Bitcoin has the potential to make a real difference for the four billion people who can’t trust their rulers or access the banking system, according to Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation and Guest Lecturer at Singularity University.
In an article for Time, he notes that Venezuelans are adopting and experimenting with the cryptocurrency to evade hyperinflation and strict financial controls. “Speculation, fraud, and greed in the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry have overshadowed the real, liberating potential of Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention. For people living under authoritarian governments, Bitcoin can be a valuable financial tool as a censorship-resistant medium of exchange.”
In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, Robert Mugabe printed endless amounts of cash and inflated the savings of his citizens into nothing, but his successors can’t print more Bitcoin. In China, Xi Jinping can track all of your transactions on Alipay and WePay, but he cannot orchestrate mass surveillance on all Bitcoin payments. In Russia, Vladimir Putin can target an NGO and freeze its bank account, but he can’t freeze its Bitcoin wallet.
The dark side
At the same time, however, the dark side of emerging technology needs to be addressed. “Regimes in Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia are trying to mutate and centralise Bitcoin’s concept of peer-to-peer digital money to create state-controlled cryptocurrencies like the Petro which could allow them to more effectively censor transactions, surveil user accounts, and evade sanctions,” Gladstein writes.
Ultimately, Bitcoin is still a nascent technology, and doesn’t offer cutting-edge usability, speed, or privacy. But engineers are constantly working on those attributes by building better apps and on-ramps, upgrading the base protocol, and creating new second layer technologies like the Lightning Network.
“In the same way that the mobile phone began as absurdly expensive, barely functional, and only available to the elite, Bitcoin continues to evolve and will become easier to use and more accessible for the masses in the future,” Gladstein argues.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author should not be considered as financial advice. We do not give advice on financial products.