Is The Bitcoin Dev Team Serious About Anonymity?

4 minute read

Posted by: Greg Miller

November 17, 2014

When people think about innovation in the anonymity of crypto-currencies, very rarely do people think about Bitcoin, as a source for that. Many people are looking at various Altcoins (crypto-currency alternatives to Bitcoin) for crypto-currency anonymity, like Darkcoin, Anoncoin, and Monero. People have pushed Bitcoin aside, not even considering it a competitor but do the people behind Bitcoin’s development have to say about it?

The B Team

Before I get to analyzing whether the Bitcoin devs are serious about anonymity, let me take a moment to explain the current status of the core Bitcoin development team. In a interview with Bitcoin Epicenter, Mike Hearn, Google engineer and former core Bitcoin developer, said “I’ve been very worried for a long time that the core Bitcoin system is radically underfunded and underdeveloped from where it needs to be.” A lack of funding and incentives is leading core developers to not work on the Bitcoin protocol, the most vital technology of Bitcoin, everything else stands on its shoulder. He went on to say the protocol is already suffering and that development has come to a complete halt.

Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Circle, added his thoughts about the topic in a different interview and told Bitcoin developers to fix the “very ad-hoc, reputation based” development and to “step up”. He also went on to say, “If it’s not addressed, I think that a range of ecosystem participants will just say we’re going to do a hard fork and try and do this in a more scalable community-based way.”

On top of all of this (or as a result of this), one of the first Bitcoin adopters and someone who wrote some Bitcoin’s earliest Bitcoin code, Gavin Andresen left his role as lead developer of Bitcoin. His knowledge and passion was the main drive behind the development. Without this drive and knowledge, the development has fell apart and illustrated his important role in the operation. Since then, other members of the development team left, leaving few people behind. The ones who remain don’t have Gavin’s vision or drive.

Developer’s Thoughts On Bitcoin

Peter Todd, is another important person in Bitcoin’s development, but has since left the team to work on various projects, including the development of Altcoins. He was one of the few members who was interested in enhancing anonymity in Bitcoin. He developed Coinjoin, which was a mixing service that used multi-signature transaction to hide the identities of the participants. It was later shown by Kristov Atlas, author of The Anonymous Bitcoin Book and the host of Dark News, that Coinjoin failed to hide the identities of users using a tool he developed. Peter Todd has turned to the Altcoin space to serve as the testing ground for new ideas he has, to anonymize crypto-currency transactions.

Mike Hearn, fromer Bitcoin core developer, is developing a new version of Bitcoinj, the software that powers many popular Bitcoin apps, that will include a option to run the network traffic through Tor. This allow apps to be able to provide a more private and secure experience to their consumers who worry about their financial information being exposed to the public. Whether app developers will include this feature is another story. Companies and regulations, like Apple or the Bitlicense might prohibited a Bitcoin app from anonymizing its users.

The Reality

With a core Bitcoin development in disarray and unrest within the Bitcoin community surrounding the dev team, it looks like the team has much more to worry about than anonymity. Anonymity is exactly something that is going to get them a lot of praise either, in a world approaching a regulated Bitcoin. Anonymity is usually seen as the enemy of state control and recently it looks like the Bitcoin community and leaders is doing everything they can to bend over backwards in order to please their regulators.

I think after a change in the Bitcoin dev team happens, changing from an ad-hoc team to a more organized and funded team, the chances of a focus on anonymity will be even less. Bitcoin companies, that will be looking to make nice with regulators, will not want to rock the boat, and since Bitcoin companies will be flipping the dime for development, it is unlikely they will want the developers to focus on anonymity.

Altcoins remain the wild west of crypto-currencies. A man with a vision can bootstrap a currency and add any features he wants. Altcoins remain far away from the tightening grip of the US government and its cronies, allowing for more innovation and creativity. Another key aspect about Altcoins is that they are small and they have very little money invested in them, compared to Bitcoin. The more money there is, the bigger the target is for regulators. Bitcoin was given life by the Deep Web, finding massive early adoption there, but it never had any ties to the Deep Web and simply continue on to the clear net when the money called. In a world where crypto-currency anonymity is becoming more and more the enemy of the state, I find the same scenario unfolding to be unlikely. After the dust settles and true winner emerges in The Great Anonymous Crypto-Currency Wars, it will be such an alien to polite society that its only home will be the Deep Web.

Updated: 2014-11-17