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Blockchain Spam and “GeoCoining”


We attended BitCon, the first major US Bitcoin Summit, in California. There was a full schedule of panels, presenters, and speakers discussing the future of the world’s most popular peer-to-peer digital currency. I attended with Bitcoin Not Bombs supporting representatives from Fr33 Aid, Anti War and the Free State Project who hosted a panel discussion on the advantages of Bitcoin to non­profit organizations. But I was particularly caught off guard by the regulation beggars at the conference.

I was particularly incensed by a nasty flag worshiper (The Israeli flag in this case) who, in condescending tones, was ridiculing the radicals who imagine that the advent of Bitcoin is a milestone in human freedom. To him Bitcoin is merely a new financial instrument to be mastered, and what we radicals fail to realize, according to him, is that governments are… get this… “dynamic and innovative.” We’ll see, I guess.

I met a pretty spectacular paranoid who was terrified that the government could go after any Bitcoin user because of child pornography in the blockchain. It’s funny really. Many have described the meteoric rise of Bitcoin like watching the entire economic history of the world in fast forward. Well, at times that means that common political and economic contradictions that normally appear far apart can end up in the same sentence. It was truly comical to hear the regulation beggars calling for State intervention specifically because they were afraid of State aggression, apparently unaware that they are the same thing.

The basic problem is that transactions don’t need to be directed at an existing Bitcoin address to get recorded in the blockchain. So, for a mere Satoshi (0.00000001 btc) you can enter up to 34 characters into the blockchain, as long as the characters could possibly be a valid address in the future. Someone apparently sent a series of bogus transactions that can be deciphered into links to some pretty nasty pictures. I didn’t actually go looking for them. I wouldn’t even know how. But the concept of data transmission in the blockchain is fascinating to me.

Most articles discussing this are about encrypted porn links, an ascii image of Ben Bernanke, and Wikileaks cables that are apparently already in the blockchain. But I don’t pretend to know how people actually do this. They say it’s some kind of “dummy transaction” which from what I can gather means sending some small amount to a dummy address, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it.

The blockchain is intended as a public ledger for confirming transactions, but transactions are just data. There’s nothing preventing people from using the blockchain to transmit, confirm and store other kinds of data… even EVIL data! Some people want a filter that can distinguish between financial transactions and other information, and some regulation beggars even want a filter to be State mandated. But inserting some kind of censorship protocol into the system is unlikely to be widely adopted. Even if it were State mandated, no State has jurisdiction in all regions where the network reaches. It would mean fork after fork as people adopted different filters, and it would become uncertain which Bitcoin transactions would pass the muster of any particular filter. In short, the end of Bitcoin.

I have a better idea. Let us accept that data transmission is a perfectly valid use of the Bitcoin blockchain. In fact, it may even provide that core use-value that some skeptics are searching for. Then, let us also affirm that the answer to offensive speech is more speech, not censorship. Suppose the blockchain was so full of chatter that the State could no more prosecute users for links to nasty pictures than it could prosecute Google for being a search engine. Suppose I wrote my personal memoirs 34 characters at a time and archived it in the blockchain for the duration. Why not? Who does it harm?

I’d rather go the other way with it. What if the Bitcoin network could evolve into something like the role of Mr. Universe in Serenity? Can’t stop the Signal!

So, maybe a memoir is a bad use of the blockchain. Even if it’s possible, that doesn’t make it a good idea. But I’ll tell you what could catch on: Casascius geocaching. Geocaching is a kind of global high-tech game of hide and seek. Participants use GPS devices or other navigational techniques to hide containers anywhere in the world, and players follow clues to find them. A typical cache contains a logbook (a public ledger) where players enter a code name and the date they found it. After a cache is found the player may put it back for the next person to find, hide it someplace else, or in some cases claim the treasure inside. Some caches contain small trinkets for players to take as prizes, and some even contain precious metals. But they are the most sought after, as you can imagine.

Seems like a natural fit to me. Both communities are global in scope. Both enjoy a pirate “treasure-hunting” aesthetic  Both communities are technologically savvy, and both rely on mobile devices to access their networks. So why not create a hybrid? Call it “Geocoining.” Bury a Casascius coin in the woods and hide the geocache clues in the blockchain. Sounds like great fun to me.

3 thoughts on “Blockchain Spam and “GeoCoining”

  1. So glad I found this blog.

  2. Did you hear about the ‘dust’ patch? You cant send that little any more!

  3. I have been thinking about doing a fork of the bitcoin code to create just such a decentralized database, but for general use.

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