President Biden’s Alleged Venmo Account Was Found in Less Than 10 Minutes and Then Promptly Disappeared

Illustration for article titled President Biden’s Alleged Venmo Account Was Found in Less Than 10 Minutes and Then Promptly Disappeared

Photo: Patrick Semansky (AP)

It all started with a passing mention. On Friday, the New York Times published a feature story about what life was like in President Joe Biden’s White House. In the feature, the outlet noted that Biden had sent his grandchildren money using Venmo, which prompted an inquisitive “Oh?” from yours truly. I wasn’t the only one intrigued, though. That same day, folks at Buzzfeed News reportedly found the president’s Venmo account.

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According to Buzzfeed’s fascinating account, which you can read in full here, it took less than 10 minutes to find Biden’s purported account on Venmo using the app’s search tool and public friends feature. The outlet also found what appeared to be accounts for almost a dozen members of the Biden family, including First Lady Jill Biden, as well as senior White House officials and their respective contacts on the app.

The incident set off alarm bells in the digital security community and put one of Venmo’s most criticized features, its public friend list, in the spotlight. Venmo, which is owned by PayPal, does not allow users to make their friend list private. In fact, Buzzfeed said that it was able to easily verify Biden’s account by looking at the people he was connected to, such as Jill Biden.

The president had less than 10 friends on the app, the outlet found. In comparison, the first lady’s account had a number of friends, including aides, Biden staffers, family members, and an account that appeared to belong to Hunter Biden, the president’s son. And while having a public friend list may not seem like a big deal to some, experts say it can enable stalking, harassment, spying, and deception.

After Buzzfeed reached out to the White House for its story, Biden’s connections on his public friend list were eliminated (the app allows you to remove friends by unfriending them manually). By the end of Friday, Buzzfeed reported that the accounts linked to the president and Jill Biden had disappeared.

The outlet did not reveal the usernames for the accounts believed to belong to Joe Biden, Jill Biden, the Biden family, and White House officials out of concerns over national security.

Gizmodo reached out to Venmo for a comment on the matter on Saturday. We asked Venmo whether it had specific security measures in place for high-profile individuals that use the app but did not receive a response.

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“The safety and privacy of all Venmo users and their information is always a top priority, and we take this responsibility very seriously,” Venmo said in a statement. “Customers always have the ability to make their transactions private and determine their own privacy settings in the app. We’re consistently evolving and strengthening the privacy measures for all Venmo users to continue to provide a safe, secure place to send and spend money.”

This isn’t a new problem. Venmo has been receiving criticism over its public friend list for years. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal asked it why users couldn’t make their lists private.

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“Because Venmo was designed for sharing experiences with your friends in today’s social world, we try to make it as easy as possible to connect with other Venmo users,” a spokeswoman said at that time.

Personally speaking, I pick safety over sharing experiences any day of the week. However, the bigger point here is one that we’ve been hearing a lot about lately: choice. Perhaps I don’t want to share my transactions or my friend list, but perhaps my neighbor does. We should be given the choice over whether to share—and be fully informed of the risks if we do—not be forced into doing so because Venmo was “designed” that way.

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As far as President Biden’s purported Venmo account goes, there’s no doubt that the president would rather not create a national security crisis when trying to send his grandchildren some spending money. While it’s clear the White House should have taken precautions and appropriate measures in this case, Venmo should have also made security a priority. It apparently didn’t.

Coinbase Says Screw It, We’ll Let You Buy Doge

Illustration for article titled Coinbase Says Screw It, We'll Let You Buy Doge

Illustration: Richard Drew (AP)

The cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase has caved. After a long silence to the hoards imploring the company to let them trade Dogecoin, they’ve decided to list the meme, adding a sheen of legitimacy to a cryptocurrency with limitless supply, which whales could squash with a whale-sized dump at any moment. On a call with investors on Thursday, CEO Brian Armstrong said that Coinbase aims to list it in six to eight weeks.

