In my brief meeting with Blockchain.info’s Nic Cary I get the impression that he is a careful man.
As co-founder of one of the world’s most popular bitcoin wallet providers, recently involved in a high-profile security issue, he has reason to be careful, I imagine.
Just after midnight on December 8, Blockchain.info’s development team made a mistake with a software update. The result? A few hundred users had their bitcoins stolen.
“We weren’t externally breached. It was a flawed deployment and that was a learning opportunity for us. We’ve never had a security incident like this before,”
“We take security very seriously and are making improvements to our deployment process,”
The funds, as it happens, were swept away by a white-hat "good" hacker who returned the bitcoins to their rightful owners.
Nic emphasises how the open-source nature of Blockchain.info adds transparency to the business.
“We are different to most bitcoin companies that build a black box around the way they operate. Being open source provides a huge amount of consumer protection, we have a commitment to open source software and it’s a philosophical tenet of our business.”
Despite the issues that have beset Blockchain.info, Nic maintains a positive outlook on the future of the company and bitcoin.
“We’re recruiting for a serious amount of growth - establishing offices in London and New York - we recently secured the biggest single funding round for a bitcoin company, $30.5 million dollars.”
It was just a few years ago that Blockchain.info was nothing more than a bootstrapped company arriving in London with little funding and big dreams.
I asked Nic what it means to be a leader in the bitcoin wallet market. Inevitably, comparisons to PayPal were made.
“We don’t want to be seen as the ‘PayPal of bitcoin’ because PayPal is a closed system. It’s walled off and not open-source.”
I can’t help but think of anecdotal reports of charities and small businesses which have had their PayPal accounts frozen with little communication or warning. A balancing act between consumer security and freedom which a payments facilitator must manage.
“When you have freedom over your own money - you choose how to spend it. Two and a half billion people have no access to financial services - a Blockchain wallet takes 15 seconds to download, provides instant access to your funds. This is a more efficient
system than what the world has now”
Bitcoin undoubtedly has a strenuous relationship with financial institutions. Some see it as a threat - others dismiss it as a fad. Whatever you want to label it - it’s a frightening contrast to the transaction networks the world runs on currently.
“The protocol allows settlement at zero cost - that’s billions of pounds worth of financial infrastructure that can be replaced by bitcoin technology - I’m excited about the block chain - bankers should see it as an opportunity - not a threat - they can
bring digital efficiencies - provide new services and go to market in new places.”
It was a very relevant time to meet with Nic as just hours before our meeting bitcoin’s value slumped again to $220. A stark contrast to the $1000 peak it hit in 2013.
“Of course I pay attention to the price of bitcoin - I earn my income in bitcoins - but nobody has a crystal ball on it. The better measure of utility is whether people are transacting with it - not the price.”
It is perhaps too easy, too damning to suppose the nail on bitcoin’s coffin will come from a security breach or two - it is those firms, and those people like Nic, who remain optimistic for the future of bitcoin and digital currency that will emerge victorious.