Why Crypto Privacy is Important with Monero's Riccardo "FluffyPony" Spagni
Interview location: Skype
Interview date: Thu 13th September 2018
Company: Tari (and Monero core team member)
David Chaum said that “Privacy is tied to human potential, an important aspect of democracy”, yet increasingly we are finding our lives are being tracked, both commercially and via the government. We blindly provide Internet giants such as Facebook and Google with massive amounts of data about who we are, what we do and the things we buy.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted how are data is abused and used to manipulate us. There is now an uprising, a growth in awareness of the value of privacy. People are hiding their browsing activity, and Internet giants are under pressure to be more responsible with data.
In this episode, I talk to Riccardo “FluffPony” Spagni, core team member of Monero, a privacy-based cryptocurrency. Monero is often accused of being a tool for the criminals and drug dealers, but Monero is a tool for financial privacy, a way for us to keep our economic activities and transactions private.
In this episode we discuss:
The importance of privacy
Why there is apathy towards privacy
Riccardo’s new project Tari
The potential for a privacy web stack
What is coming up for Monero
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Peter McCormack: Morning, Ricardo, finally we get to do this. We met briefly at Consensus. I’ve been trying to get you on for some time. I did want to come to South Africa because I wanted you to teach me about South African red wine, usually you’ve got a big stack behind you
Peter McCormack: I’m not going to go into the origin story. I watched your interview with Ivan on Tech and that’s all been covered, so I’ll share that, but I think a good point for me to start with, having followed you for some time is why Monero?
Riccardo Spagni: Good question. I think at the beginning, one of the things that attracted me very much to Monero was the fact that it wasn’t based on Bitcoin’s code. That alone is reason enough for me to give it a second look. Simply cloning Bitcoin or forking Bitcoin generally leads to things that are not terribly interesting. You’re taking a foundation that is solid, that has nearly a decade of proven history and you’re fudging around with the incentives, you’re slapping some lipstick on a pig or you’re adding functionality that that creates certain disincentives. And that to me is not very interesting. So it started off with like, oh look, yes, some novel cryptography, as a code base, which admittedly was not a very mature code base or even a very glamorous one, but at least it was new. And then of course the privacy aspect was very appealing as well. The fact that it was finally doing something concrete and solid for privacy. It might not have been doing in the most scalable way. There were certain aspects of privacy that are weaker than I would like it to be. But just in general, I mean privacy focused and being something that pushed the privacy barrier forward I think was very important.
Peter McCormack: One of the things I’ve noticed as somebody who’s regarded as someone newer to the space, is there’s three camps of people. We seem to have Bitcoin maximalists then Bitcoin maximalists but Monero is cool. And then everyone else. Do you understand by observation?
Riccardo Spagni: It’s totally true.
Peter McCormack: I’ve found when meeting and interviewing people that if I mention any coin, you get laughed out of the building, but if you mentioned Monero you’re okay. Why do you think Monero has been saved from the hatred of the maximalist?
Riccardo Spagni: I think there were a couple of things. The fact that the founder has disappeared is one aspect. So there’s very little self-enrichment, everyone that got involved with Monero early on had to deal with pretty much what bitcoin had to deal with early on. When I first started using Bitcoin, the experience was certainly not smooth and the wallet looked like it was something out of windows 95, and there were very few wallet choices. Everything was just very, very clunky, using it, running a node etc. It takes way more bandwidth than running a node today does, even though there’s significantly more use and that’s just because of improvements in block propagation. So I think people who got involved with Monero early on had to deal with only a command line wallet, the entire database in Ram, so it chewed up like four, five, six gigs of Ram for the first six months. All of the stuff, all at the chunkiness in the ugliness and the, you know, CPU mining and all of the nasty stuff that we had to deal with at the beginning, Bitcoiners find familiar or at least bitcoin maximalists find familiar because they understand that that’s the stuff Bitcoin had to go through. At the beginning we didn’t get anything handed to us on a platter.
Riccardo Spagni: We didn’t get a slick mobile wallet someone else had written that we could fork and change the name and change the logo and go, hey look, we made a new mobile wallet. Everything had to be done from scratch. Like if an exchange wanted to add it, then they’d be like, “Oh, but it’s not a Bitcoin fork, we don’t know if we can add it.” And then it was like, okay, well what if we helped you? Whatever. We know here are the guides that we’ve written into cold storage and yes, how to integrate Monero and, you know, but the RPC calls are different and you don’t have a block notify and wallet notify and there’s like all the stuff that we just didn’t have that people were used to in 2014 from an integration perspective and we had to sit and baby people through and baby ourselves through because it’s a code base you weren’t familiar with and write the stuff from scratch.