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The Doge fans have been wondering why Coinbase has been leaving money on the table. Doge now commands a heart-stopping trading volume and an equally terror-inducing current market cap of $72 billion—higher than 77 percent of companies listed on the S&P 500. Fees vary with flat rates for lower purchases, but Coinbase typically charges users a 1.49% fee on transactions made through your bank account. So if, say, Coinbase users bought $1 billion of Dogecoin and all HODLed, Coinbase would pocket $14.9 million. (This is if they don’t pay with a debit card or PayPal, in which case Coinbase gets 3.99% in a conversion fee.)

Armstrong didn’t stop at announcing Doge’s arrival on the platform. He added this wild forecast:

I think it’s going to be something, kind of, like apps in the App Store or on the iPhone where there’s eventually millions of these assets created over time and so we’re putting a lot of work and thought into how do we accelerate our pace of asset addition, and one of those is Doge, as you mentioned, which has been getting a lot of attention recently.

Getting-a-lot-of-attention-recently: sort of like CDs, Smash Mouth tickets, the Gap, TRIMSPA, and people running “executive success programs.”

The idea that cryptocurrency will have long-term value mostly hinges, at least for some analysts, on the idea of scarcity, that Bitcoin will be useful outside of the currency exchange trade, and once all the Bitcoin has been mined, you want to be holding the Bitcoin when everybody who missed out needs Bitcoin. Doge is the equivalent of endlessly printing money, with a current tangible value resting on Elon Musk’s ability to keep upping the ante, which could escalate to a Doge-funded space station at the rate he’s going. WallStreetBets doesn’t even want people talking about it because the market is “small accounts and pump & dumps.”

Let’s get a second opinion. Adam Zadikoff, COO of the crypto wallet BRD, told CNBC the following:

My guess is that [the rally] won’t last, especially for something like dogecoin which was never meant to be a payment system or a store of value. Yes, you can make a quick buck if you time it right, but timing the market is a terrible thing to try to do. It does not work.

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Consider investing in Pokemon cards.

World’s Largest Crypto Trading Platform Under Investigation by DOJ and IRS: Report

Illustration for article titled World's Largest Crypto Trading Platform Under Investigation by DOJ and IRS: Report

Photo: Martin Bureau (Getty Images)

Binance, the world’s largest platform for buying and selling cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service, according to a new report from Bloomberg News.

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The U.S. government is reportedly interested in the ways that crypto is being used for money laundering and other illicit activities, but Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao suggested Bloomberg has the story all wrong in a tweet early Friday.

Without directly acknowledging the story, Zhao tweeted that Binance had “collaborated with law enforcement agencies to fight bad players,” but hinted the story had, “somehow made it look like a bad thing.”

It’s not clear if any work that Zhao suggests he’s doing with U.S. law enforcement agencies would necessarily mean Binance couldn’t be under investigation. To put it another way, it’s entirely possible that Binance could be working with American cops while still under investigation by the IRS and DOJ.

Binance is officially banned in the U.S. because it sells securities that aren’t registered with U.S. regulators and the company insists that it tries to block Americans from using the platform. But the only hindrance to Americans getting an account, as crypto news site the Block has pointed out in the past, is clicking a button to say you’re not an American. It’s a bit like a porn site that makes users click a button swearing they’re 18+.

Binance was founded in China but moved operations out of the country in 2017 after the CCP banned many facets of cryptocurrency trading. Binance reportedly has an office in Singapore, according to Bloomberg, but is now incorporated in the Cayman Islands, a British-controlled territory where many companies set up businesses, if only on paper, to avoid paying taxes.

“We take our legal obligations very seriously and engage with regulators and law enforcement in a collaborative fashion,” Binance said in a prepared statement online.

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“We have worked hard to build a robust compliance program that incorporates anti-money laundering principles and tools used by financial institutions to detect and address suspicious activity,” Binance continued. “We have a strong track record of assisting law enforcement agencies around the world, including in the United States.”

