It’s no secret that the bitcoin network has been heavily criticized for shortcomings both perceived and real regarding its application, use, and necessity. The network and its community still have much work ahead to prove lasting durability and practical usability. Although questions of scale and security are legitimate, the Human Rights Foundation’s (HRF) new grant program focusing on bitcoin development show that the censorship-resistant, unconfiscatable properties inherent to bitcoin have been recognized by the HRF as instrumental to the work of activists, journalists, NGOs, and citizens in politically repressed regimes across the globe.
[Ed note: Investing in cryptocoins or tokens is highly speculative and the market is largely unregulated. Anyone considering it should be prepared to lose their entire investment.]
In recognition of the foundational importance of bitcoin to the future of human rights work, the HRF announced the first grant under and launch of the Bitcoin Development Fund. According to a release by the HRF:
“An initial gift from the fund was given to Chris Belcher, a UK-based developer working on a technique called “CoinSwap” (originally invented in 2013 by Greg Maxwell) which helps defeat state and corporate financial surveillance by making it much harder for authorities to trace Bitcoin transactions. Previous to his work on CoinSwap, Belcher invented JoinMarket and Electrum Personal Server and wrote the authoritative Bitcoin Privacy guide. He is regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts in Bitcoin privacy.”
The HRF has been deeply involved in the topics of bitcoin and privacy for some time. Not only has chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein spoken about it in numerous podcasts, but the HRF also eats its own cooking, accepting bitcoin for donations since 2014. That’s OG status by almost any measure in crypto circles.
While cultivating development of privacy-focused tools for bitcoin is a noble pursuit, if the HRF hopes to see the kind of ubiquitous, user friendly, private, accessible, and reliable services in the bitcoin ecosystem that it needs, it’s going to take some time and more than the already generous initial $50,000 donation.
Although it is essentially impossible to derive an exact number of bitcoin users, the number of wallet addresses provides the widest net for measurement. According to economic statistics firm Statista, there were 47.14 million blockchain wallet users worldwide as of Q1 2020. Many users have multiple addresses, and many addresses are also abandoned. Even taking the raw wallet addresses number at face value, it’s clear that bitcoin could benefit from the development work being sponsored by the HRF in order to build a more robust community to better serve those who need bitcoin’s tech most.
Fortunately, this will hopefully be the first of many donations to come, as “The fund’s next gift, already earmarked for another developer working on strengthening Bitcoin pseudonymity at the network level, will be announced in the near future.” The more development work fostered by organizations like the HRF that are aligned with the core values inherent to bitcoin, the stronger the network can grow leading to more ways for activists and other stakeholders to receive donations, make payments for crucial services, and avoid tyranny and oppression wherever it rears its ugly head.
All too often, it is the volatile price of bitcoin that garners attention. What lies beneath though, and underpins the entire value of the network, is the crucial trifecta of immutable supply coupled with resistance to seizure and censorship by an authoritarian regime. What separates bitcoin so distinctly from any other loosely associated projects in the cryptocurrency space is its demonstrable decentralization and security. Bitcoin is arguably the only project that has mostly proven its security model to date. Work on privacy, however, remains very much ongoing.
The flip side of that decentralization is it of course does not spring from nowhere. But with no central authority, no committee, and no foundation, there have been common concerns over the years about whether bitcoin would be able to sustain the necessary pace of development. Seeing the proliferation of funds like the HRF’s Bitcoin Development Fund as well as other private sector efforts such as Square Crypto continue to prove that the community around bitcoin and the delicate balancing of cross-stakeholder demands it has fostered is a special type of fermentation rarely seen and most certainly to be paid attention to.
To that end, the HRF is taking donations for the fund at hrfdevfund.funraise.org. Any enterprising developers in the space who think that the work they are doing aligns with the mission of the fund can submit proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a time like this, it feels particularly apropos to take stock of the incredible progress of the bitcoin network since inception. Despite all the challenges faced, the network has a 100% uptime rate, is helping facilitate upwards of 300,000 transactions per day, and is holding a fluctuating but current market cap of approximately $173 billion. The great hope of bitcoin was that it’s decentralized properties would facilitate more just and equal access to inalienable rights like financial privacy and sovereignty. The focus of Alex Gladstein and the HRF show that hope may one day be more fully realized.
Disclaimer: Rory is an active trader and investor holding positions in several cryptocurrencies as well as equities and other private investments at any point.