Peter McCormack: I think that that garnishes a lot of respect in and of itself. In fact, it’s the same reason why I have a smattering of respect for the people that have done the same thing for Ethereum. They’ve had to also write stuff from scratch. I have very strong opinions about Ethereum beyond that, but I just think that this process of going and writing something from scratch and do so in a way that is extremely difficult as an open source project where you’re underfunded, under resourced and you’re reliant on people pitching up and volunteering their help, it’s a challenge that very few coins survive, if they go down that road. If they do and if they have a value proposition that actually makes sense, then they will absolutely garner respect.
Peter McCormack: But I think that is very true., but also the value proposition is another main point because if Litecoin had gone through the same difficulties of starting up with an original code base and nobody had known it was Charlie Lee, I still don’t think it would have the same respect as Monero. And as Bitcoin proved not to be anonymous, there is a significant and obvious use case for Monero.
Riccardo Spagni: That’s true. I think at the same time that we’re moving towards an interesting point of inflection in Bitcoin’s history where real privacy has a shot at coming to Bitcoin on chain. There’s only so much you can do off chain and I’m kind of hopeful that that will drive the conversation forward and it will make a much narrower, less ostracised. It appears to me that the two types of Bitcoin maximalists, which you pointed out earlier, those that go, um, Monero is pointless because Bitcoin’s going to get privacy anyway, and those that go Monero serves a purpose right now even if it doesn’t serve that purpose forever. The one thing that I’m not convinced of is I’m not convinced that adding strong privacy to Bitcoin is going to be an easy road. I think it’s going to be very, very challenging and I’m interested to see how things progress.
Peter McCormack: And when you say ostracised, do you mean that because Monero is a privacy coin, the chances of Monero getting a Coinbase listing is almost zero to none because of the KYC/AML problems. But if Bitcoin brings in privacy, there’s going to be a decision whether a place like Coinbase suddenly delists it or whether privacy now becomes something that is allowed.
Riccardo Spagni: Exactly. So, I’m really, really hopeful that it will be the latter, that people will be like, okay, you know what Privacy is actually cool. I’m hoping that with some of the conversations we’re having Monero and with people along the way, the Monero community members that speak at meetups, that bump into regulators that bump into people that work at exchanges, that continue to have these conversations about privacy not being criminal. I’m hoping that, that, that also helps, again move that conversation forward so that when Bitcoin starts to add privacy enhancements, that it’s less controversial and more, hey, look, Monero’s already accepted and so it won’t be a bad thing.
Peter McCormack: I agree. I can’t imagine a conversation at the SEC where people are saying privacy is cool.
Riccardo Spagni: You know, it’s interesting you say that because I actually have a suspicion that politicians are among the first to value privacy for themselves. I just don’t know if they value privacy for their constituents, you know, they’re sort of like, well I need privacy for all the fundraising that I do. I need people to be able to donate to my political campaign privately, but you know, that guy over there, he might be a criminal, so you shouldn’t have privacy.
Peter McCormack: That’s more for the government agencies. Right?
Riccardo Spagni: There’s that too, I said to someone the other day. I watched the new Jack Ryan series on DVD and I was thinking to myself, how does the CIA move money overseas? You know what I mean? I’m sure that they’ve got it down to a fine art by now and I can certainly think of many ways including cash. But surely stuff like Monero must be a tool that they look up and they’re like, hey, this can be a thing we can use.
Peter McCormack: Well they have the ability to be hypocrites.
Riccardo Spagni: Absolutely. And I think that that’s what I was alluding to earlier as well. It’s like privacy is important for me, the politician, but not for the people that I’m supposed to be serving.
Peter McCormack: And interestingly with Monero, as much as something like Lightning would be cool on Monero. It’s not something I see as a necessity like with Bitcoin. So if on-chain scaling wasn’t a problem, Bitcoin bringing privacy to the code base would be a bit of a threat to Monero in that there wouldn’t be totally distinguishable features, but I imagine the fact that total privacy across Bitcoins base chain and Lightning is going to be very difficult, which maintains a distinct use case for Monero.