Tesla Says It Will No Longer Accept Bitcoin for Car Payments, Citing Fossil Fuel Concerns

Illustration for article titled Tesla Says It Will No Longer Accept Bitcoin for Car Payments, Citing Fossil Fuel Concerns

Photo: Dan Kitwood / Staff (Getty Images)

Tesla has “suspended vehicle purchases using bitcoin,” CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday night, allegedly out of concern over the “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for bitcoin mining.”

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In the statement, which quickly went viral, Musk said that while cryptocurrency is a “good idea on many levels,” the resource-intensive nature of Bitcoin mining — which frequently relies on dirty power sources like coal — has caused the company to hit pause on its role in future transactions.

“Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy,” Musk wrote. “We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction.”

The stress that Bitcoin mining has put on the planet has become undeniable in recent years as the amount of energy required to mine the cryptocurrency has soared. According to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, the currency’s energy use recently surpassed the annual footprint of Argentina. Around the world, countries are beginning to take note: In March, China’s Inner Mongolia province unveiled plans to halt all new bitcoin and other cryptocurrency mining ventures in order to reduce electricity consumption for its already beleaguered grid.

But long after the devastating environmental implications associated with Bitcoin became apparent, tech honchos like Musk and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey continued to praise it as an environmentally friendly boon to the future of renewable energy. On April 21 — just one day shy of Earth Day — Dorsey’s company, Square, released a white paper in conjunction with CEO Cathie Wood’s ARK Invest that made a convoluted argument for an ecosystem in which “solar/wind, batteries, and bitcoin mining co-exist to form a green grid that runs almost exclusively on renewable energy.” Dorsey retweeted the claims, and Musk simply replied, “True.”

So it’s odd, to say the least, that less than a month after touting Bitcoin’s green bonafides, Musk would be realigning his company’s balance sheets in the name of saving the environment from dirty, fossil fuel-boosting crypto. It’s certainly something that he himself has a vested interest in: In a February SEC filing, it was revealed that Tesla had bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin, and was mulling plans to invest in more crypto coins down the line.

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The prominent vote of confidence from Tesla sent share prices for the most popular cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Musk’s personal favorite, Dogecoin, skyrocketing at the time of the announcement. Then last week, after a cringeworthy Saturday Night Live appearance where Musk referred to Dogecoin as a “hustle,” prices abruptly dipped again, to the tune of about a third.

Whatever Musk’s intentions are, it’s at least abundantly clear by now that the system is rigged so that when he says jump, the stock prices jump — or vice-versa. Seems like my guy is anti–Italian American Wario-laughing all the way to the bank.

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If You Use Twitter’s New Tip Jar Feature, Make Sure You Don’t Accidentally Send People Your Address

Illustration for article titled If You Use Twitter's New Tip Jar Feature, Make Sure You Don't Accidentally Send People Your Address

Photo: Alastair Pike / AFP (Getty Images)

If you decide you’re game enough to use Twitter’s new feature to send strangers on the internet money, do your best not to accidentally send them your residential address, too.

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To explain, you may have heard something about “Tip Jar,” which the company soft launched Thursday, heralding it as a way “for people to send and receive tips.” The new feature, which is available via the mobile app on Android and iOS, allows users to send money to other accounts using a variety of third-parties. It’s very easy to operate: By clicking on a dollar bill icon next to a person’s username, you will be presented with a list of options for how to donate: Venmo, Cash App, Bandcamp, Patreon, PayPal, and so on. Choosing a payment option redirects you to the selected third-party’s platform to allow a transaction to occur. You’ll want to rush to do this as a way to…uh, reward good tweets? Yes, the point of the whole enterprise isn’t entirely clear, but do people really need a reason to throw more money around on the internet? Ostensibly Twitter is trying to become a bigger playground for creators and this will help with that.

Anyway, the Twit-Tips are currently undergoing a trial run, with a number of creators, journalists, and non-profits acting as guinea pigs that Twitter users can send money to, though allegedly the feature will soon have a wider release. Currently, it’s only available for people using Twitter in English.

