Thoughts on being an anonymous Cardano Content Creator Ambassador

On January 31st, the Cardano Ambassador program was launched. With the program, the Cardano Foundation hopes to facilitate community building by acknowledging “very active community members for going above and beyond what a normal community member might do by offering regular, consistent and positive contributions to the project”. This includes roles for meetup organizers, forum moderators, content creators and translators. Based on my Medium posts on Cardano, such as my first general overview article, the article on Cardano’s nomenclature and the recent in-depth article on Cardano’s security model, I was selected for the Content Creator Ambassador role. Shortly after, a large discussion about anonymous profiles being selected as ambassadors arose. While I am not the only anonymous profile to be selected as an ambassador, due to attempts of doxxing me and my profile picture repeatedly being mentioned, even in relation to making “a mockery of Cardano”, I do tend to take some of these allegations personally. I already described why I am using an anonymous profile here, but in this article, I will also argue my stance on the topic of ambassador anonymity.

What’s the problem?

The arguments against an anonymous account being selected as a Cardano Ambassador were made in this thread. One of the more outspoken people on the topic has also reiterated his concerns here. I’ll attempt to summarize the perceived problems discussed in both threads:

  • For anonymous accounts, background checks to investigate any potential conflict of interest or prior activities that may cause reputational damage (e.g. participation in a terrorist group) are difficult, if not impossible.
  • Anonymous accounts tend to have meme-like profile pictures, like my picture of Curious George (a cartoon monkey that I selected because of the association between curiosity and research, as Belowsearcher is an intentionally bad translation for the Dutch word ‘onderzoeker’, referring to my profession as a (health) scientist). Some consider these not to be representative, or even to be making a mockery of Cardano.
  • Ambassadors are rumored to receive incentives in the future, in which case the Cardano Foundation may need to perform KYC for regulatory reasons.
  • While the Cardano Foundation’s definition of ambassador does not include any formal role, the name tag may be interpreted as such by others.

Counter-argument 1: Privacy is a core value of cryptography

One of the bedrock’s of the entire cryptocurrencies movement was the so called cypherpunk movement, consisting of “activists that advocate widespread use of strong cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies as a route to social and political change”. One of the founders of the movement was Eric Hughes, who published ‘A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto’ on March 9th, 1993. The first paragraph of the manifesto immediately sets the tone:

“Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.” — Eric Hughes, A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto, 1993

The rest of the manifesto continues to describe how cryptography is being utilized to aid the development of anonymous transaction systems. “An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.” In 1993, the worldwide web itself was only just beginning to become available to the masses and the implications of this on individuals’ privacy was grossly being undervalued. Still, Hughes’ manifesto drew attention, including him being featured with two other cypherpunks on the cover of the May/June 1993 edition of Wired.

Wired, May/June 1993 (source)

The introduction of the concept of Bitcoin on October 31st, 2008, was a direct response to the global financial crisis, but is also seen as a logical expression and continuation of the cypherpunk movement. The fact that its founder, Satoshi Nakamoto, was an anonymous figure itself, is quite revealing of that.

In the cryptocurrencies space, privacy is a feature, not a bug.

Counter-argument 2: Cardano will also include privacy features

Unlike Satoshi Nakamoto, Cardano’s developers aren’t anonymous. Actually, Input Output Hong Kong (IOHK) has been transparent due to regulatory compliance. That doesn’t mean the system will be pro-transparency too.

On the contrary. Anyone that has been following IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson over the past year or so knows how he feels about China’s social credit system, privacy policies and how cryptocurrencies relate to this.

IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson, 26–01–2018 (source)

To be a self-sovereign individual, a certain degree of privacy is a necessity. Clearly, if you have no problems with sharing your information, that is just fine too. The whole point of privacy is that transparency should be a choice, not a default. Let’s have a look at how these principles are applied in Cardano’s technology.

