If you go on Twitter and look for the #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain, you will find many disillusioned cryptocurrency enthusiasts who condemn the expansion decisions of industry giant Coinbase. More specifically, it’s due to the acquisition of shady (and historically unethical and malevolent) cyber security company Neutrino, which has deep roots in the Hacking Team project.
Until the second half of 2017, cryptocurrenct exchange Coinbase was considered to be among the most honest and trusty players on the market. Thanks to its friendliness to newbies, ease to purchase BTC, and solid security, it has earned a good reputation among cryptocurrency community members. Furthermore, the company’s lost conservatism and focus on time-tested and legitimate projects used to be a big attraction for bitcoiners.
Now that the magic is lost due to questionable new listings, accusations of insider trading, and an unpredictable approach to the selection process, it was only a matter of time and a series of bad decisions until users decided to shut down their accounts. Just like Facebook users have decided to leave the social media platform in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Coinbase customers are deleting their accounts as a way of protesting against the direction in which the cryptocurrency exchange is going.
— Ben Carman (@benthecarman) February 28, 2019
Neutrino, Hacking Team, and unethical human rights violations
If one scrutinizes Neutrino’s team members, they will find that CEO Giancarlo Russo, CTO Alberto Ornaghi, and executive Marco Valleri have all worked with the controversial Hacking Team. And a quick search engine input of the company’s name reveals a collaboration with governments with poor records of human rights application: Ethiopia, Bahrain, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.
Rapporteurs without Borders, a well-known group of freedom of speech and freedom of the press activists, have denounced Hacking Team as “enemies of the internet” since 2013, calling them “digital era mercenaries” who help reinforce political abuses and authoritarian regimes around the world.
The United Nations, through its Italian mission, has even demanded for more information in relation to the shady practices that Hacking Team has undergone in Sudan. Allegedly, the Italian hacking company has contravened the international agreement on weapon export prohibition by selling the “Remote Control System”.
- Read more: What’s behind the Coinbase executive exodus?
Consequently, in the fall of 2014, the Italian government has frozen all of Hacking Team’s exports, under concerns of human rights violations. However, due to strong lobby from investors which even included the regional government of Milan, the cybersecurity company was able to resume its shady practices.
In 2015, a large number of e-mails and internal documents of the Italian company has been published by WikiLeaks, further legitimizing and strengthening the concerns about human rights violations. After this scandal broke, Hacking Team has lost its license to sell spyware outside of the European Union, but special transactions could still be made under the stricter oversight of the Italian government.
In hindsight, this brief presentation might not sound too compelling. However, the actions of the people behind Hacking Team have led to the imprisonment, torture, and even death of human rights activists around the world. Helping oppressive regimes maintain their authority and legitimacy through advanced spying tools isn’t just unethical, undemocratic, and against the foreign policy of Italy and its allies: it’s a way of supporting crime and suppressing individual freedom.
Given the fact that key figures from Hacking Team are now executives in Neutrino should be worrisome. But the idea that Coinbase proudly welcomes these individuals in their family to do “blockchain intelligence” is just another sign that there is nothing cypherpunk about the crypto exchange.
Under these considerations, it makes a lot of sense for cryptocurrency enthusiasts who deem autonomy, agency, and sovereignty as supreme values to move away from Coinbase. Deleting the account is not just a sign of protecting oneself from the scrutiny of a shady organization, but also a way of showing concern for human rights violations worldwide.
Crypto Twitter reacts with the #DeleteCoinbase and #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain movements
The idea of liquidating the funds in order to delete the Coinbase account is pretty straight-forward and easily comprehensive: if you want to show that you care about human right application and your own privacy, then it makes a lot of sense to run away from Neutrino’s scrutiny. Though Coinbase legitimizes the acquisition under considerations of “preventing theft of funds from peoples’ accounts, investigating ransomware attacks, and identifying bad actors”, the actions are both anti-cypherpunk and against the fundamental idea that Satoshi Nakamoto introduced with Bitcoin.
- Read more: Coinbase finds ETC double spend hack
And given the fact that one can’t delete a Coinbase account without removing all funds, a self-support movement called #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain (clearly inspired by Hodlonaut‘s successful #LNTrustChain Lightning initiative) has emerged on Twitter. Basically, by taking advantage of the quick and easy internal trading offered by Coinbase, the users are sending each other “the dust” (consisting of small amounts of cryptocurrencies that cannot be moved to wallets due to fees that exceed the holdings) to successfully liquidate their accounts and facilitate deletion.
