Apple vs Dash: The Importance of Privacy

Cryptocurrencies have been called the “Internet of Money,” but they are also the Internet’s money. Cryptocurrencies live and breath on the Internet; they cannot function without it. Now, being on the Internet means being on mobile devices and, in fact, without mobile devices, cryptocurrencies would have limited usage. No one is going to lug his PC or laptop to the coffee shop for some morning java. This makes mobile wallets essential to the growth of a cryptocurrency.

Fortunately, over the years many Bitcoin mobile wallets have been introduced, such as BreadWallet, Mycelium, and Jaxx. Android wallets came first, because initially Apple didn’t approve Bitcoin wallets in its App Store. Eventually Apple relented, and now its App Store hosts Bitcoin wallets as well as wallets for other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dogecoin.

Dash’s Winding Path to Apple Approval

However, Apple has resisted approving a wallet for one of the top cryptocurrencies by market-cap, Dash, the privacy-centric cryptocurrency. Initially the Dash core team submitted a wallet that was a fork of the already-accepted BreadWallet. However, Apple has repeatedly rejected this wallet, with no reason given. Considering the submitted wallet is practically identical to an already-approved wallet other than its use of a different cryptocurrency, one must surmise that Apple has an issue with Dash itself.

Next, Dash’s problems appearing on the Apple App Store took a strange turn. The multi-cryptocurrency wallet Jaxx added Dash support to its previously-approved App. Jaxx’s wallet already supported Bitcoin, Ethereum, and The DAO. Dash became just another tab in its interface. But shortly after the updated wallet made it to the App Store, Apple contacted the Jaxx developers and told them they had to remove the Dash functionality. Apple says it only approves wallets for a few cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Dogecoin, Ripple and The DAO. Some have speculated that Apple rejected Dash because of its privacy features, i.e. Dash’s ability to allow a user to obfuscate his transactions via its “PrivateSend” functionality.

Of course, Apple, as a private company, has every right to decide what apps it will allow on its store, just as users have every right to decide not to use Apple’s products if they don’t agree with those decisions. But the possibility that Dash’s privacy features are the basis for Apple’s decision points to something troubling.

The Fight Against Privacy

If true, Apple simply wants to avoid liability. For example, were a terrorist to use Dash on a Jaxx wallet to transmit funds that are then used to purchase a nuclear bomb that is detonated in orbit bringing the world into a post-apocalyptic shitstorm (or whatever), Apple would be liable in the Thunderdome courts of that dystopian future. I’m sure Apple’s lawyers (along with some nameless government bureaucrats) paint a slightly more realistic scenario, but you get the idea.

This type of fear and risk-avoidance is commonplace in our post-9/11 world, unfortunately. I’ve recently been reading Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, which details his experience as the journalist who first spoke with Edward Snowden and read the classified documents that Snowden released. He reveals that one of the key slogans of today’s NSA is “collect it all,” meaning that the NSA’s modern mission isn’t to simply monitor foreign communications for threats to America, but instead to collect all communications, everywhere. And they literally mean collect it all: from your personal emails and phone calls, to your bank transactions and web surfing habits. By collecting all communication activity, they believe they can better track potential threats to the homeland (I’ll skip for now a discussion of their ever-broadening definition of “threats”). In other words, the U.S. Government wishes to make privacy a thing of the past. This includes financial privacy. Most people don’t realize how much their regular financial transactions are already tracked. Banking institutions in this country are required to report not just suspicious activity, but any activity over a certain dollar figure that flows through their banking systems.

Enter cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. When first introduced, Bitcoin had a reputation as an “anonymous” currency, meaning you could use it online without the possibility of transactions being traced back to you. Its use on the Darknet solidified that reputation, and also made it a target for federal regulators and three-letter organizations like the NSA and CIA. However, over time people realized that Bitcoin was not truly anonymous. Further, many Bitcoin companies decided to cooperate with regulators and follow the same reporting rules as banking institutions. In a sense, Bitcoin became respectable. By doing so, it gained acceptance by corporate behemoths like Apple.

Nothing to Hide

Another result of Bitcoin’s lack of true anonymity was the rise of alternative cryptocurrencies that emphasize privacy. One of the first was Dash, originally called “Darkcoin.” Since its inception in early 2014, Dash has been privacy-centric, although it has also incorporated a whole host of other features in its drive to be true “digital cash.” It is this privacy that makes it more like cash, but it also makes it more suspicious in the eyes of many officials. After all, anyone who wants to conceal something must be doing something wrong, correct?

Not at all. We all hide activities in our lives that are not necessarily illegal or immoral. After all, we don’t keep our curtains pulled back and doors open at all times in our houses. We don’t want our email made public to the world. Excepting perhaps the pathologically exhibitionist, all of us desire some level of privacy. Not because we are doing anything wrong, but simply because we want freedom to be ourselves without the constraints of observation.

But what about financial transactions? Should they be private as well? Again, a person doesn’t have to be doing anything wrong to desire the privacy of his transactions. A company, for example, might not want its competitors to know where all its money is being spent. An individual might not want all her friends and acquaintances to know that she is currently getting a particular medical treatment. Heck, it could be as innocent as not wanting your friends to know that you bought that latest Adele album! There are a whole host of legitimate reasons to hide one’s financial transactions.

Privacy is important for another reason as well: what is considered “legitimate” can differ from culture to culture, nation to nation, and even within a nation over time. Someone living in a nation such as Saudi Arabia might not want it known that she recently purchased a Bible. Buying a Bible in America is “legitimate,” but that’s not true everywhere. The ability to spend money in a secure, private manner is essential to the flourishing of freedom.

1984: Back to the Future?

In 1984, George Orwell paints a horrifying picture of a society under constant surveillance. No one has privacy in any aspect of their lives, which means no one has freedom either. Unfortunately, many officials today see 1984 as a utopian novel. The ability to track every citizen’s every activity is the ultimate goal. In such an environment, it’s easy to understand why Apple would be hesitant to support a financial currency that goes against that ethos. No corporation wants to get on the bad side of a powerful government. The only way to change this attitude is for people to demand privacy in financial and other matters. They can demand this by purchasing and using devices and software that support privacy such as Dash. Instead of thinking, “I don’t do anything wrong, what do I have to hide?” we need to think, “I don’t do anything wrong, so the government has no right to violate my privacy.” Perhaps then Apple will be pressured to accept privacy-centric cryptocurrencies like Dash.