Riccardo Spagni: Yeah. So it’s interesting because lightening by itself adds some interesting privacy properties, you know, the fact that, that your transaction isn’t on a ledger and the fact that for somebody to actually figure out that a transaction happened means they have to monitor the entire lightening network passively, which is significantly difficult, means that there’s already great privacy properties in lightening, but there’s certain things that can happen which breakdown lightning’s privacy properties. So as an example, when you’re done with a whole bunch of payments and you close the channel and then the recipient closes a channel, then an observer can look at the ledger and be like, well, Bob’s balance went down by half a Bitcoin and Starbucks balance went up a half a Bitcoin. So Bob’s obviously, you know, bought a bunch of coffees at Starbucks over years. That inference is not great from a privacy perspective.
Riccardo Spagni: So having stuff like confidential transactions on Monero’s base layer is really helpful because it means that if we plug lightening in on top of Monero we are adding incredible amounts of privacy to lightening. And if you take, Monero as a base layer with TumbleBit, as a lightening router, then it becomes incredibly powerful. That to me is the maximal amount of privacy that we can get today. It is significantly stronger privacy than Monero’s base layer, and even when things break down and devolve back down to Monero’s base layer for settlement then that settlement is still super private. I’m hoping that’s where we’re going to end up is even if it’s not that exact thing, that we’ll have options like that, options like a Mimblewimble side chain, all these things that just give us additional privacy. But when the privacy settles back to Monero’s base layer, that base layer is as secure and private as we can possibly make it.
Peter McCormack: Often the attack against privacy coins is the age old It’s for criminals and drug dealers. And the right defence comes back that no it isn’t, privacy is a right. But even myself sometimes I thought, yeah, but come on, it is being used on the dark web. But actually what was very interesting, I met last week with David Chaum and in preparing for that, I read a quote of his where he said “privacy is tied to human potential, an important aspect of democracy.” And what I didn’t realise is that actually some of the things that people want to do in life that progress humans, are probably things they don’t want people looking at them doing. And I’d never crossed my mind on that side of things. So why is privacy so important to you?
Riccardo Spagni: From my perspective, I think that we’ve got this weird situation that we’ve landed ourselves in where there are a bunch of institutions that have suddenly been forced to be law keepers and law enforces. So if you go back 30 years to before we had traceable money, if somebody was suspected of a financial crime, then a law enforcement agency would have to go and demonstrate to a judge that this person was suspicious, at least, you know, not necessarily guilty, but just something suspicious was happening, and the judge would be the person deciding whether or not that was viable and if the claim was viable, if the suspicion was viable, then the law enforcement agency was given the permission to go and investigate that further.
Riccardo Spagni: They were given the right and the tools. Then they could go do things like surveil the person, you know, they could, they could do all sorts of active surveillance. They could also go and phone all of the banks and be like, does this person have a bank account? Here’s his social security number or whatever. They could build up a really good understanding of this person and the person couldn’t really hide much because between active surveillance and being able to go and investigate this stuff at a banking level, you had a pretty powerful set of tools as a law enforcement officer. Now you fast forward to where we are now and instead what happens is law enforcement agencies put their feet up and go, so the law is cool, hey, and banks and financial institutions are the ones going, oh, we need KYL/SML, this deposit came in and it’s above a certain threshold and now we need to file a SAR report, and then, you know, I’ve got maybe this person is suspicious and now the bank is saying to you, where did you get this money from? And you’re going, well, you know, the thing is I got it for my laundry business and they go, what type of laundry and now the bank is sending people to inspect your business to see if it’s legitimate. And the bank is basically the police. It’s crazy. I don’t know how we ended up there.
Peter McCormack: That is quite funny you should say that I had. I just took my first advertisement on my podcast and I’m part of the Let’s Talk Bitcoin network and they made their first payment to me, and the company it comes from, into my bank is BTC Inc. I just put up a tweet yesterday because when I logged into my bank account yesterday. I was asked all my details of my employer and my income.
Riccardo Spagni: Exactly. The bank is now suddenly the FBI, you know what I mean? Why is it the bank’s job to police your deposits? There should be some suspicion of wrongdoing from the people that are actually able to evaluate that. The law enforcement agencies, there should be somebody who phoned in an anonymous tip to say like, hey, we think Peter’s getting money from drug deals and then they go and investigate you for months. The person paying you had BTC in their name and so therefore…
Peter McCormack: We’re guilty until proven innocent now.
