Ethereum's Former CCO on How Bitcoin's Child Porn Affects YOU

Stephan Tual discusses the implications of the porn controversy and whether Bitcoin is illegal as a result

Leah Zitter
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Recently, German researchers found  that child pornographers had snuck about 274 links to child abuse content into the Bitcoin blockchain. Almost instantly, there was a furor with some Facebook users querying whether they were guilty because they owned child porn, which is illegal in 112 countries. After all, the code is hardwired into the immutable blockchain, which means you can’t get rid of it. Then again, the blockchain is downloaded by users, which means that Bitcoin investors own a piece of that code. That could be you.

As a worried person on Facebook wrote:

“Say goodbye to Bitcoin / blockchain. Contents in the ledger of transactions contain links or files of Child Porn which cannot be deleted. The system could be technically illegal now."

It’s ok, folks. Bitcoin porn is old hat.

Bitcoin Porn: 2013

Back in 2013, Bitcoin discussion boards lit up when someone discovered a malicious transmission filled with porn links hidden in the ledger that tracks Bitcoin transactions. On the one hand, the code was innocuous to most users. On the other hand, the porn link had rabbited into the system. What to do?

The Bitcoin community was divided. Some compared the code to graffiti and said it was inevitable that someone would eventually inject something unsavory into the ledger. Others were concerned that this was more than a small piece of graffiti we’re talking about and that continuous and pervasive injections of such code would damage Bitcoin itself. In a discussion thread on Hacker News, one commentator wrote: "This is actually a big issue. I don't think we should avoid it."

People have been sneaking messages into the ledger for years. Bitcoin’s creatorr snuck a note into the very first recorded transaction, and, in 2011, a hacker embedded a tribute to a recently deceased friend. Religious tracts and nonsense notes regularly burrow their way into the ledger. One of the most 'enlightening' pronouncements was: "I LIKE TURTLES." 

In 2013, it was one malicious transmission filled with porn links that set the Bitcoin community abuzz.

Now, we're looking at eight files of sexual content, including one thought to be an image of child abuse and two that contain 274 links to child abuse content.

Quite a different matter.

Here’s what Ethereum's co-founder and former CCO Stephan Tual thinks

Stephan Tual is an internationally recognized expert in smart contracts and decentralized blockchain applications. Tual founded Atlas Neue, a blockchain family office and Slock.it, a project at the intersection of IoT and blockchain. He is best known as the co-founder of Ethereum, the second largest blockchain after Bitcoin and every bit as famous.

The whole debate, Tual told me, on whether or not a Bitcoin investor shares Bitcoin's guilt can be boiled down to one word IANAL, which means "I am not a lawyer."

"It is important," Tual clarified, "for people to understand that this issue will affect them differently based on their jurisdictions. Not being a lawyer, I'm not in the position to give advice as to how they should react to this. All I can do as a scientist is raise the alarm and to let people choose their own course of action.

"The main thing Blockchain afficionados should know is that in this case, the data is not encrypted, so there's no need to 'make an effort to decrypt it.' On the contrary, this would only lead to a legal can of worms for anyone who has ever downloaded the full Bitcoin blockchain.

"Both well meaning and malicious parties can easily encode arbitrary data, including both useful information and dangerous materials, by simply adding information to a data field as part of their Bitcoin transaction. Usually reserved for amusing comments or for 'thank you' messages, this process has been abused in the past by entities intent on 'poisoning the well'

"Some of those who 'poison the wells' encode - note they don't encrypt - child pornography and other illegal materials into the public Bitcoin blockchain. "Google," Tual added, "probably has an internal index of a myriad of similarly 'dodgy' links. The question then becomes: Is owning a link to something that is illegal, illegal?" After all, you, simply, happen to have the controversial link. No one forces you to click on it. "On the other hand, the malicious data is located on their servers, since blockchain data is held on every computer that holds a full copy of the Bitcoin blockchain. It's, therefore, fair to say that many users will be very uncomfortable armed with that knowledge, and may have to reconsider storing the Bitcoin blockchain.

"In other words, you may feel uncomfortable possessing the illegal content. It may not, necessarily, make you guilty. Then again," repeats Tual, "IANL. I am not a lawyer."

Back in 2013, when Bitcoin was driving itself crazy over its porn find, a spokesman of the U.S. Justice Department referred CNNMoney to the wording of the law, which states that owning these links becomes a crime only when a person "knowingly possesses, or knowingly accesses with intent to view" child porn.

So, if you own Bitcoin, do you own chid porn?

Tual says IANL.

Make your own decision.