As Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!, among others, all winge about interference and surveillance by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) and the United Kingdom’s GCHQ, digital currencies such as Bitcoin are already way ahead of the internet giants.
When the Edward Snowden files first began to emerge earlier this year it quickly painted a picture of cooperation between the respective intelligence agencies and the internet companies, although the latter were at pains to emphasise cooperation only went so far and they did so grudgingly.
However, more recent revelations have shown even the likes of Google and Yahoo! have been deceived by the NSA as it intercepts data transmitted between the internet companies’ data centres without them knowing.
And so it appears Google and Yahoo! were victims as well as accessories to the NSA’s and GCHQ’s apparent wrongdoings.
Much of public opinion over the actions of the NSA and GCHQ has been split over whether the surveillance measures are an unacceptable breach of privacy or a necessary step to prevent terrorism, however the self-styled innovative leaders cannot afford to appear being outsmarted by bureaucrats in government agencies.
Marissa Meyer, Yahoo!’s chief executive officer (CEO), only announced this week they were working on encrypting users’ data as it travels between its data centres in a bid to combat government spies.
However Bitcoin, rightly or wrongly, is already proving the achilles heel of the authorities, with the FBI only scoring its first major victory when it arrested Ross William Ulbricht, seized his US$28 million Bitcoin horde and shut down his illegal marketplace Silk Road in October. Silk Road has since returned to operations and is again selling goods using Bitcoin.
To the core and from its beginnings, Bitcoin is designed to support anonymity – whether that be from the authorities, fellow traders or even friends and family.
Bitcoin never has, and probably never will, pander to requests by authorities or strike halfway deals as the above companies previously did.
The digital, borderless currency holds an advantage in the fact it is not a registered company itself and in effect simply exists in the cloud, supported by the growing number of traders and miners that use it.
Bitcoin is not answerable to anyone or anything, whereas Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft have taxes to pay, laws to abide by and lobbying to carry out.
What looks to set to ensue is a fierce tech-race between state-funded security experts and innovation staff at the world’s biggest web-based companies. Unfortunately for all the above, Bitcoin has already crossed the finish line.