Riccardo Spagni: Well, that’s it right, it’s a complete about face and this is the most shocking thing to me because I feel the change has been very subtle. I feel like we’re the frogs in the pot that had been boiled and we didn’t realise that the was increasing, and over the past, I would say probably 10 to 15 years really, it’s been an uprising of people that value privacy. They don’t value privacy because they are weird, no offense to anyone who does this, but they are weird people you want to go hide in the woods and be awkward, the government’s tracking me with our satellites. It’s not just that, I mean ordinary citizens who are going, I’m not comfortable with the amount of data that I’m dishing out to Facebook. And they’re the ones that are protected against stuff like Cambridge Analytica. When the Cambridge Analytica thing happened, I went, well, they clearly don’t know my details because I’m not on Facebook and I haven’t been on Facebook for well over a decade. I think there are a lot of people that are realising that we’ve just become complacent in the amount of information we dish out, and so privacy tools are slowly becoming cool and that’s really where I hope we’re going.
Peter McCormack: I’m quite interested in the Brave browser, I have questions over the BAT token, but I’m very interested in the browser and it feels like not enough people care about privacy, because they just don’t realise what’s going on. They’re just living their lives or they don’t comprehend the amount of information being shared. Look, we work in tech, we know. Right? But at the same time it feels like there are enough people on the building side who understand and we’re potentially going to see a seismic shift in the tools available for privacy.
Riccardo Spagni: I definitely think so. I have the same concerns with Brave. I think the browser is amazing. I think BAT is the most useless thing on the planet and no one’s going in buying more back after they’re used their Airdrop tokens. I think more than that, I think we have seen a slow shift, like Opera for example added a VPN to their browser and it became a default. So you use Opera and you’re using the VPN and everything’s great. I think this is a first step in the right direction. I actually know people, not so much in the US and in Europe, but friends who live in the UAE who started using Opera because in the UAE you get a bunch of stuff that gets blocked.
Riccardo Spagni: And, obviously people in some Asian countries as well started using it. So there’s definitely been a shift in just small privacy enhancements and VPNs I think are great example of this because 10 years ago, if I said to someone, I’m using a VPN, well, they’d mostly go, what’s that? But even if they didn’t know what it was, they’d be like, oh, what are you afraid of? And nowadays people are just like, oh, I use a VPN and they don’t even know why they just use a VPN because their friend told them it’s a good idea. Some of them use a VPN because they, torrented a movie and got a letter, a whatever DCMA letter, the EMCA, whatever it is, and so now they’re just use a VPN. They’re not even torrenting anymore, they’re using Netflix, but they’re still using a VPN.
Peter McCormack: Do you think apathy is a result of ease of use. So, for example, when I was recently in San Francisco, I’m looking for a restaurant, right? As soon as I start typing in best restaurant into Google, it’s coming up with in San Francisco. There’s a lot of things associated with Google where it knows or understands me that are quite useful.
Riccardo Spagni: I actually have a view on this. There’s no tech company that’s perfect and they certainly will make missteps, but I find Apple’s approach really interesting, especially when it’s contrasted with Google. In Apple stuff as well as suggest replies to messages it does facial recognition of your photos and I can be like, oh look, I want to see all the photos of my wife and it’ll show me all the photos of my wife. That’s really powerful. The thing is that facial recognition is not done an iCloud, the, the message stuff, where it reads your messages and suggests replies is not done on iCloud, it’s all done on the device and it’s purposely done on the device as a privacy measure. If apple had to go and do facial recognition on the cloud, it could be a massive, incredible source of revenue for them.
Riccardo Spagni: They could do all sorts of stuff. In fact, it could be used by law enforcement to identify the phones terrorists are using or identify terrorists in a crowd. They could do all sorts of stuff like that. That’s really good for humanity, and yet they’ve taken the strong pro privacy stance where they will not analyse your photos in the cloud, your device will analyse your photos and it will do facial recognition and they actually build hardware that is specifically geared towards this, they’re building facial recognition ASICS for your phone so that it’s able to do this faster. I think that for a tech company to take that stance is mind blowing. And again, they are certainly not perfect. They certainly have made mistakes, but just the general approach of we’re trying to help people stay private is good, and the fact that you can get all the facial recognition stuff, even with, uh, with iCloud disabled is again good, an emphasis on the fact that the functionality does not require you to upload stuff to central processor that can look at all your information or your Meta data for your photos and make some determination on your behalf.
