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Bitcoin Is Not Anonymous 279

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from University College Dublin have conducted an analysis of anonymity on Bitcoin, and found it is not inherently anonymous, and that in many cases, users and their transactions can be identified. They use techniques such as context discovery and flow analysis to investigate and visualize an alleged theft of Bitcoins, which, at the time of the theft, had a market value of approximately half a million U.S. dollars."
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Bitcoin Is Not Anonymous

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25, 2011 @08:49AM (#36869544)
    Bitcoin in the new Twitter. No matter how many times you post about it, there's still only a dozen people who care.
    • The concept of a non centralized electronic form of money could effectively remove the ability of government and banks to tax people through the issue of debt & through inflation. it would remove the central authority and control authorizing and monitoring transactions.

      At the moment, our money is issued as debt, you may not have thought about why that is the case, but it is quite deliberate.
      So I am of the opinion that there are some very wealthy and powerful people paying Slashdot to disparage Bitcoin.

      • The concept of a non centralized electronic form of money could effectively remove the ability of government and banks to tax people through the issue of debt & through inflation. it would remove the central authority and control authorizing and monitoring transactions.

        If we ignore the fact that most of the value of a currency is derived from its necessity for paying taxes and settling government debts, then sure, that statement is accurate. Except that in doing so, we are ignoring the very thing that makes money valuable. If Bitcoin could not be exchanged for other currencies, it would be worthless; it's value comes only from the fact that you can ultimately "cash out."

        So I am of the opinion that there are some very wealthy and powerful people paying Slashdot to disparage Bitcoin.

        I am a graduate student; trust me, I am neither wealthy nor powerful, I am just someone who took

        • > If Bitcoin could not be exchanged for other currencies, it would be worthless; it's value comes only from the fact that you can ultimately "cash out."

          Why couldn't they be exchanged for goods and services? Sure you start with currencies because they are the most liquid, and bitcoin has a very speficially compelling utility in that it can be used for international transfers outside the banking system. However it is already finding uses apart from currency exchange.

          As far as being otherwise "worthless

          • by s73v3r ( 963317 )

            And it astonishes me how full of shit most BitCoin supporters are. "Oil producing nations would not accept dollars unless we held a gun to their heads." Really? You're gonna resort to some stupid, conspiratorial, anti-government rhetoric? Is it not possible that they want our dollars, as they are accepted in many places around the world, through FREE CHOICE of those peoples? No, of course not. The only reason anyone would accept US Dollars is because they were forced to.

  • Too bad it is merely a academic explanation of what was already known about Bitcoin. At least I can point to this when someone asked for references when I criticize Bitcoin as impractical for the many purposes fanatic proponents advertise.

  • Anyone with half a million dollars worth of bitcoins is probably up to no good. At the very least they need to have their head examined for buying monopoly money.
  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday July 25, 2011 @08:58AM (#36869628) Homepage

    I wouldn't give you jack for them. Can I pay my utility bills with them? No. Can I may my mortgage with them? No. Can I go into most shops or online stores and buy stuff with them? No.

    They're nothing more than a financial toy for people to play around with and waste energy on GPU calculations which they justify by reeling off a list of websites no one has heard of where you can buy useless crap with them.

    • by leonbev ( 111395 )

      Well... you can buy illegal drugs from Silk Road with them. If it wasn't for that, I'd imagine that Bitcoins would have no monetary value whatsoever.

      Amusingly, the people doing that are doing so because they think that Bitcoins aren't traceable. This article doesn't help that delusion.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by derfy ( 172944 )

      Hope more people see this comment. You can't do jack with bitcoins at the moment. Who knows, maybe in the future we can but for now:
      News for nerds? Maybe. Stuff that matters? Hell no.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      The same could be said for quite a lot of things, for instance World of Warcraft characters. But some of those have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

      Not everything has to be tangible to have a value (the entire concept of copyright, for instance, credit cards, pyramid schemes). And not everything that is tangible has value (Zimbabwean currency, for instance).

      To the right buyer, a bit of paint slapped on a canvas in a vague square is worth millions. It's just a question of finding a buyer. Consi

      • That said, I bet you could find *someone* who wanted to part with money in exchange for a certain amount of Bitcoins.

