JoinMarket Is About to Make Bitcoin Privacy More User-Friendly

Developers hope the forthcoming JoinMarket UI will give people an easier way to use CoinJoins to keep their Bitcoin transactions private.

AccessTimeIconFeb 25, 2022 at 9:37 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:07 p.m. UTC
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A new web user interface (UI) is under way for JoinMarket, an open-source Bitcoin privacy project that has been around since 2015.

Using Bitcoin normally isn't very private, unless you really know what you're doing. Once the JoinMarket UI is finished, developers hope it will give users an easier way to privatize their bitcoin.

The latest release of Bitcoin privacy software JoinMarket, released on Friday, was an important first step on the path toward a user-friendly privacy solution. Though it's notable that a user-friendly UI is in progress, the UI is not safe to use yet, and still needs developers to test it and work on it behind the scenes. "We consider it alpha software, so keep your expectations low," said Gigi, a developer who contributes to the JoinMarket UI and the author of the popular book about Bitcoin "21 Lessons."

Many developers see privacy as an important component of Bitcoin that needs improving.

"When the internet came around, privacy was an afterthought. Slowly and painfully, we, as a society, figured out that having all communications in plain text is a terrible idea. Freedom and human rights quickly fall to the wayside if everyone is surveilled at all times. The switch from HTTP to HTTPS took a long time. I hope that, in Bitcoin, a similar switch won't take as long," Gigi said.

Current limitations of CoinJoins

Since the Bitcoin blockchain is public for all to view, it's easy to see where bitcoins have come from if people don't take extra precautions. CoinJoins provide a way to mix bitcoins together with other people's bitcoins to make it harder to detect where the bitcoins originally came from.

Recent events, however, have called the effectiveness of CoinJoins into question. This week journalist Laura Shin claimed to have tracked down the famous DAO hacker with the help of the blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, which says it was able to track the hacker's funds, even though they were CoinJoined. However, Chainalysis would not specify whether this means they can break and track funds of any CoinJoin, or if they were able to track the hacker due to other messy privacy practices.

From a technical perspective, there is still much work to be done to ensure that CoinJoins can fulfill their promise to provide the level of security and privacy that bitcoiners are looking for. One area of concern has been making the process less complex and more accessible to the average user.

JoinMarket offers a unique way to make CoinJoins. This new web UI will make it easier for users to take advantage of JoinMarket, if they so choose.

So far, JoinMarket hasn't been particularly easy to use. The JoinMarket UI for node solution RaspiBlitz, for instance, requires some command-line know-how – which generally only developers know how to navigate. While there have been a couple of UIs along the way, this in-progress UI "will massively increase ease of use," JoinMarket's official Twitter account said.

"To have strong privacy guarantees in the open and transparent world of Bitcoin, special kinds of transactions have to be created. JoinMarket helps you to create these transactions in an easy and automated way," the app explains during its new user set up process

A decentralized, peer-to-peer CoinJoin market

The wallet apps Wasabi and Samourai provide other options for shielding a user's tracks with CoinJoins.

JoinMarket is more decentralized than other alternatives because it's peer-to-peer: It doesn't have a third-party known as a "coordinator" responsible for creating the CoinJoins. In Bitcoin techie lingo, JoinMarket has no "single point of failure." Rather, the JoinMarket software directly connects users who want to CoinJoin. It consists of "makers," the pool liquidity providers, who might take a fee for allowing others to use their bitcoins to scramble with other bitcoins, and "takers," who pay the fee in order to CoinJoin their bitcoin.

"Since JoinMarket is a peer-to-peer system, trusted third parties are eliminated from the get-go. This unique market-driven approach reduces counterparty risk to a minimum," the website explains.

Gigi is one developer working on the JoinMarket UI. "I like other projects as well, but JoinMarket doesn't get the love it deserves," he said. "Most people don't know about JoinMarket or don't know how to use it, even though it has been around for a long while. We hope to change that by – hopefully – making it a bit easier to use. If more people come into contact with JoinMarket because of the Web UI project, that's already a win in my book."

What's next for the JoinMarket UI

With the latest alpha version of the UI, it's possible to "one-click install" and test out the UI using Bitcoin node solutions Raspiblitz and Umbrel, Gigi said.

There's still a lot of work to be done before the UI will be usable. According to Gigi, the priority for now will be "testing, testing, testing," to make sure the UI works correctly. Then its developers will look into adding more features.

"It's very early days, and it will take a while until we have feature parity with the QT UI or with JoininBox," Gigi said. QT UI and JoininBox are the other user interfaces available for JoinMarket.

The loosely defined open source team is also looking for people to test the project and give feedback (such as in their Telegram channel).

"We'd love to hear from early users, so don't be afraid to reach out, report bugs, suggest features and join the discussion," Gigi said. Not to mention, since it's an open-source project, developers can submit code to hurry the UI along.


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Alyssa Hertig

Alyssa Hertig is a programmer and journalist specializing in Bitcoin and the Lightning Network. She's currently writing a book exploring the ins and outs of Bitcoin governance. Alyssa owns some BTC.

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