Peter McCormack: Have you envisaged any form of privacy tech stack for the Internet. Have you thought about that?
Riccardo Spagni: Yeah. So that was one of the things that myself and my co-founder at Tari, Naveen and I have spoken at length about, a privacy tech stack and what would that look like. And obviously Monero is a key component to that. I think Tor is a part of that, Covry is a part of that. Uh, There’s a bunch of things that are part of that. Even coms protocols, you know, I’m a big fan of Wire as a communications tool, more so than Signal because it doesn’t require your phone number and I think that there’s a lot of stuff that’s happening in that space that’s really useful. VPNs for when you need to stream Netflix because streaming Netflix over Tor is just not really viable right now.
Riccardo Spagni: Other stuff like, if you want to send an email, you know, are you using Google? I mean, I certainly am a whole bunch for a lot of our corporate stuff and that’s not great. I’ve sort of started it out and at least for emails that I know I need to keep private I’ve got access to Tutanota and so on. I think that there’s so much scope for a privacy tech stack and I think we’re maybe a couple of years away from just having something where people are able to go, like, this is my tech stack, everything runs through this, and maybe Cubes as the operating system that’s going to drive that because they’re doing amazing work. But I think we’re just not there from a usability perspective, but from a tech perspective, we can tie these tools together.
Riccardo Spagni: From a usability perspective, things are still cranky. I need to be able to understand as a user I need to be able to silo things. I need to go to this browsing experience, I need it to be fast through a VPN, this browsing experience, I need to be super private. So making that distinction is difficult and Brave for example, is getting there. They’ve Tor tabs and that sort of thing, but we’re still chunky. It’s still just not there yet. People are still struggling to understand the difference.
Peter McCormack: Well, you have to care, and you have to understand the implications. For most people, they really just need to be able to go to Apple, buy a computer, come back when they switch it on for the first time, the browser says, would you like to activate a private viewing, and this is why you should care. And same with email, it almost needs to be inbuilt and taught to you as part of the process. I guess that requires some kind of entrepreneurial spirit to make that happen.
Riccardo Spagni: I do think that at some point, if anyone’s going to make a move to really start tying some of these things together might be a company like Apple. Again, they’re not perfect, but at least they have a privacy mindset. I’m hopeful that, they’ll probably invent their own version of Tor, and call it like Apple Privacy Networking or something, they’ll give it a fancy name and then they’ll have a whole pitch and one of their things that Johnny I’ve will come on and there’ll be a whole video where he talks about “when we were designing Apple Private Networking…”, there’ll be a whole video and you’ll see like the glossy networking cables, but I mean if it’s a privacy enhancement, great, I’m all for it.
Peter McCormack: But they are trillion-dollar business built on selling lumpy things, computers, phones, whereas Google and Facebook are built on selling data. So they have that advantage and they can use it, I guess as a competitive advantage.
Riccardo Spagni: Yeah, absolutely, and I think this is one of the reasons why distributors complain about Apple taking a piece of the pie when they sell software on the APP store or sold content in iTunes. But at the end of the day, I’m happier for Apple to take a piece of the pie then for Apple going like, we’re not going to take a piece of the pie and instead we’re going to harvest all your data, charge me, bill me, no problem. I will pay rather than having my data officer.
Peter McCormack: You mentioned Tari and Naveen and your relationship there. I wasn’t actually aware of that until recently. Can you, can you tell me about the project?
Riccardo Spagni: We started this thing called Tari Labs. It’s almost like an incubator, an actual thing that is exists in Oakland and Nashville in the states and in Johannesburg, in South Africa. We have people that we’re hiring, we’re hiring extremely bright people whose job is to work on various aspects of the crypto ecosystem. That includes Monero and includes lightning, and it includes the Tari protocol itself. We’re going to build along with the community, so we’re not owners of the Tari protocol, we’re just a lab that wants to build cool stuff and one of the things we want to contribute to is Tari. So sort of separately, myself, Dan and Naveen are stewards of the Tari protocol, and I guess to some degree the lab is as well. And Tari the protocol is a decentralised assets protocol that will exist on top of Monero.
