Coinbase is selling surveillance software to the United States Secret Service. This is no longer a suspicion or a comment that anyone dares to make: a contract is known to exist between the company founded by Brian Armstrong and the organisation, which is attached to the Department of Homeland Security. This contract will last for 4 years for which Coinbase will earn more than 180 thousand dollars.
Before I leave with this article, let me be clear: I understand that there is a commercial, influential, economic interest, in short, that there are compelling reasons for Armstrong’s company to proceed in this manner. However, I share an ethical foundation closer to today’s privacy activists, the cypherpunks and Satoshi Nakamoto himself, so facilitating surveillance for money is not what I would do if I had the choice.
For almost two years now, I’ve been taking privacy and surveillance seriously. I used to find them interesting, but thinking and acting on this new concern is not exactly easy.
Coinbase: business is business
That is why I find it so particular that a company related to Bitcoin – with the cryptomonies -, gives in so happily to the pretensions of the authorities. And that, in addition, its CEO justifies it as a convenient decision, even for Bitcoin.
Armstrong not only took advantage of Twitter to express its opinion on the case, but also to justify its position, which is completely aligned with the company’s commercial interests.
In fact, he justified it on Twitter:
„Blockchain analysis software is nothing new, it’s been around for a long time, it uses publicly available data to try to track down cryptographic transactions, usually to catch bad players.
Surveillance tools exist and are used, far beyond the ideal we might want to see in Bitcoin. There are those who are dedicated to profiting from block chain surveillance, and like Chainalysis, they see it as something positive, necessary, important.
The worst thing is that the acquisition of Neutrino, a team of „analysts“ and specialists who had given their software to authoritarian governments without any kind of scruples, was described as something that simply „didn’t work out so well.
Again, for the CEO of Coinbase, it is clear that the information available is a business, and that they run it without any ethical perks whatsoever. The same goes for the privacy of crypto-currency users, who will be increasingly scrutinised, as in the case of Coinbase Analytics available to the Secret Service.
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„It’s expensive to develop this capacity, and we want to recover the costs. There is an existing market for blockchain analysis software, so we also sell it to a handful of people. It also helps us build relationships with the police, which is important for the growth of crypto,“ he said.
Obviously from this perspective, more than a right or the space of individual fulfillment, privacy is a business. Whoever can pay takes better care of themselves, and whoever can research and snoop around data better can capitalize on it. They are two sides of the same issue, but completely different perspectives.
In fact, if you want privacy, you should use privacy coins, as Armstrong took the opportunity to offer: „If people want real privacy, that’s what privacy coins are for. Will we be seeing Monero on Coinbase? I don’t think so, as I don’t believe or share half a word of what has been said by the company or its CEO.
This is the same character who bet on SegWit2X, even against the interests of Bitcoin users and node operators.
This article had been designed just to address this issue, but, during its writing, Twitter hacking also happened, which allows me to expand on the „positive“ position of this type of surveillance tools, not only as a business, but as a supposed protection against malicious actors.