First, Cardano utilizes a similar ‘unspent transaction’ (UTxO) model as Bitcoin. In principle, the UTxO addresses themselves are private. However, the mere fact that most ADA markets in existence today is being bought at exchanges that verified the buyers’ identities due to Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) requirements due to regulatory compliance means most coins can be tracked to the original buyer. However, the emergence of Over The Counter (OTC) and peer-to-peer trading (e.g. like Localbitcoins or HodlHodl for Bitcoin), ADA ATM’s and actual spending of ADA are going to make this more complex already. For Bitcoin, techniques like CoinJoin (e.g. Wasabi Wallet) and Schnorr Signatures are helping improve it’s privacy. For Cardano, IOHK already published a paper on Ouroboros Crypsinous, with ‘Privacy-Preserving Proof-of-Stake’ and is studying Zk-SNARKS and Zerno Knowledge Proofs. It’s just a matter of time.

As for running a node or stake pool, this can be done anonymously as well. While some people may be more comfortable delegating to a stake pool that is transparent, technically all one has to do to register a stake pool is create a registration certificate and embed it in a transaction that pays the pool registration fees. As long as the address is anonymous, so is the stake pool owner. The only thing that people that need to have is the staking key of that pool. Similarly, the stake pool holder cannot track who delegated their stake to them, and in the envisioned on-chain governance, the entire voting process will be anonymized as well.

Since all essential components of the system such as transactions, stake pools, staking and voting can be utilized in an anonymous way, having anonymous ambassadors for the system shouldn’t be a problem either.

Counter-argument 3: Verification is likely possible in private too

This third argument will be quite straightforward, as it is more practical in nature. One of the arguments against having anonymous ambassadors was that the Cardano Foundation would need to be able to comply to KYC/AML laws, and thus be able to verify the account holder.

While this may seem to be easier for accounts with people using their real names, it is actually unknown whether these are their real names until they have been verified. It is easy to just make up a real-sounding name or even use someones name, profile pictures etc. — a phenomenon called catfishing. Complying to KYC/AML laws therefore has little to do with the actual profile information that is being publicly shared.

While I am no lawyer, let alone in Swiss law, I would therefore think it should be perfectly possible to do KYC on an anonymous account as well, as long as the account holder is open to sharing his information with the corresponding party and can proof he owns the respective account(s).

Counter-argument 4: Non-anonymous profiles can have secrets too

Besides that any public profile can share information that is incorrect, there’s always information that isn’t shared on these profiles as well. It is therefore possible that any public profile — even a verified one — has its own secrets. For instance, a community member that is aggressively suggesting a certain service to be utilized could own a private company that offers this service.

Just doing background checks on people with anonymous accounts therefore wouldn’t be enough. If you want to be able to fully exclude such conflicts of interest, it would have to be done for everyone. Besides the large costs that doing such investigations would introduce, it would be quite far from the ethos of the cryptocurrencies space that was discussed earlier.

I do think you could argue this to be necessary when you’re about to select someone for a position of power, such as a chairman position, but for a community ambassador position that has no formal role, it seems far-fetched.

Counter-argument 5: Ambassadors have no formal role

As just mentioned, according to the Cardano Foundation’s description of a Community Ambassador, they have no formal role in the ecosystem itself. Ambassadors are just very active community members that are acknowledged for their regular, consistent and positive contributions to the project. While there are rumors that the program may include incentives in the future, right now the benefits are limited to the social recognition that being listed on the ambassadors page and wearing a tag on their forum profile bring.

Clearly, if an ambassador turns out to have a shady history, conflict of interests or starts behaving in a way that may cause reputational damage, the situation is not ideal. However, isn’t just taking away their ambassador status and referring to the ambassador criteria enough? I think pointing out that it was just an individual with no formal role in the ecosystem should be enough to illustrate the individual’s actions don’t reflect on the ecosystem and brand in most cases. And wouldn’t the situation be the same for ambassadors that were screened but no irregularities were observed?

Final thoughts

As my described arguments reflect, I strongly disagree with the notion that an ambassador for a cryptocurrency should not be anonymous. In my opinion, it is important to judge an individual for his/her actions instead of trying to judge who they are, regardless of whether the individual has an anonymous account or not. Which is exactly what the current description of the ambassador program does.

I am thankful for being selected as a content creator ambassador. Not just for the acknowledgement of my work by the Cardano Foundation, but also for the recognition that I received from fellow community members for it.

However, if the fact that I am considered to be an ambassador while using an anonymous account is actually a thorn in the eye of the majority of the Cardano community, I will gladly give back my ambassador status.

This article was also translated into Russian.

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Disclaimer: This article was written for informational and educational purposes only and should not be treated as investment advice.