Riccardo Spagni: We’re very excited about things that are natively digital, natively digital assets. So things like loyalty points in-game tokens, in-game assets, tickets, I guess to some degrees, security tokens and ICOs to a lesser degree. These are all things that are natively digital and these are things that we’d like to see built on Tari. It maybe even digital rights management, I don’t know. What we’re not excited about are things that try and bridge the gap between the physical world and the digital world. I don’t find that very feasible. So you know, when people go like, oh, we’re doing property in the blockchain and you must trust that we haven’t sold the property in the background and you’re holding a token that is actually worthless. I find that very disinteresting, but I think that there’s a lot of cool stuff that can be done for natively digital assets and natively digital systems and that’s really what we’re trying to build.
Peter McCormack: So, excuse the comparison, but in some ways similar to Etherium and that you can issue some form of token or an asset, but you’re not going to have smart contracts, you’re not going to have decentralised applications. It’s purely an asset.
Riccardo Spagni: I think there will be some scope for contracts of a sort, I mean you’ll be able to do escrow contracts and that thing, but it’s not really going to be some Ethereum competitor. We’re not trying to build the next big smart contract waffle thing. We’re not trying to build the Internet of smart contracts. We’re not trying to build blockchain 7.0, we’re just trying to build an assets protocol that works.
Peter McCormack: And the benefit to issuing an asset on Monero over Etherium would be the privacy option. I read that you will have adjustable, selectable privacy options per token.
Riccardo Spagni: Yes. The one aspect that is definitely going to be better is the fact that you will be able to scale the privacy of an asset from not private at all to extremely private. But I think also scalability, I think that the Ethereum approach to every node needs to know all the states is not really a useful or usable. I think there’s a lot of stuff that can be done, which needs to be done from the beginning. It needs to be part of the design that lends itself more towards scalability.
Peter McCormack: Well, I’m guessing if you think that say game tokens are a potential use case, you’re going to need very fast transaction times, right?
Riccardo Spagni: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you think about things like that, if you think about what we’ve traditionally seen with ICOs where some of them sell out in 12 seconds, and this is assuming that security tokens regulation actually comes in clarifies what is feasible and what isn’t. If you look at things like tickets, when there’s a hot ticketing on sale for a Beyonce concert and everyone’s sitting refreshing the site trying to book tickets, these are all things that would put undue strain on the network like Ethereum, where we’re just maniacally focused on assets and we think that there’s a lot that can be done there.
Peter McCormack: So if you were to issue tickets via Tari, how would you not have the same problems with the strain on the network with lots of people trying to get tickets?
Riccardo Spagni: So one of the things that’s inherent, but the Tari design is still very early days. We haven’t even really started discussing that with the community. We’ve got some ideas, the community has some ideas, but one of the things that is inherent in an asset protocol design is the fact that you have a central issue of the assets. So, with smart contracts, they’re all pretending be decentralised, that’s just not so, it’s very silly to pretend to be decentralised when you are clearly the central person that’s issuing the assets. So like when Ripple say that they are more decentralised than Bitcoin and everyone has a good giggle, the reality is that a central person that issued it. And so it’s the same, you’ve got a central issuer issuing ICO who’s issued the security token, who issued the ticket and so the strain is on that single point and we have a bunch of ideas about how we can alleviate the strain, how we can decentralise to a small degree that’s strain.
Riccardo Spagni: So instead of there being a single asset issuer, who’s responsible for all the infrastructure, they can pay to offload that infrastructure to 30 people. So it’s almost like them spinning up 30 AWS slices to handle the ICO sale or ticket sale or whatever. For a game designer as well, instead of them having to run their own infrastructure and have like hot AWS slices ready to go, they can just pay other people to spin those up during peak gaming times. It’s almost like a natural sharding mechanism if it’s designed correctly.
Peter McCormack: And I guess you now have a lot of other examples of work that people have done, or experiments people have tried to learn from.
Riccardo Spagni: Yeah, absolutely, and in some ways, I think what we’re trying to be is the spiritual successor to Counterparty or this spiritual sister to Counterparty, by building on top of Monero. So there were a lot of lessons we’ve learned from how Counterparty have built and Counterparty’s about the only decentralised assets protocol that I would pay any attention to. And I think that there’s certain decisions that they’ve taken early on which I would’ve done differently in which I hope we’re going to do differently in Tari, definitely from a scalability perspective. And of course the privacy stuff as well, but just in general, I think that Counterparty has been a good well designed project that was very early on as well. They’ve got all the hassles from falling into the thinking that we used to have, you know, in the early days where it was in 2013, 2014, it was all about storing all the data on a blockchain and now in 2018 it’s like how can we store as little information on the blockchain as possible.
