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Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin Shifts Stance on Privacy

Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin Shifts Stance on Privacy

Vitalik Buterin’s privacy stance has shifted, proclaiming status as being “considerably more pro-privacy” than previous years.

Detailing the evolution of his mindset in a monologue on Reddit, the Ethereum founder outlined why he now believes “having some privacy is a good idea.”

These comments may not be aligned with his earlier position — dismissing the benefits of privacy technology for ordinary citizens. Explaining these thoughts, Buterin listed several interesting uses of the technology:

“To let them buy weed, put up beds so people can sleep over in offices, and otherwise circumvent silly regulations.”

Changing tack, the young Russian-Canadian cited three reasons for his paradigm shift — now highlighting the need for privacy “even in a hypothetical perfectly equal and fair society”:

Signaling, self-defense, and virtue

Buterin described how privacy technology could help rid humans of bias. In economic terms, ‘signalling’ describes the humane tendency of making decisions based on the arbitrary interpretation of signals such as an employer making a hiring decision based on a candidate’s affiliation with a top university.

Buterin explained:

“Basically, I see privacy as a way to prevent signalling concerns from encompassing all of our activity, and creating spheres where we are free to optimize for our own happiness and just our own happiness, and not what other people think about us.”

Pointing to the ability of “law-abiding” citizens to interfere with the lives of others, Buterin also described privacy technology as an “important self-defense tool”.

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Amid the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica debacle in which the absence of privacy technology may have swayed the outcome of a presidential election, Buterin’s comments might carry weight.

Buterin’s final example of the need for privacy, he explained consequences of social pressure — or what he describes as “a mechanism for influencing people’s behavior”.

Buterin: courting the idea of privacy?

Such comments may seem at odds with Ethereum’s position as a public, transparent blockchain that reveals information many would deem sensitive. In the context of blockchain technology, Buterin has been a historical advocate of privacy — perhaps just not its current manifestation.

In a 2016 post on the Ethereum blog, he notes:

“As seductive as a blockchain’s other advantages are, neither companies or individuals are particularly keen on publishing all of their information onto a public database that can be arbitrarily read without any restrictions by one’s own government, foreign governments, family members, coworkers and business competitors.”

As an advisor to Zcash — a pseudo-centralized privacy coin — Buterin openly praised the coin’s ability to preserve confidentiality, even describing decentralization as a “luxury”:

Buterin’s previous views may have reflected the peripheral status of blockchain — a time when decentralization was in its infancy.

When the technology is implemented en masse, however  where large-scale businesses and individuals demand confidentiality for mundane usage — the interests of Buterin will be one to follow.

Cover Photo by shotinraww on Unsplash

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Jonnie Emsley is a freelance writer and blockchain enthusiast based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Discovering new corners of Southeast Asia and emerging cryptocurrencies give him a buzz like none other.

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