It is a well known fact that the Internet currency known as Bitcoins is extremely difficult to trace. Anonymity is one of the most valued aspects of this sort of payment method and a lot of people use Bitcoins precisely because of this trait. However, because of the same reason, it is a very common practice for online criminals and crooks to also employ the said currency when carrying out their illegal and malicious agendas. For example, most hackers who attack users with Ransomware cryptoviruses rely on Bitcoins in order to achieve their goal. Once the user’s PC gets invaded by the malicious virus and their files get locked by the malware, the criminal would require a ransom payment I exchange for the file restoration. The payment is usually demanded in Bitcoins so that the transaction couldn’t be traced back to the hacker. This is actually a huge issue when it comes to catching such criminals and bringing them to justice. However, a number of research, the most recent of which you can find here suggest that Bitcoins might not be as untraceable as everybody thinks which might affect more than one aspects of the online world.
The most recent research on the anonymity of bitcoins carried out by a team from Princeton University focuses on the possibility for tracing this virtual currency through ad-trackers implemented within a variety of e-commerce sites. During this research, 130 sites have been analyzed that provide some sort of e-commerce features and where the use of Bitcoins is allowed among the methods of transaction. It is widely known that most, if not all, sites that deal with e-commerce have some sort of ad-tracking feature such as cookies that allows them to gather information on the site’s users which allows for targeted advertising after the data has been gathered. This extremely common practice of tracking users’ activity actually heavily threatens the otherwise high anonymity of bitcoin transactions. In such a case, it doesn’t really matter how carefully the customer tries to hide their identity behind their Bitcoin address since the website that is used might not provide the same level of privacy and anonymity.
The data collected on the individual user over such e-commerce platforms could be anything from purchases and prices to delivery addresses and even canceled cart purchases. All this information can be implemented to create a detailed profile of each buyer and if the gathered data gets in the hands of someone who seeks to identify the customer, they would have high chance of doing so. For example, even in the best of cases where a site gathers a very limited amount of personal data, if the user pays once via Bitcoins and then makes another transaction using a credit/debit card, a link could be made between the two transactions compromising the customer’s anonymity. Sure, the site owners themselves probably would not have much interest in doing so but a hacker or a government body might.
It is early to say whether the compromised anonymity of Bitcoins is a good or a bad thing since there are different factors that are at play here. For example, making it possible to actually track this cyber-currency could drastically increase the chances of handling with online criminals and hackers who have made Bitcoins their primary tool for illegal profit. However, on the other hand, it must also be mentioned that this new discovery might also be used against regular users who seek to keep their privacy. Furthermore, tracking of Bitcoins could also be potentially by oppressive regimes that seek to shut down activist movements. All in all. Only time will tell whether the tracking of Bitcoins is going to be beneficial to the online world and the users who use the Internet or if it’s going to cause more harm than good.