Peter McCormack: So, people will be able to issue an ICO on Tari right? I guess it’s a different world now where we might see a flood of privacy based ICOs.
Riccardo Spagni: I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, we don’t write the use cases, so we just create the functionality. If people want to issue a token and they want to do so legally or they want to do so fully legal security token, the functionality will be there for them.
Peter McCormack: Is there any risk? Therefore, if people are issuing privacy-based tokens that it’s open to scamming and again, that’s not your problem. But do you think there’s almost going to be a public face to a token but it could be private itself because otherwise if it’s a private issuer then there is risk?
Riccardo Spagni: Absolutely. That is definitely something that I’ve thought about at great length. And I think a good example of this is our in-game tokens, you know if you’re playing World of Warcraft or whatever, or even online and you don’t really want people to know how much you have and what ships you own and how much gold you own and whether you own the sword of whatever. These are all things that you want to keep private and yet the asset issuer is a known entity. So privacy is not something that mutually exclusive there, at the same time if someone’s going, we’re going to bold a whatever, decentralised exchange and please give us money, but we’re not going to tell you who we are. That would make me very nervous to invest in that.
Peter McCormack: So what kind of time scale are you looking at for this project? Because obviously it sounds super interesting.
Riccardo Spagni: So building protocols is hard. I think that practically speaking, we’re talking about anything from 18 to 24 months, test net, and we’ve got a pretty good idea about how quickly the community can work with the Tari labs guys to push stuff out. We’re building it in Rest, that’s like the only from decision that we have taken. And building it in Rest is forcing a forward thinking approach. Building it in that way is I think very important, being forward thinking and doing things in a way that in five or 10 years’ time, that the code base is not looking really haggard and we’re like, wow, we really should have chosen differently. Practically speaking, it really is not a quick process.
Riccardo Spagni: And how close to the project are you? Are you guiding it, are you leading it or is somebody else leading it?
Riccardo Spagni: I sit with the team, the Tari Labs guys once a week. I spend three days with them and I’m always on the IRC channels, in the telegram group and so on. I’m helping guide the Tari labs team and I will do my best to help guide the community and avoid the pitfalls that we had with Monero in Monero’s early life. But I can’t really force anything, I can’t force the community and take a particular decision, but I can sort of just push them and nudge them along.
Peter McCormack: So your time is then split between that and Monero, I guess you’re scaling back on Monero and maintaining probably a level amount of time on professional trolling.
Riccardo Spagni: Yes. You know, like I’m trying not to reduce my professional trolling time, that’s very dear to me as the Monero Enterprise Alliance chief entertainment officer. I’ve got to make sure I keep focus there. Especially because one day we might introduce MEATS the Monero Enterprise Alliance Token. In all seriousness, yes. I’ve scaled back the amount of time that I spend on Monero because that has an upstream benefit, you know, we’re working on parts of the ecosystem, it brings a lot of resources to bear on Monero and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve tried to stay focused on doing both.
Peter McCormack: So I also watched your Jimmy Song interview and I tend to steer away from technical items because I’m not very technical. When I first bought Monero when it was about $14 and I downloaded this little like text based editor wallet and bear in mind, I’m not technical at all, so I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It’s only recently I’ve managed to move upgrade to the GUI. I struggle on the tech, but I think a lot of people struggle on the tech, these things are quite complicated. So what things are coming up for a Monero that people should care about? Are there any privacy holes in the entire ecosystem that are being fixed. I’ve also read about Bulletproofs and Mimblewimble. Could you give us an update on all of these items?
Riccardo Spagni: So let’s just do the last one, Bulletproofs are live on test net and they’ve been live on test net since December. There have been a bunch of improvements that have been rolled out. There’s been a bunch of audits that have been done that the community crowdfunded for and Bulletproofs are going live on main net in October and that reduces Monero’s transaction size phenomenally, by like 90 percent almost. That’s great for on-chain scaling, it’s a massive boost on-chain scaling, and it also opens the door to some privacy enhancements in the future as well. I Mimblewimble is a technology that we are trying to apply to Tari so that the Tari side chain will be something that people can move in and out of and they will find that quite easy to do, and they will benefit from those scalability enhancements, but they will be able to shift back into Monero quite trivially.
