Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

While Bitcoin is all the rage internationally, SA is no backwater when it comes to the Dark Web or cryptocurrencies.

Riccardo "Fluffypony" Spagni, an SA developer, was one of seven people who built Monero, a cryptocurrency much favoured by Dark Web markets, including AlphaBay.

It is seen as "more anonymous" than Bitcoin.

Monero, which uses a different technological standard to Bitcoin, boasts it is "secure, private and untraceable".

Spagni, who has a background in IT, told the Financial Mail that there are a lot of people like him who are building privacy technologies, believing in the "net-positive benefits" of stronger privacy.

"We don’t tell people how to use it or what it should be used for. What we believe is that privacy should be a fundamental human right," he says.

According to Spagni, technologies like Monero, Tor, I2P and the Dark Web itself exist not because some people want to facilitate drug abuse or crime, but because it is patronising to decide what is "morally acceptable" and what isn’t.

He says he is a strong believer in letting the law take its course — but that he isn’t a supporter of "passive surveillance", where a policeman can assume you are guilty because of something on your computer that may or may not be of your doing.

This seems a rather expedient argument, considering the allegation that paedophiles also use Monero as their preferred currency.

Challenged on this point, Spagni’s answer is that he can’t stop someone from adopting the currency.

"You can never tell somebody ‘sorry, you are not allowed to use Monero’, because they don’t need my permission to do so. We accept that any technology can be used for malicious purposes, [but] there is nothing you can do to stop [that]," he says.

One reason why Dark Net markets have adopted Monero, he says, is because Bitcoin is, in fact, traceable. If someone has a copy of the Bitcoin ledger — which you can get by joining the network — you can monitor all the transactions that take place.

From there, you can puzzle together connections.

"If I am in a forum and want someone to send me a tip in Bitcoin, I might make one of my Bitcoin addresses public.

"Because I have made it public someone can go and put a note and say this belongs to Riccardo and further transactions down the line that use that address can be linked to [me], and by filling enough of those boxes they could start to make connections between people and exchanges," says Spagni.

He adds that while Bitcoin is the most popular and widely accepted cryptocurrency, people wanted something more private – which is where Monero comes in.

Unlike most other cryptocurrencies, Monero isn’t a derivative of Bitcoin, but is based on a different protocol, called CryptoNote.

"If all seven members of the Monero core team died tomorrow, it would make no difference — the project would continue," says Spagni.

"I think that is quite a powerful thing, because it means you can’t stop it or shut it down."

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