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The Blockchain doesn't care about you

by Maya Middlemiss
by Maya Middlemiss

When you store your money in a bank account, you're a client of that bank, a valued customer.

Even if you benefit from 'free banking', the bank makes money providing that service to you by charging you for privileges like overdrafts and credit cards, and of course by lending the money you bank with them on the global markets.

When you set up the account with your bank you'll need to pass ID checks and a 'Know your customer' process, before they issue you with tools like debit and credit cards. And as part of their service to you they'll keep that ID secure against future need, including nowadays varying combinations of uniquely-identifiable biometric markers. If you lost everything - your passport, government ID, potentially even your memory - your bank would be there to help and reconnect you with your assets, even if it involved a certain amount of hassle and direct cost.

If your card gets stolen, if your email gets hacked - even if your laptop gets a keylogging virus or you end up entering your password on a phishing site - as a rule your bank has your back: you'll get your funds returned. Credit cards even protect you if a merchant goes bankrupt before delivering their end of the deal, and if the bank itself fails, there are protection schemes insuring you in most parts of the world.

Of course there's a trade-off for this, in that you sacrifice privacy and anonymity, in exchange for that security. Those accounts can be seized by the police, frozen by the tax authorities, or hacked by a malicious ex-bank employee. Things most normal law-abiding citizens don't worry about from day to day, but as long as that information is held about you centrally, it could end up in the wrong hands.

When you invest in and use cryptocurrency assets, it's totally different.

Whilst Bitcoin and many other tokens are not specifically designed for private transactions (in the way that Zcash and Monero are) and could theoretically be reverse-engineered to an end user, nothing actually connects that user with any particular private key. The very thing which protects your anonymity and confidentiality means that you have NO protection whatsoever, if your private key is lost, stolen or forgotten, it is GONE for good.

You are not a valued customer of the Blockchain, it won't invite you into a nice high-street shopfront to talk to an advisor, or give you a free pen.

You as an individual don't matter at all, only the private keys involved. They are used to verify the accounts, to verify transactions. You are the owner of that key as long as you safely keep hold of it and use it. We can't even say that 'you're just a number', because you as an individual matter less than that. The number is all there is.

Lose your wallet, forget your recovery key, and it's lost. There is nobody to appeal to, no manual review process, in a decentralised currency. And it's estimated that nearly 4 million bitcoins are indeed lost forever already.

So investing in cryptocurrency requires a mindset shift. Total accountability and responsibility lies with you, the user. Whether you are buying, selling, trading, HODLing or gifting crypto of any kind, nobody knows or cares, about you the human.

That gives you unprecedented freedom and independence in your transactions, safe from prying eyes of any kind. And indeed it's no wonder that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have been exploited by criminal elements from drug dealers to terrorists for this very reason. But it means that you as an individual are responsible for the lot, from declaring taxes due to securing your private keys, in a way which few of us are familiar with.

Remember, the blockchain on which your transactions are held is just a big old string of code. It doesn't know, doesn't care. It's totally incorruptible, irreversible - and it doesn't care about you.

But that thought should be liberating, not scary.