As is usually the case with new things, users were quick to point out some stuff that wasn’t totally hunky dory. Rachel Tobac, a security professional, was playing around with the app when she noticed what initially seemed like a glaring security risk. Tobac discovered that if you specifically used PayPal to send someone a tip, you will also be sending them a fairly intimate detail: your home address. This doesn’t appear to be an issue for any of the other pay applications set up through Tip Jar.

In a Tweet shared by Tobac, an image of a receipt for the PayPal donation clearly shows the sender’s residential address.

“This is EXACTLY what I was concerned to test when Twitter announced Tip Jar. PayPal needs to make it crystal clear which data is given to money receivers and stop sharing that data, & Twitter needs to educate users who don’t realize what info tip receivers get when using PayPal,” Tobac tweeted.

Kayvon Beykpour, product lead at Twitter, quickly replied to her comments: “this is a good catch, thank you. we can’t control the revealing of the address on Paypal’s side but we will add a warning for people giving tips via Paypal so that they are aware of this.”

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However, it turns out this is not some sort of weird bug, it’s just a feature of how PayPal payments work. Specifically, there are two different modes by which payments can be made and received on PayPal accounts—one of which requires the disclosure of your address because it is pegged to “Goods and Services,” i.e., deliveries. So, we can surmise, Tobac was using this mode to send her tip. It is certainly something that customers should be aware of, said Tom Hunter, Senior Manager of Global Communications with PayPal, in an email. Hunter said:

When using PayPal to send and receive money, there are two options a customer can select before processing the payment on how that money is sent. “Goods and Services” is used to buy or pay for an item or service from someone and will automatically share the customer’s address with the recipient for the delivery of those goods and services. Customers can toggle within the payment flow to select “Friends and Family” which does not share the address with the recipient. This is the standard functionality of the PayPal app and we will work with Twitter closely to ensure user awareness.

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While this isn’t a glaring security risk, it is certainly a good thing for users to know about. Sending your address out willy nilly on the internet is generally frowned upon, but it seems fairly easy to avoid if you have a good understanding of PayPal’s functionality. Granted, if you’re willing to send someone you don’t really know a bunch of money, maybe you’re also willing to let them know where you live? I don’t know.

When reached by email, a Twitter spokesperson reiterated that they have no control over how PayPal works or whether or not users know how to use third-party accounts, but said that they were going to try to get the word out to users:

Tipping through Tip Jar takes place on the selected payment service app or website and as a result relies on the third-party service’s functionality. When tipping with Tip Jar, people are notified that they’re going to a separate app or website to send their tip, and that tipping on that third-party platform is subject to the platform’s terms. We’re updating our in-app notification and Help Center article to make it clearer that other platforms, per their terms, may share information about people sending tips to one another.

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Duly noted. Ultimately, it’s probably good that this whole little episode happened because it highlights some potential privacy hiccups for consumers when it comes to the new feature—something Twitter was likely testing for in the first place. Slow rollouts allow companies to discover stuff like this. Twitter said in its announcement that it is “always looking for feedback and ways to improve updates like Tip Jar – let us know what you think.” Looks like it got some.

New Bill Would Ban Bitcoin Mining Across New York State for Three Years

Illustration for article titled New Bill Would Ban Bitcoin Mining Across New York State for Three Years

Photo: Martin Bureau (Getty Images)

A new bill that hit the New York state senate on Monday is aiming to put a multi-year pause on crypto mining operations across the state until authorities can fully suss out what that mining is doing to the climate and local environment. Bill 6486 is being spearheaded by state Sen. Kevin Parker, who had previously sponsored other bills to help the state meet its climate goals.

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Bitcoin mining has come under increasing scrutiny for the staggering carbon footprint tied to electricity use to keep operations running 24/7. An analysis by Digiconomist puts the global mining footprint at around 53 megatons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to all of Sweden’s emissions. Upstate New York has recently become a hotbed of mining activity, and there could be more mines in the works.