        The value derived from that is limited due to the difficulty of finding someone. Once more well-known merchants start accepting BTC payment for goods [], the value proposition might become easier to see. Let me know when that has happened.

      • Bitcoin is supposed to be a currency. WoW characters or items are NOT a currency not is anybody pretending it to be. Neither are paintings currency, there is no exchange anywhere in the world that even pretends at giving a dollar price for a painting. At best you got auction houses but next thing you will be claiming my labour is a currency just because I can sell it.

        Bitcoin by claiming to be a currency claims to be something more then trade items that have a value if someone is willing to pay it. A dollar

    • by wrook ( 134116 )

      You can get hosting for them. To me that seems genuinely useful. A lot of stuff that you could do that people might give you bitcoins for require an online presence. Maybe you don't want to receive *only* bitcoins, but it does overcome some of the many problems that might come up with something like Paypal. Also, there are a surprisingly large number of people willing to give you US dollars for bitcoins. The daily volume is considerably higher than I would have thought reasonable. But there you go...

    • I wouldn't give you jack for them. Can I pay my utility bills with them? No. Can I may my mortgage with them? No. Can I go into most shops or online stores and buy stuff with them? No.

      You can say the same about gold coins.

      I'll take any you happen to have lying around off your hands.

    • I see this all the time - "I think something is stupid, therefore it's worth nothing." As it happens, I do think bitcoins are stupid. But I recognize that the value of something is not what I think, not even what the average person thinks. Its value is what the person who most wants them at that moment thinks.

      Back when Pokemon cards came out, I talked with a friend about them and he agreed they were the dumbest things ever. Stupid concept, stupid game, and at its root just cardboard with a bit of ink
      • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Monday July 25, 2011 @06:45PM (#36877046) Homepage Journal
        Hear! Hear! There are literally millions of things in the world that I care absolutely nothing about, but would still consider purchasing at the right price in order to sell them to fools who are willing to pay more than I can get it for plus consideration for time and transaction costs.
        Bitcoin happens to be one of those things for me. I mine bitcoin, but I don't hold onto it hoping it will make me rich, and I don't care if it ever takes off as a currency. I just get a nice paycheck when I cash them in to someone else.
        I used to be a futures trader. I had no interest in a railcar full of cattle, or a boxcar full of corn, yet at any given time I might have held contracts for dozens or hundreds of both. Their was no intent to do anything with the underlying commodities, just a desire to hopefully sell the contract for more than I bought it for.
        And if we want to completely remove the physical tie, I also used to trade in foreign currencies. We didn't care what any particular currency could buy, just whether we expected it to go up or down relative to another currency. Holding Yen was the same as holding Bitcoin. I can't pay my mortgage with Yen, or my utilities, without exchanging it to U.S. Dollars.
  • Slashdot and Bitcoin (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25, 2011 @08:59AM (#36869640)

    In order to analyse whetehr Slashdot is overly preoccupied with Bitcoin, I have conducted a rigorous scientific analysis. My methodology relies on the key fact that Google knows everything. To draw on the wisdom of Google, I typed slashdot into my Google search bar. The results are revealing:

    Google suggests (in this order):
    slashdot rss
    slashdot wiki
    slashdot bitcoin

    Phrases such as "slashdot linux", "slashdot news" and "slashdot " did not appear.

    I'm still working on the conclusions.

    • I doubt this means that bitcoin is more prevalent that linux in /.

      Probably it means that /. is one of the few places where bitcoins appear many times, while linux appears in a lot more of places. So, in the eyes of Google, "bitcoin" would be more particular to slashdot than "linux", but I am almost sure that linux appears more.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      In ye olden days it would have been "slashdot ebook" "slashdot e-ink". How they missed "slashdot paket" is a mystery to me.

    • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Monday July 25, 2011 @09:24AM (#36869872) Homepage Journal
      Are you sure you didn't do a search for bitcoins yourself earlier? Google will remember that. I tried the same autocomplete query just now and only got:

      slashdot rss
      slashdot effect
      slashdot reader
      slashdot wiki

      No bitcoin mentions on the first page either.
    • I think it is because there is a lot of libertarian anrcho-capitalism where those pushing Bitcoin have wet dreams of the dollar failing and being relegated to the status of the old German Notgeld []
  • I wish... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25, 2011 @09:07AM (#36869704)

    People need to learn the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity. Bitcoin is not anonymous, and neither are so many other things mistakenly labeled anonymous.

    In the context of Slashdot:

    AC == Anonymous
    handle == pseudonymous
    handle linked to meatspace identity == identified

    Pseudonymous actions are those where an arbitrary identifier (handle, public key fingerprint, assigned account number) completely replaces the meatspace identity a person has been assigned by government.

    Pseudonymous actions by a specific identifier (such as as Bitcoin key) can be linked to other actions by that identifier.

    Anonymous actions have no primary key linking together events by a person or group of persons acting in concert.

    An anonymous payment would be something like cash in the mail, so long as the envelope is devoid of any identifer, assigned or pseudo, which could connect that envelope and its contents to another action by the person who sent it.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      A good post but with all due respect you won't get anywhere on /. without a standard /. car analogy

      Anonymous is a plain vanilla daily driver with no plates and the VIN and serial numbers torched off and otherwise is moments away from getting the chop shop treatment. If you wipe the fingerprints off the controls, I think it would be quite a challenge to figure out who owns it.

      Pseudonymous is a rather "unique" customized car and no plates, like a race track car. Everyone trivially knows it on sight, but it

  • by Teppy ( 105859 ) on Monday July 25, 2011 @09:16AM (#36869794) Homepage
    The article does all sorts of graph theory visualizations about the well-known 25k BTC theft, tracking flows of Bitcoins from one address to another to prove Bitcoin is not anonymous.

    What they fail to do is identify the thief!

    Perhaps the margin of their paper was too small to include the thief's name.

    • by andrewd18 ( 989408 ) on Monday July 25, 2011 @09:43AM (#36870104)
      From the comments in TFA, as written by one of the authors:

      We don't set out to to de-anonymise the thief - we are researchers, not law enforcement, and we are just using that as an example to show its possible to trace the flow of Bitcoins around the network.

      It is possible to use Bitcoin in a way that is almost certainly anonymous, in the same way it is possible to get almost certain anonymity on the Internet, by using encryption, onion routing, and never associating your identity with your actions.

      Our point is that you don't get this anonymity automatically, and that most casual users of Bitcoin may not be anonymous, even though many of them may believe they are.

      The system looks more anonymous than it is.

      This, of course, is something we've already discussed ad nauseum here. :)

    • Also, suppose they do trace back to the thief. Isn't it possible that they just find an identity or address which is itself anonymous? I mean, a lot of this stuff goes over my head, but can't you actually create an anonymous identity, and then have the identity do the actual bitcoin transactions?
  • First of all, absolutely no service is anonymous, you are just trusting different entities with the information. Some people say bitcoin is anonymous because it doesn't require state ID and a signature to send money, which is a fine definition. Identities can trivially be created or destroyed in bitcoin, and if someone is careful, then it can be very hard to prove who controls which identity. I find it funny that the whole premise of the article is that it's not anonymous, and for their case study they p

  • That bastard 15iUDqk6nLmav3B1xUHPQivDpfMruVsu9f !! Call the cops! :v/

    This is the perfect example of the self-perpetuating machine that IS modern, academic research-grant grabbing.. ;)


  • So, while most comments so far seem to suggest that most of Slashdot doesn't want to hear about Bitcoin, I'm posting in the hopes that one or two people here actually understand how it works.

    The network is imperfect in the sense that there is, at the moment, a one-to-one mapping between users and public-keys.

    This strikes me as entirely fucking wrong. There is a one-to-many mapping here -- while one key belongs to one user, a user can (and should) have many keys.

    Or is it that they're admitting that they make this assumption?

    Also, this:

    The presence of a Bitcoin mining pool (a large red vertex) and a number of public-keys between it and WikiLeaks' public-key is interesting.

    Not really. I'd guess most Bitcoins now are originally mined in a mining pool. The number o

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