How a Few Files Could Endanger All of Bitcoin

Study suggests child porn-related content in blockchain could make it illegal to possess
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 21, 2018 7:47 AM CDT
In this April 3, 2013 photo, Mike Caldwell, a 35-year-old software engineer, holds a 25 Bitcoin token at his shop in Sandy, Utah.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(Newser) – For anyone who carefully tracks bitcoin, Tuesday brought the good with the bad. On a positive note, the cryptocurrency's value topped $9,000, up from a weekend low of $7,335, reports CNBC. On a more dour note comes the news that child abuse photos are lurking within its blockchain. The Guardian offers a primer on the technology: The blockchain is the open-source ledger that keeps track of every bitcoin trade; it has the ability to store additional data, say, a note or file on what the transaction was for. Fortune says "benign" messages are also present, and it gives the example of a Nelson Mandela tribute (indeed, the study found six wedding-related images). But German researchers discovered there are more than financial notes and sweet memories being parked within the blockchain.

They looked at the 1,600 files that have been uploaded to it and found eight were sexual in nature. One they suspect may depict child abuse; two compiled 247 links to child abuse content (Fortune reports such links were identified as far back as 2013, but this is "perhaps the first time" such content has been quantified). And that "endangers the multi-billion dollar markets powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin," say the researchers. Their reasoning is simple: If bitcoin contains content that is illegal to possess, then it's possible that downloading and storing the bitcoin's blockchain is "illegal to possess for all users." But Fortune reports people don't seem spooked: It notes bitcoin hit $9,000 as the reports on the study were coming out. (Read about an "intensifying guerilla warfare" over bitcoin.)

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