A non-techie’s impressions from the Bitcoin++ conference’s Online Privacy Edition in Mexico City.
Last weekend I attended the Bitcoin++ conference in Mexico City. It’s a conference for Bitcoin developers, and since I’m not a techie, I didn’t expect to understand much of the talks. But that’s okay – sometimes it’s interesting to know what you don’t know, and to hear what people are discussing who are deep into the nitty gritty details of Bitcoin.
This was the second edition of Bitcoin++, its first took place in Austin in June 2022. Its founder and creative head is Lisa Neigut, a Bitcoin and Lightning Network developer in her day job, a Bitcoin educator as her side hustle. Lisa is one of the few female software developers in the Bitcoin space, and a highly respected one. You should have seen her giving a talk about new developments of the Lighting Network, surrounded by about 70 mostly male developers, who are all experts in their fields. Nevertheless, everyone listened carefully to the insights she shared.
It was the first time the conference took place in Mexico (unless you consider Texas Northern Mexico). One of the visual stereotypes of Mexico is the mask that is used by its Lucha Libre wrestlers, and as the topic of this conference was privacy and a mask can be seen as metaphor for that, the organisers chose it as their main design element. We even received one in our conference bag!
Privacy is an important topic, and as you might know, Bitcoin is not anonymous. Although your identity is hidden behind cryptic addresses which look like bc1qnc38pzh3u8y29xc4vzqqd8wtk5rsf4c0u7hggs, under certain conditions it is possible to trace a Bitcoin transaction to its origins. As it is no one’s business to whom you send money or from where you receive it, this is certainly a downside of Bitcoin.
Most Bitcoiners have a libertarian or crypto-anarchist background. They don’t like governments to sneak into our private lives, and what could be more private than how much money we earn and how we spend it? That’s why many people work on improving Bitcoin to become more private.
The Lightning Network makes Bitcoin transactions not only faster and cheaper, but also more private. Through a process called Onion Routing, every node of the network only knows the previous and the next node through which the payment is routed, but neither the sender nor the receiver. This is a huge advantage of Lightning.
However, it is also important to protect normal onchain transactions, which is why Lisa has chosen it as the main topic. The most important procedure for this is called CoinJoin. Many of the talks and the closing panel revolved around it. Its basic idea is to combine many different Bitcoin transactions in such a way that it is impossible to know where the coins are coming from and where they are going.
There are many CoinJoin projects such as Wasabi, Samurai, Joinmarket or Vortex, and several of their developers were present at Bitcoin++. Although CoinJoin works quite well in many aspects, there is one big problem to be solved. Centralised exchanges such as Binance, OKX or Kraken may be required by the authorities to blacklist coins that went through a CoinJoin process. This will be no longer a problem when we don’t need to change Bitcoins into government shitcoins anymore, but for now blacklisting certain coins certainly is.
Adam Gibson from England, also known as Waxwing, aims to make it imposible to detect coins that went through a CoinJoin. “A CoinJoin is a political act”, he stated on the final panel. “As a freedom fighter you need to protect yourself against government surveillance by being invisible and not standing out from the crowd.”
So let’s hope that the developers come up with smart solutions to make Bitcoin more private!
It was very exciting to listen to many bright minds who are working on the future of Bitcoin. And we also had fun: after the first conference day we went to a real Lucha Libre in the Arena México to watch men in funny costumes and masks beating and kicking each other. After the second day we went to the Bitcoin Embassy Bar to celebrate its fourth anniversary.
If you are a software developer and want to learn more about Bitcoin, I highly recommend the next edition of Bitcoin++, which will take place in Austin (Texas) in April 2023.
By Aaron Koenig