The network is part of society and is shaped by society. And until society becomes a crime-free zone, the web will not be a crime-free zone.
So what is cryptocurrency? Cryptocurrency is a decentralized payment system that essentially allows people to send currency to each other over the network without the need for a trusted third party such as a bank or financial institution. Transactions are cheap and in many cases free. In addition, payments are also pseudo-anonymous.
Also, the main feature is that it is completely decentralized, meaning there is no single central point of authority or anything like that. The consequences of this are done by anyone who has a complete copy of all transactions that have ever occurred with Bitcoin. This creates an incredibly resilient network, meaning no one can change, undo or control any of the transactions.
The high level of anonymity there means that it is very difficult to trace transactions. It’s not completely impossible, but it’s impractical in most cases. So, cryptocurrency crime – because you have fast, borderless transactions and you have a high level of anonymity, it in theory creates a system that’s ripe for exploitation. So in most cases when it’s an online crime with online payment systems, then they tend to go to the authorities and, say, we can hand over that payment information or we can stop those transactions and reverse them. And none of this can happen with Bitcoin, so in theory it makes it suitable for criminals.
In light of that, many different agencies are researching Bitcoin and looking at Bitcoin and trying to understand how it works and what they can do to control it. It’s also been in the media quite a few times, and the media, being the media, likes to focus on the bad side of it. So they focus a lot on crime with him. So if there is theft or fraud or something like that, then they tend to blame bitcoin and bitcoin users.
So the most notable one is probably Silk Road, which was recently taken down and through its $1.2 billion worth of bitcoins went to pay for everything from drugs to guns to killing men to that sort of thing. And the media was again very quick to blame bitcoin and say it was the bitcoin user’s fault.
But there is actually very little evidence of the scale of the cryptocurrency crime problem. We don’t know if there’s a lot or we don’t know if there’s a little. But still, people are very quick to label it as a criminal thing and forget the legitimate uses, like fast and quick payment.
So a couple of research questions I’m looking at in this area are what does Bitcoin crime look like? So many people will say that fraud and theft have been going on for centuries. But the means by which they happen are changing with technology. So a Victorian street hustler will in effect be doing something very different from a 419 Nigerian prince hustler.
So the next issue I would also like to explore is looking at the magnitude of the cryptocurrency crime problem. So by generating a log of known fraud and theft and things like that, we can then cross-reference that with the public transaction log of all transactions and see what fraction of transactions are actually illegal and criminal. So my final question would be to what extent does the technology itself actually facilitate crime? By looking back at the crime logs, we can see what specific types of crimes are occurring and whether it is actually the fault of the technology, or if it is just the same old crimes we have seen before. And after considering these things, we can start thinking about possible solutions to the problem of Bitcoin crime.
And we can consider that the only appropriate solution would be one that preserves the core values of the technology itself, which would be privacy and decentralization. The media pay a lot of attention to the criminal aspects. And they don’t give enough value to legitimate uses, because Bitcoin is a technology that enables quick, fast payments, which is useful for anyone who has ever paid for something on the web.