A rumor has recently been spreading through cryptocurrency circles online that the creator(s) of Bitcoin included a kill switch. It’s certainly something to think about but there is a lot of uncertainty. For one thing, while the story has only blown up in the last few days, the quote has been around for a while.
Where Did the Rumor Come from?
The first area of uncertainty comes from the cited quote. The quote reads
Imagine if gold turned to lead when stolen, if the thief gives it back, it turns to gold again. The quote was posted on Twitter by “Satoshi Nakamoto Bot”, a bot that auto-posts quotes by Nakamoto.
The bot seems to be auto-posting from a library of Nakamoto quotes. The quote above was most recently posted earlier this week. However, the bot has actually posted it a few times before, seemingly without notice.
Who Can We Ask about it?
An additional layer of uncertainty comes from the fact that no one can simply ask Nakamoto about the quote. That’s because we don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto really is. The name is a pen-name used by the creator (or creators) of Bitcoin.
Articles posted about the kill switch theory point out the cryptic nature of the wording. However, most of the posts have that quality. Most are just passing comments about the nature of Bitcoin and currency in general. Something foreboding could be taken from many of them. One reads
Free transactions are nice and we can keep it that way if people don’t abuse them.
So who might know more about the quote?
We can’t ask the bot, but the bot is run by Twitter user Videah. We reached out to the Twitter user from Scotland. He said that most of the quotes are mined from the Nakamoto Institute’s webpage but also directed us to the original thread.
What Else Do We Know?
The comes from a nine-year-old thread on Bitcointalk.org debating the game theory of escrow. It also appeared in a 2010 blog post on the Nakamoto Institute. The post is trying to determine whether money theft is better than money loss. After all, if money is stolen, it can still be used but if it is destroyed, it is gone forever.
The dialogue ends with the hypothetical situation,
Imagine if gold turned to lead when stolen, if the thief gives it back, it turns to gold again. The post actually uses the term
kill switch to describe an action that an owner could take to
deactivate stolen cryptocurrency.
You can’t get it back, but if you could, if it had a kill switch that could be remote triggered, would you do it? asks the post.
Would it be a good thing for thieves to know that everything you own has a kill switch and if they steal it, it’ll be useless to them, although you still lose it too? If they give it back, you can reactivate it.
In the end, the hypothetical kill switch may incentivize users to be honest with one another.
Did Nakamoto put a secret kill switch in Bitcoin? If so, why doesn’t anyone know about it? Is it too late for Nakamoto to announce the switch? How would that change Bitcoin?
Maybe these are the questions we need to ask. Maybe, as Nakamoto once said,
It seems like you’re inclined to assume everything is wrong more than is actually so.