Crypto analytics platform Arkham is in the midst of a public-relations firestorm this week, with a vocal contingent of the crypto community expressing outrage on Twitter over a program unveiled Monday that incentivizes people to reveal the identities behind otherwise anonymous or pseudonymous blockchain addresses.
During a Twitter Spaces on Tuesday, Arkham CEO Miguel Morel batted back at critics, arguing that a lack of privacy is inherent to how most blockchains operate today.
“Publicly available blockchains are probably the worst possible way of keeping one's private information private,” Morel said on the space, which was hosted by Twitter personality Mario Nawfal. “You are literally making transactions which you are broadcasting to a decentralized network of millions of people, all of whom can look on-chain in order to see which transactions are being broadcast.”
Arkham’s program, which critics sarcastically termed, “DOX-to-Earn,” will allow anyone to set “bounties” – rewards for people who can uncover and share the identities behind a given crypto address.
Currently a free platform, Arkham markets the bounty program as a way for traders to gather financial data. The firm has also said that the bounties might be used to root out perpetrators behind crypto thefts and exploits.
Privacy and blockchains
Privacy is frequently cited as a core principle within the blockchain community, and privacy advocates like Edward Snowden have gone so far as to promote projects like Zcash that let users make anonymous financial transactions.
When Arkham announced its new bounty program and changed its tagline to, “Deanonymizing The Blockchain,” the company – perhaps purposely – ruffled some feathers.
In responding to the backlash, Morel pointed to the widely-held misperception that all blockchains are inherently private. Not only is this untrue, but – as the Arkham CEO points out – privacy is, in reality, a core weakness of blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum as they’re typically used today.
Unless people use a mixer program like Tornado Cash – the Ethereum-based transaction-anonymizing service that’s been blacklisted by the U.S. government – the wallet addresses associated with a crypto transaction can be viewed by anyone with an internet connection.
“Speed, ease of use, actually owning your own assets, being able to make cross-border payments instantly – these are all amazing reasons for using cryptocurrency,” said Morel. “Trying to be completely anonymous is not one, and this is something that, you know, many people do not understand.“
Making money off of information
Not everyone on Tuesday’s Twitter space was swayed by Morel’s blockchain privacy defense. A common criticism levied against Arkham on the Twitter space – and in the lead-up to it – was around how the platform would judge the accuracy or relevance of labels added to the platform. How would the platform prevent regular people from having their identities exposed? Especially troublesome would be misidentification.
Morel said Arkham would not allow all bounties or address labels onto its platform: “It’s not a completely free market. It’s not like anybody can, you know, post any piece of information.”
“The main customer of Arkham is traders. It's hedge funds. It's people making money off of information about who's buying and selling large positions of a particular token,” he said. “Nobody's going to be posting info about somebody's dog. Nobody cares, nor is it going to get approved.”
When asked to expand on the rules Arkham would use to guide its moderation decisions, Morel said: “We’re gonna explain everything and it’ll all be written out in the coming days.” He added that audience members can read Arkham’s whitepaper for initial details, and said his ultimate plan would be to “decentralize” bounty moderation decisions to a wider community.
Ran Neuner, a crypto commentator and TV host, was among the most critical participants in Arkham’s Twitter discussion. “My issue is not with the system. My issue is with your company managing the data,” he told the Arkham CEO.
Arkham, which has been live for less than a year, has already been at the center of multiple controversies. In conjunction with this week's blowback, the company was accused of leaking user email addresses.
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