Coinbase won’t let people close accounts with dust balances
Let’s fix it:
1. Tweet your dust balance with #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain
2. Someone replies with their coinbase email address (or DM)
3. Send your dust and close your account
4. They do the same
Who’s first? https://t.co/Lp139sn3Hi
— Udi Wertheimer (@udiWertheimer) February 27, 2019
Prominent bitcoiner Udi Wertheimer is among the most influential figures to endorse the movement and tweet about its rules, and can be credited for increasing the magnitude of this ethical boycott. Furthermore, CryptoTwitter character Buzz Lightyear has even offered to send 1000 satoshis via Lightning Network to anyone who joins the mass deletion movement and sends a proof.
Keep sending those proof of deletions, I'll be away for a small holidays but I'll make sure to send 1000sats to everyone deleting their accounts and making proof of it!
If you use tippin .me is easier bcs some invoices may expire. https://t.co/gPMfFaB9h9
— Buzz Lightyear [Bitcoin Colonialist] 24/7➞₿ (@JpintoPedro) March 1, 2019
As the phenomenon gets bigger, data analyst Geoff Goldberg has also taken his time to document the dynamics of the #DeleteCoinbase initiative, by highlighting the most significant figures and how the movement spread. It’s all represented in colourful and easily-comprehensive graphs that clearly reveal the biggest actors behind the hashtag.
— Geoff Golberg (@geoffgolberg) February 27, 2019
In the meantime, an increasing number of Coinbase users are looking for partners to collect their “dust” (quantified in negligible amounts of cryptocurrencies that stand in the way of account deactivation). They tweet using the popularized hashtag and wait their turns expecting to regain part of their freedom while also making a political statement.
.00000002 ETH somebody please take it #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain
— Price Smith (@PriceSmith8) February 28, 2019
Some might argue that this boycott movement is the culmination of many other events, including the various opinions that Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong has expressed throughout the years in relation to Bitcoin. More precisely, Mr. Armstrong has been a vocal supporter of Bitcoin XT, Bitcoin Classic, SegWit2X, and more recently Bitcoin Cash.
While Bitcoin is a natively cypherpunk invention whose decentralization and censorship resistance are paramount, Brian Armstrong has a record of supporting every fork that proposed a block size increase. Furthermore, the idea of hiring a team of hackers with a morally-questionable record in order to do “blockchain intelligence” and track transactions may have been too much for some privacy enthusiasts who most likely got into Bitcoin for the sovereignty and censorship resistance. If analyzed more thoroughly, the idea of “identifying bad actors” presented in Coinbase’s blog post directly implies policing and censorship.
@coinbase was my first entry to #Bitcoin in 2017. It was disappointing with the recent acquisition and non-transparency along the way. I have not been using it since mid 2018, with zero funds left – this toxic relationship has to end one way or another. #DeleteCoinbase pic.twitter.com/Tdy86oDs8P
— Saifuddin Jalil (@SaifuddinJalil) March 1, 2019
Requests for comment
Prior to publishing this article, three important actors have been contacted: the Coinbase press team, as well as influential bitcoiners Udi Wertheimer and Hodlonaut. If they choose to answer to the questions, updates will be made to ensure a proper representation of all opinions. Furthermore, an open call has been made to Twitter cryptocurrency enthusiasts who post under the #DeleteCoinbase and #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain hashtags.
Update 1: In order to address the situation and justify his involvement in the movement, bitcoiner Hodlonaut has sent the following comment.
The #DeleteCoinbase movement is a result of Coinbase having acted consistently adversarial to Bitcoin for years. Management talking down Bitcoin while posting shill-like articles for other projects like Ethereum. Being on the wrong side of every fight to keep Bitcoin decentralized. Enabling BCash by listing it immediately after their fork. The recent developments with adding bcash support in their wallet app, listing XRP and announcing cloud storage of your private keys (!) got people even more up in arms.
The last drop for many was them aquiring an outfit responsible for equipping the most opressive regimes on earth with surveillance/spyware tech. It is hard to imagine how they could possibly remove themselves further from the ethos of Bitcoin, and I expect many more accounts to be deleted going forward. – Hodlonaut
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