[tor-talk] Gmail and Bitcoin? [OT]

Mike Hearn hearn at google.com
Mon Jan 14 17:52:30 UTC 2013

Feel free to CC me on such discussions, if you like. Google isn't
against Tor. We just wrestle with the same abuse issues every other
provider does.

As Mike Perry notes, targeted advertising doesn't actually know or
care about your real identity. It just wants to know that user 1234 is
more likely to click ad ABC than an DEF. And even for Google+, these
days you can register with a pseudonym if you want, there are policies
around proving that you really go by that pseudonym online so I don't
know how Tor-compatible it is, but the intention is there. The goal of
the "common names policy" (not actually a real names policy) is just
to ensure users don't sign up en-masse with names like PinkPony84 and
thus become a MySpace-style swamp of people who can't find or connect
with each other.

Anyway. As grarpamp notes, one of the problems with taking deposits is
suddenly you're taking payments and that comes with a host of
complicated accounting and legal issues. At least it does in the USA.
I was thinking lately about an alternative approach. Instead of
depositing some coins directly with the organization you want to
upload content to, you could establish a nym by making a non-trivial
sacrifice of coins to miner fees. By breaking up the sacrifice into
multiple payments spread over many sequential blocks you can put
together a proof of sacrifice that is hard to fake (eg, by mining your
own transactions). The coins aren't burned, they re-circulate into the

Once that proof is assembled, the hash of it can be your new nym, and
anyone who wants to accept it can verify the merkle branches included
in your proof up to their own copy of the block chain headers. If a
nym misbehaves, you can ban it/add it to a blacklist/etc. All the data
needed for a provider to calculate the size of the sacrifice is easily
included in the proof data.

If somebody wanted to actually pursue this idea, as I said before, I'd
do it by starting with MediaWiki. It's open source and widely used. If
you can make wiki-spamming hard you have a solid example of what other
service providers can do. You can use my own bitcoinj library to
implement it in a simple manner. If you ask on the bitcoinj mailing
list, or Bitcoin dev forums, I'll happily sketch out any design
details that are unclear.

Bitcoin and privacy is a complex topic perhaps best discussed in
another time and place. Whether it's strong enough will be something
each user has to judge for themselves, same as for Tor itself. Of
course, using Bitcoin does not exempt anyone from their jurisdictions
AML laws, and nothing stops a merchant demanding government issued ID
in order to trade with them.

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