Richard Stallman Criticizes Bitcoin, Touts a GNU Project Alternative

Richard Stallman doesn’t like bitcoin, and has never used it, reports CoinDesk: To Stallman, bitcoin isn’t suitable as a digital payment system. His biggest complaint: bitcoin’s poor privacy protections. He told CoinDesk, “What I’d really like is a way to make purchases anonymously from various kinds of stores, and unfortunately it wouldn’t be feasible for me with bitcoin.” Using a crypto exchange would allow that company and ultimately the government to identify him, he said…. Asked what he thought about so-called privacy coins, Stallman said he’d gotten an expert to assess their potential, and “for each one he would point out some serious problems, perhaps in its security or its scalability.” And speaking broadly, Stallman continued: “If bitcoin protected privacy, I’d probably have found a way to use it by now.”
Fortunately, Stallman’s GNU Project has a better answer: The GNU Project, which Stallman founded, is working on an alternative digital payments system called Taler, which is based on cryptography but is not — forgive the hair-splitting — a cryptocurrency. The Taler project’s maintainer Christian Grothoff told CoinDesk that the system is, rather, designed for a “post-blockchain” world…. It’s based on blind signatures, a cryptographic technique invented by David Chaum, whose DigiCash was among the first attempts at creating secure electronic money. Plus, Taler’s attempt to create a digital money that resists surveillance by governments and payments companies aligns it with many cryptocurrency projects.

Yet, Taler does not attempt to bypass centralized authority. Payments are processed by openly centralized “exchanges” rather than peer-to-peer networks of miners because, Grothoff said, such a system “would again enable dangerous, money laundering kind of practice.” Indeed, in a break with the anti-government ethos that has tended to characterize bitcoin and some of its peers, Taler’s design explicitly tries to block opportunities for tax evasion…. Privacy in the Taler system, then, is limited to users spending their digital cash. They are shielded from surveillance because, Grothoff said, “the exchange, when coins are being redeemed, cannot tell if it was customer A or customer B or customer C who received the coin, because they all look identical from the exchange. Nobody,” he added, “exactly knows who has how many tokens.” Merchants (or anyone) receiving payments, on the other hand, do so visibly and in the open, making it possible for governments to assess taxes on their income — not to mention harder for the recipients to participate in money laundering….

Currently, Taler is in talks with European banks to allow withdrawal into the Taler wallet and also re-deposit from the Taler system back into the traditional banking system.


“I wouldn’t want perfect privacy,” Stallman says in the interview, “because that would mean it would be impossible to investigate crimes at all. And that’s one of the jobs we need the state to do.”