While Parker’s bill will likely go through a few edits before it (hopefully) gets passed, in its current state, it would institute a three-year moratorium on mining operations. During that period, officials would try to measure the greenhouse gas emissions tied to mining as well as the impacts on local wildlife, water, and air quality. Per the bill, the results of that assessment would be publicly issued and be subject to a roughly four-month comment period. That would allow for public input as lawmakers weigh regulations, of which there are more than a few they could implement to crack down on bitcoin-related pollution.

Small upstate towns, notably Dresden and Alcoa, are where mining operations have taken hold in recent years. There, bitcoin-hungry profiteers have repurposed decrepit power plants that haunt these towns into crypto mining operations. In some cases, the plants provide some power to the grid while using the rest to run their mining operations. They’ve been turning profits for the plant’s new owners and raised more than a few eyebrows among environmental advocates.

Last month, Dresden’s Greenidge power plant announced plans to drastically expand its operation with four new single-story buildings, each planned to house nothing but the power-guzzling servers that this type of mining mandates, spread wall to wall. The owners plan to double its capacity by the end of the year, and boost the plant’s capacity to 500 megawatts by 2025.

The review process in the new bill would mirror what we saw in the state more than a decade ago around fracking, said Roger Downs, the conservation director for the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. Back in 2008, now-former Gov. David Paterson ordered an environmental review into the effects of fracking. What followed was a six-year window where groups on both sides argued the pros and the many, many cons, among them health hazards, rampant environmental damage, and irreversible wildlife harm. At the tail end of 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo formally banned the practice throughout the state, and that ban was codified into the state budget again last year. 

“In this case, it’s an objective study on all the impacts of cryptocurrency,” Downs said. “At the end, there’ll be recommendations on how the state should regulate it, or if the state should allow it at all.”

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Studies show that mining comes with a pretty hefty impact even as the bitcoin price keeps on surging. (And in fact, that may be one reason for the surge in carbon emissions as speculators jump into the market.) While the likes of Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk have falsely claimed bitcoin is good, actually, for the climate, the preponderance of evidence suggests otherwise.

Some regional governments have banned mining, notably Inner Mongolia, China, a hotbed for mining. Plattsburgh, New York became the first city in the state to ban mining back in 2018. But it’s not a coincidence that New York is suddenly becoming a bitcoin mining hotspot. Ironically, Downs pointed to the recently passed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act or CLCPA as one of the lynchpins for this new surge in activity across the state’s bitcoin enthusiasts.

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“With the new climate law, we’re clearly trending away from fossil fuel generation and trying to build renewables,” he said, pointing out that the final coal-powered plant in New York officially closed last year. “And we’ve had decades of losses in manufacturing capacity, so those big hulking power plants are no longer needed.”

Yet as the new bill points out, “[c]ryptocurrency mining threatens not only New York’s climate goals, under the CLCPA, but also global energy policy, such as the Paris Agreement.”

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The bitcoin boom is just the result of people “taking advantage” of what amounts to miles and miles of unused real estate, Downs went on. “And taking advantage of it for something that’s very carbon-intensive, but slips through the cracks in our regulations.”

Concept App That Pays You Bitcoin to Name-Drop Brands Is the Future and You Know It

Companies swear up and down that they aren’t using smartphone apps to eavesdrop on our conversations and serve up hyper-focused ads. But this distressing concept app called SayPal, which tips users in Bitcoin every time they mention a brand, demonstrates that it’s probably not going to be very long before that’s actually our hellish reality.

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The app is the brainchild of Matt Reed, a creative technologist at redpepper who was also responsible for the short-lived tool that would Rickroll Zoom meetings, as well as the Zoombot which let users create a digital twin that could attentively sit in on video calls on their behalf. This latest creation, SayPal, is a distressing sneak peek at our inevitable ad-saturated dystopia.

Whereas PayPal has users exchanging real money back and forth, SayPal instead deals with imaginary currencies like brand recognition and Bitcoin. The app uses voice recognition to monitor a user’s ongoing conversations, and when it detects specific brand keywords being mentioned, the user is rewarded through deposits to a Bitcoin Lightning wallet, which can later be transferred to an exchange or stored away.

