitcoin, Odell argued. “If they say CoinJoin is illegal and you’re trying to withdraw from, let’s say CashApp, and you withdraw from CashApp, you go through the five hops and then it goes to CoinJoin, are they going to block your account for that?” he asked, adding that if they do, that amounts to completely banning self custody.
Despite the drawbacks and a potential clash of heads in the future, Odell maintained that mixing services are key to protecting financial privacy when using Bitcoin. Financial privacy, he said, is the only thing separating ourselves from dystopian governments with the power to financially enslave us.
“I look at the world today and I look at all my peers that are using Venmo and PayPal, all these credit cards, all these centralized payment processors and they’re basically exposing their whole lives not only to these companies but also to the governments that they’re affiliated with,” he said. “If you have an authoritarian come in, they’re going to use that against you.”
Time to get those mixers running.