Tracing bitcoins has long been easy in theory: The blockchain’s public record allows anyone to follow the trail of coins from one address to another as they’re spent or stolen, though not always to identify who controls those address. But that tracing becomes far dicier when Bitcoin users put their coins through a “mix” or “laundry” service—sometimes in the form of an unregulated exchange—that jumbles up many people’s coins at a single address, and then returns them to confuse anyone trying to trace their path. In other cases, users bundle together their transactions through a process called Coinjoin that gives each spender and recipient deniability about where their money came from or ended up.For companies like Chainanalyis, Coinfirm, and Ciphertrace that offer to trace stolen or “tainted” coins—and who generally don’t make their methodology public— that leaves limited options. They can either treat any coin that comes out of a mix that includes tainted coins as fully “dirty,” or more reasonably, average out the dirt among all the resulting coins; put one stolen coin into a mix address with nine legit ones, and they’re all 10 percent tainted. Some academics have called this the “haircut” method.But Anderson argues that haircut tracing quickly leads to enormous parts of the blockchain being a little bit tainted, with no clear answers about how to treat an infinitesimally unclean coin. Often the fraction can be so small it has to be rounded up, leading to artificial increases in the total “taint” recorded.But when Anderson mentioned this problem in January to David Fox, a professor of law at Edinburgh Law School, Fox pointed out that British law already provides a solution: An 1816 precedent known as Clayton’s Case, which dealt with who should be paid back from the remaining funds of a bankrupted financial firm. The answer, according to the presiding judge, was that whoever put their money in first should take it out first. The resulting first-in-first-out—or FIFO—rule became the standard way under British law to identify whose money is whose in mixed-up assets, whether to resolve debts or reclaim stolen property.
The fact that Bitcoin was designed to confound human decision-making is a feature, not a flaw. The core protocol is tasked with enforcing the single rule most crucial to the cryptocurrency’s value: no counterfeit spending. By contrast, the U.S. dollar is burdened with effecting monetary policy, enforcing sanctions, fighting crime and much more. The more functions a currency has, the more things there are to argue over, and the more likely the community will be to fracture. Bitcoin’s uncompromising focus allows it to serve a broader user base.In blockchains, anarchy is the worst form of governance except for all the others. That said, it’s still possible that Bitcoin didn’t get things right the first time around. As more people get involved, coordinating decisions will become even more difficult, and Bitcoin’s inflexibility may prove too limiting. 1 Even Ethereum, which once executed a $55 million loss recovery on three days’ notice, is finding it difficult to repeat the procedure 18 months later. Any decentralized cryptocurrency has a limited window in which to coordinate decisions. So let the creative experiments begin.
The main contribution of this paper lies in the synthesis of information economics in finance – as related to the mechanisms of money and quasi-money creation in the banking and shadow banking sector – and the mechanism of money creation in cryptocurrency ecosystem. In particular, drawing lessons from the literature on ‘safe assets’ and building on Holmstrom’s seminal work (2015), this paper highlights striking differences in the basic information economics of cryptocurrencies as opposed to fiat currencies (including the monetary aggregates). The main finding of this paper is that, Bitcoin trumps central bank money and private and quasi-private money – created by the banking and shadow banking system – on account of its informational foundations. The superior information economics of Bitcoin, which is built on symmetric (common) knowledge as to the inner workings of Bitcoin Blockchain, as opposed to that of fiat currencies, which is built on symmetric ignorance as to the underlying collateral, would make Bitcoin a new ‘safe’ asset holding the promise of maturing into a viable store of value, a potential medium of exchange, and a unit of account. By comparing the information economics of central, commercial and shadow bank money with that of Bitcoin, we highlight important aspects of information economics of Bitcoin that would inform any pending regulatory intervention in the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
50 Cent denies reports he is a bitcoin millionaireThe rapper, still ironing out a bankruptcy case, said he’d promoted the false reports because they were ‘favourable to my image’
Quinn DuPont studies human and social dimensions of cybersecurity, cryptography, and code. He is currently a postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Information, University of Washington. He has a PhD in Information Science (Toronto), and is an ALA-accredited librarian (Western), with a decade of industry experience as a Senior Information Specialist at IBM, an IT consultant, and a usability and experience designer. His current research focuses on ethical practices of computer security researchers, and cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies. He is a member of the Standards Council of Canada and ISO blockchain standardization committees, and the IEEE Blockchain Initiative
What is the role of social interactions in the creation of price bubbles? Answering this question requires obtaining collective behavioural traces generated by the activity of a large number of actors. Digital currencies offer a unique possibility to measure socio-economic signals from such digital traces. Here, we focus on Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency. Bitcoin has experienced periods of rapid increase in exchange rates (price) followed by sharp decline; we hypothesise that these fluctuations are largely driven by the interplay between different social phenomena. We thus quantify four socio-economic signals about Bitcoin from large data sets: price on on-line exchanges, volume of word-of-mouth communication in on-line social media, volume of information search, and user base growth. By using vector autoregression, we identify two positive feedback loops that lead to price bubbles in the absence of exogenous stimuli: one driven by word of mouth, and the other by new Bitcoin adopters. We also observe that spikes in information search, presumably linked to external events, precede drastic price declines. Understanding the interplay between the socio-economic signals we measured can lead to applications beyond cryptocurrencies to other phenomena which leave digital footprints, such as on-line social network usage.
Bitcoin is a purely online virtual currency, unbacked by either physical commodities or sovereign obligation; instead, it relies on a combination of cryptographic protection and a peer-to-peer protocol for witnessing settlements. Consequently, Bitcoin has the unintuitive property that while the ownership of money is implicitly anonymous, its flow is globally visible. In this paper we explore this unique characteristic further, using heuristic clustering to group Bitcoin wallets based on evidence of shared authority, and then using re-identification attacks (i.e., empirical purchasing of goods and services) to classify the operators of those clusters. From this analysis, we consider the challenges for those seeking to use Bitcoin for criminal or fraudulent purposes at scale.
We analyze the Bitcoin protocol for electronic peer-to-peer payments and the operations that support the “blockchain” that underpins it. It is shown that the protocol maps formally into a dynamic game that is an extension of standard models of R&D racing. The model provides a technical foundation for any economic analysis of ‘proof-of-work’ protocols. Using the model, we demonstrate that free entry is solely responsible for determining resource usage by the system for a given reward to mining. The endogenous level of computational difficulty built into the Bitcoin protocol does not mitigate this usage and serves only to determine the time taken to process transactions. Regulating market structure will mitigate resource use highlighting the importance of identifying the benefits of competition for the operation of the blockchain.
Keywords: bitcoin, blockchain, racing, mining, competition, free entry
ICO mania will no doubt run its course, as all such financial manias do. But in the meantime, people will be hurt and there will be a painful correction. The one upside is this: As in the wake of the dot-com implosion, serious developers and investors will continue to work to build what will be a more robust network and foundation for the future of the blockchain and cryptocurrencies.