The app’s biggest challenge isn’t convincing brands to go along with the idea, it’s distinguishing name-drops that naturally come up in conversation versus someone staring at their phone while they repeat the word “Supreme” for hours on end. Even if it filters out obvious attempts to game the app, there’s still going to be a lot of Tesla evangelists who will become overnight millionaires if ever given access to SayPal. That’s just the tip of iceberg as to why an idea like SayPal isn’t going to see the light of day anytime soon, but never say never.

UK Court Agrees to Hear Copyright Lawsuit Brought by Self-Proclaimed Bitcoin Inventor

Illustration for article titled UK Court Agrees to Hear Copyright Lawsuit Brought by Self-Proclaimed Bitcoin Inventor

Photo: Ina Fassbender (Getty Images)

Many people have claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous creator or creators behind the digital cryptocurrency bitcoin, over the years. Now London’s High Court has agreed to hear out one of the most vocal (and disputed) claimants to the pseudonym in a lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement, according to a Reuters report.

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Australian computer scientist Craig Wright, who claims to have developed the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, is reportedly suing the operator and publisher of the website bitcoin.org, which goes by the pseudonym Cobra. The defendant has not disclosed a name, identity, or address, according to court filings issued on Wednesday and reviewed by the outlet on Thursday.

When Wright was initially singled out as the supposed inventor of bitcoin in 2015, the news prompted widespread skepticism among security experts, several of whom went on to call it an elaborate hoax. Investigations throughout the years since have reportedly identified inconsistencies in Wright’s claims and debunked both his credentials and supporting evidence as fraudulent.

Wright, who resides in Britain, accuses Cobra of copyright infringement for controlling the bitcoin.org website and demands that the site remove bitcoin’s white paper, aka the 2008 document published by Nakamoto that originally outlined the technology behind the digital currency.

Cobra has previously dismissed Wright’s claims, calling them “without merit” in a blog published to bitcoin.org in January. In a Twitter message to Wright’s lawyers that same month, Cobra said Wright’s copyright claims “can be easily verified to be false” and pointed out that the website isn’t based in the UK, according to court filings reviewed by Reuters.

Cobra dismissed Wright’s claims once more in a statement to Reuters on Thursday:

“We’ve been threatened to take down the Bitcoin white paper by someone who obviously isn’t the inventor of Bitcoin (if he was, that would make him the 25th richest person in the world, which he obviously isn’t). Seems like he’s trying to abuse the UK courts to make them try to censor the white paper and harass small websites like us providing education content with his behaviour.”

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Whether Cobra will be forced to reveal their identity to defend themselves during this case remains unclear. As for Wright, his legal team seems confident in their chances.

“The case will turn on whether the court is satisfied that Dr. Wright did indeed author—and owns the copyright in—the White Paper and, therefore, that he is Satoshi Nakamoto,” Simon Cohen, who is representing Wright, told Reuters.

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Demand for bitcoin has increased dramatically in recent years, with several major financial institutions such as Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, and Square backing bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Last week, its value soared in the lead up to Coinbase’s direct listing, reaching a record high of nearly $65,000.

Jack and Elon Are Promoting Bitcoin on Earth Day for Some Reason (It Makes Them Richer)

Feel the clean bitcoin energy.

Feel the clean bitcoin energy.
Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP (Getty Images)

Earth Day is prime time for brands and people to promote their pre-existing products to the masses, swaddled up in a green package. So perhaps it’s no surprise that area shaman Jack Dorsey and meme enthusiast Elon Musk are pumping bitcoin, a cryptocurrency both men hold and that their respective companies invest heavily in, as environmentally friendly.

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Dorsey’s firm Square released a white paper on Wednesday (technically not Earth Day, but hey, it’s Earth Week now) in conjunction with ARK Invest “to argue for bitcoin as a key driver of renewable energy’s future.” Dorsey quote retweeted it, Musk replied with an endorsement, and the uncritical hype cycle was on. Cathie Wood, the CEO of ARK Invest who I have been informed is into a book supposedly penned by Jesus via auto writing, also hopped on the hype train by quote retweeting Dorsey. Choo choo!

