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Why Bitcoin’s Illicit Image is Temporary

Until fairly recently, most media attention on Bitcoin has centered around its use on the Dark Web, thefts/hacking/blackmail and generally painted a picture that it is somehow in itself illicit and ‘dirty money’.  Many well-educated people still believe those interested in Bitcoin must be involved in something of questionable morality.

Last week I was in a meeting with two developers discussing smartphone/laptop/camera recycling sites. Both individuals are technically capable and know what Bitcoin is … one even mined Litecoin back when it was profitable.  When I suggested creating a site in the UK to pay people Bitcoin for their recycled devices, the reply was that customers interested in receiving Bitcoin instead of Fiat currency were probably ‘the wrong type of customer’ and that we’d likely get a lot of stolen devices sent in.

This meeting roughly coincided with the publication of an article on Coindesk where Alasdair Rambaud, SVP for Cardinal Commerce said that “Everyone thinks Bitcoin is the currency of criminals“.

Cyber crime

It is pretty obvious that Bitcoin’s image problem is real among the mainstream but early adopters do not need to feel ashamed. Illicit use of new technology is pretty standard throughout history as criminals are often the most motivated to try new technology that may benefit them. Some examples:

Gangsters would buy the best weapons, the fastest cars, etc. to rob banks and/or escape law enforcement.

Criminals would use the first telegraphs / telephones to obtain information more quickly, enabling them to front-run, defraud, tip off, etc..

Banks have been used to launder money since they were first created.

Pagers only seemed to catch on with doctors and drug-dealers. Having more than one mobile phone was also once associated with drug dealing. The use of ‘burner’ phones is still assumed to be motivated by something illicit.

The first software enabling credit cards to be taken securely over the Internet was made for porn sites. For a significant period of the Internet’s history, the overwhelming majority of eCommerce was porn-related. Not illegal, but some view it as of questionable morality.

The Internet created a whole new genre of ‘cyber crime’. Spam and viruses threatened to make e-mail less useful/desirable. Terrorists promote themselves on Twitter and Facebook.

None of the above resulted in a technology failing to become more mainstream. Perception of Bitcoin will change with time and growth in mainstream use. As law enforcement agencies become more savvy with the blockchain, criminals may start to avoid using Bitcoin and move to other more secretive cryptocurrencies … or simply go back to using cash, diamonds, weapons, etc. as their currency of choice!

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