By Staff writer:
Earlier this week The Guardian reported that researchers from RWTH Aachen University and Goethe University in Germany discovered that bitcoin’s blockchain contains files that store or link to child abuse imagery and child pornography. From the researchers abstract, “Our analysis shows that certain content, e.g., illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal.”
Anything that involves the abuse or exploitation of children is undoubtedly horrible. That’s probably the reason that the researchers latched on to an alarmist blanket categorization and appealed to emotion alleging that every single bitcoin node operator who downloaded the full blockchain since the content was added is effectively a child pornographer.
From their study, “Consequently, it would be illegal to participate in a blockchain-based system as soon as it contains illegal content. While this risk has previously been acknowledged, definitive answers require court rulings yet to come.”
The unfortunate aspect of this research is the ability for it to hinder the blockchain ecosystem. Blockchain technology has the potential to end global poverty. According to UNICEF, 1 billion children worldwide live in poverty. The irony is that by attempting to illustrate a possible flaw in bitcoin’s blockchain architecture (the ability to transmit questionable and/or illegal content) researchers might permanent negatively and adversely impact an emerging technology and decentralized system that has the capability of ending global poverty (which would positively impact 1 billion children worldwide). All because a handful of thousands of files embedded within the blockchain were found to contain illegal content, of which bitcoin miners running a full node would likely not even have the technical skills to extract.
In fact, we mentioned this research to a software engineer who has nearly two decades of enterprise-level experience, and the individual didn’t even realize that you could store content on bitcoin’s blockchain. To us, the researchers have affirmed that as a society we’re not really interested in ending global poverty. Many major corporations might have embraced social responsibility to the communities in which they operate by giving back time and resources, but academia is, as always, out of touch with the realities that lie beyond their ivory towers. We’ve never been more convinced that eliminating global poverty is probably not going to happen in our lifetimes.