The paper’s argument is that bitcoin mining uses a lot of energy, yes, but that’s good for renewable adoptions, actually. The paper points to a concept in the energy sector known as the “duck curve” where energy demand peaks in the mornings and especially evenings when people are home while renewable generation tends to peak during the day when the sun is shining. The resulting lines look like a duck.

The mismatch in supply and demand means battery storage is a primary solution to ensuring a world that runs on 100% renewable energy can keep up with demand. Batteries, of course, cost money. Their costs are falling and will keep falling tremendously this decade. But the white paper argues the world will never possibly be able to install enough batteries and keep costs low. The solution is, of course, bitcoin mining with rigs nibbling on what the paper somewhat grossly refers to as “whatever remains of the ‘duck’s belly.’” Basically, ARK Invest and Square are saying miners should pick over the carcass of the energy system and generate bitcoin revenue for operators.

Of course, there are a few rubs with this grisly plan. The first caveat the paper notes is that “it wouldn’t be entirely green from day one.” Indeed, renewables only power about a quarter of the grid globally (and the majority of that is hydropower, a source that doesn’t need much in the way of battery storage). So the idea of installing more mining rigs—which are designed to run 24/7 since going down means no profit—now just means they’d continue to be a huge source of emissions by using fossil fuel-generated power.

That also points to a fallacy around them scooping up excess power in the day and then just shutting off for the night. The whole point of running a mining rig is to make money. The best way to make money is to be permanently switched on trying to mine bitcoin. The idea that miners would somehow just nibble at the “duck’s belly” (ew, again, I’m sorry) and be content is not borne out by data.

Then there’s the issue mining supposedly solves. The idea that there are only two options—mine bitcoin or let the energy go to waste—is laughable. Once a bitcoin mining operation uses energy, that’s it. It’s gone. Rigs can’t magically spit it back out on the grid. Installing more batteries is one possible solution. So, too, is putting the energy generated to other uses. Why isn’t Dorsey hype on making cement or renewable hydrogen, technologies that have more widespread beneficial uses than bitcoin such as “building stuff?” Or what about charging EVs midday, energy that could actually be put back on the grid in the evening if needed to meet demand?

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The most comical part of this is Dorsey’s statement that “#bitcoin incentivizes renewable energy.” Bitcoin does absolutely nothing of the sort. If it did, the network would be migrating to places with the cleanest energy already. What bitcoin incentivizes is massive energy use, of any form, at the lowest cost possible. That’s why it’s shown up in coal-friendly provinces of China and in Iran after sanctions left that country with a glut of oil to burn. That’s why the mining network’s energy footprint is equivalent to the entire Netherlands, according to cryptocurrency monitoring site Digiconomist.

Look, I get it. Musk and Dorsey love bitcoin. It’s cool, it made them richer! Congrats to them and the owners of bitcoin and the people who love mining and all that. Maybe bitcoin bulls are right and it will one day be the currency the world runs on! But to try and pretend it’s anything other than a financially lucrative endeavor at this point, let alone one that could some lead to a clean energy revolution, is laughable.

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What incentivizes renewable energy are regulations that wind down the fossil fuel industry and public investments that help drop the cost of renewables and battery storage even further. The idea that bitcoin alone is the solution is akin to the NRA saying the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. This is not that hard, people.

Anyways, happy Earth Day or whatever.

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Jack Dorsey Claims Bitcoin ‘Incentivizes Renewable Energy’ Despite All Evidence to the Contrary

Feel the clean bitcoin energy.

Feel the clean bitcoin energy.
Photo: Greg Nash/Pool (AP)

Earth Day is prime time for brands and people to promote their pre-existing products to the masses, swaddled up in a green package. So perhaps it’s no surprise that area shaman Jack Dorsey and meme enthusiast Elon Musk are pumping bitcoin, a cryptocurrency both men hold and that their respective companies invest heavily in, as environmentally friendly.

