The New York TimesThe New York Times

How Anonymous Is Bitcoin, Really?

By Siobhan Roberts

07 Jun 2022 · 9 min read

Editor's Note

This piece from The New York Times argues that encrypted data, such as crypto, once made public cannot stay private forever. What does this say for the future of cryptocurrency?

Alyssa Blackburn, a data scientist at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has spent several years performing digital detective work with her trusty lab assistant, Hail Mary, a shiny black computer with orange trim. She has been collecting and analyzing leaks from the bitcoin blockchain, the immutable public ledger that has recorded all transactions since the cryptocurrency’s launch in January 2009.

Bitcoin represents a techno-utopian dream. Satoshi Nakamoto, its pseudonymous inventor, proposed that the world run not on centralized financial institutions but on an egalitarian, math-based electronic money system distributed through a computer network. And the system would be “trustless” — that is, it would not rely on a trusted party, such as a bank or government, to arbitrate transactions. Rather, as Satoshi Nakamoto wrote in a 2008 white paper, the system would be anchored in “cryptographic proof instead of trust.” Or, as T-shirts proclaim: “In Code We Trust.”

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