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Dorsey’s firm Square released a white paper on Wednesday (technically not Earth Day, but hey, it’s Earth Week now) in conjunction with ARK Invest “to argue for bitcoin as a key driver of renewable energy’s future.” Dorsey quote retweeted it, Musk replied with an endorsement, and the uncritical hype cycle was on. Cathie Wood, the CEO of ARK Invest who I have been informed is into a book supposedly penned by Jesus via auto writing, also hopped on the hype train by quote retweeting Dorsey. Choo choo!

The paper’s argument is that bitcoin mining uses a lot of energy, yes, but that’s good for renewable adoptions, actually. The paper points to a concept in the energy sector known as the “duck curve” where energy demand peaks in the mornings and especially evenings when people are home while renewable generation tends to peak during the day when the sun is shining. The resulting lines look like a duck.

The mismatch in supply and demand means battery storage is a primary solution to ensuring a world that runs on 100% renewable energy can keep up with demand. Batteries, of course, cost money. Their costs are falling and will keep falling tremendously this decade. But the white paper argues the world will never possibly be able to install enough batteries and keep costs low. The solution is, of course, bitcoin mining with rigs nibbling on what the paper somewhat grossly refers to as “whatever remains of the ‘duck’s belly.’” Basically, ARK Invest and Square are saying miners should pick over the carcass of the energy system and generate bitcoin revenue for operators.

Of course, there are a few rubs with this grisly plan. The first caveat the paper notes is that “it wouldn’t be entirely green from day one.” Indeed, renewables only power about a quarter of the grid globally (and the majority of that is hydropower, a source that doesn’t need much in the way of battery storage). So the idea of installing more mining rigs—which are designed to run 24/7 since going down means no profit—now just means they’d continue to be a huge source of emissions by using fossil fuel-generated power.

That also points to a fallacy around them scooping up excess power in the day and then just shutting off for the night. The whole point of running a mining rig is to make money. The best way to make money is to be permanently switched on trying to mine bitcoin. The idea that miners would somehow just nibble at the “duck’s belly” (ew, again, I’m sorry) and be content is not borne out by data.

Then there’s the issue mining supposedly solves. The idea that there are only two options—mine bitcoin or let the energy go to waste—is laughable. Once a bitcoin mining operation uses energy, that’s it. It’s gone. Rigs can’t magically spit it back out on the grid. Installing more batteries is one possible solution. So, too, is putting the energy generated to other uses. Why isn’t Dorsey hype on making cement or renewable hydrogen, technologies that have more widespread beneficial uses than bitcoin such as “building stuff?” Or what about charging EVs midday, energy that could actually be put back on the grid in the evening if needed to meet demand?

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The most comical part of this is Dorsey’s statement that “#bitcoin incentivizes renewable energy.” Bitcoin does absolutely nothing of the sort. If it did, the network would be migrating to places with the cleanest energy already. What bitcoin incentivizes is massive energy use, of any form, at the lowest cost possible. That’s why it’s shown up in coal-friendly provinces of China and in Iran after sanctions left that country with a glut of oil to burn. That’s why the mining network’s energy footprint is equivalent to the entire Netherlands, according to cryptocurrency monitoring site Digiconomist.

Look, I get it. Musk and Dorsey love bitcoin. It’s cool, it made them richer! Congrats to them and the owners of bitcoin and the people who love mining and all that. Maybe bitcoin bulls are right and it will one day be the currency the world runs on! But to try and pretend it’s anything other than a financially lucrative endeavor at this point, let alone one that could some lead to a clean energy revolution, is laughable.

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What incentivizes renewable energy are regulations that wind down the fossil fuel industry and public investments that help drop the cost of renewables and battery storage even further. The idea that bitcoin alone is the solution is akin to the NRA saying the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. This is not that hard, people.

Anyways, happy Earth Day or whatever.

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