Riccardo Spagni: So then you get the scale with the privacy on both sides. In terms of other ecosystem things that are really interesting that are happening right now, we’ve got hardware wallet support that’s building out. So Ledger released their initial stuff and there are a bunch of improvements to the Ledger integration that are happening. And then Trezor are busy working on a Model T support for Monero, so that’s happening as well. Over and above the hardware stuff, I’m quite excited about things that are being improved from a usability perspective. So as an example, My Monero has a mobile wallet, they also have a desktop wallet and it uses a lightweight protocol where you offload the scanning of your transactions to the central My Monero server, but one of the things that My Monero is busy building out is an open source version of that, so that you’ll be able to run your own scanning node at home and then your mobile wallet, Desktop Wallet, whatever, will just offload the function of the scanning stuff to that. And we expect people will run volunteer clusters of these and all sorts of stuff like that. So it will make the lightweight wallet experience easier, more secure and more private than it currently is.
Peter McCormack: Is the Monero marketing department getting ready to announce all this.
Riccardo Spagni: Of course, you know, with all our funding that we have, we’re just getting ready to do TV shows. Obviously, I’m excited about being on Jerry Springer and announce stuff there.
Peter McCormack: How does the community organise itself?
Riccardo Spagni: So everything’s very self-organising. So, if somebody wants to do something with Monero, then we typically say, sure, no problem, go ahead. I mean, why are you asking for permission? The logo is CC BY 4.0 licensed, So, you can use the logo to do whatever you want. You can use, you can make money from the logo, you can create t-shirts and sell them and we can’t stop you. Creative Commons is very powerful there, all the Monero code is liberally licensed, it’s BSD 3.0 clause. And so if anyone pitches up and says they want to do something, we’re just like go ahead. And when I say we, I mean the community. So, everything’s self-organising. If somebody wants to do marketing, no problem at all. You just have to self-organise, you have to get a bunch of people together that also want to do marketing. And then you have to go to the community and try and raise funds for the TV ads you want to do, the Superbowl you want to sponsor whatever it is.
Peter McCormack: Yesterday I was preparing a presentation I’ve got to give today and it’s quite interestingly in preparing for this interview, I saw your presentation at the Bitcoin conference. Originally it was why retail should care about Bitcoin, but now I’ve got ‘and Monero’ and I use this tool called Font Awesome for icons, and I noticed Monero is now within the Font Awesome list. Do you know that?
Riccardo Spagni: Yes that was a bit of a surprise, but that’s something that we’re really grateful for.
Peter McCormack: It means you’ve made it when you’ve made the Font Awesome list.
Riccardo Spagni: Totally. I mean, if you’re in Font Awesome you must be awesome. You know, I’m waiting for the Font Awesome Fluffypony icon.
Peter McCormack: I’m going to wrap this up now. Thank you so much for this. I would love to do it again sometime, hopefully in person, we keep passing each other in cities, but hopefully at some point we’ll do it because it would be good to catch up, but before we end, can you just tell people who you want to hear from on the various projects, how they should get in touch and how they can follow the projects.
Riccardo Spagni: So the best ways to engage with the projects are, obviously getmonero.org is the website. I’m on twitter, we’re @monero, and then on freenode on IRC we have the HashMonero channel, which is always a good starting point. And then on Reddit we have Our Monero subReddit, and those are really the main touch points. You can also follow me, I’m @fluffypony on Twitter if you’re into professional trolling, or professionally being trolled whichever. And over and above that, like as I said earlier, everything’s self assembling, the are no leaders, I mean I guess there are individual leaders for aspects of a project, and there certainly are people who are very prominent, um, and who follow the project very closely. But at the end of the day, given the nature of the project, if you want to know more, there’s the Monero Stack Exchange, which is great for more technical questions and the Monero subReddit, which is good for general discussion. There were a bunch of other subreddits for things like discussing mining or price talk or trading and that sort of thing. It’s a great community because everyone retains a sense of scepticism. In fact, every Sunday we have a scepticism Sunday thread on Reddit, which is good to post and come and talk about your concerns about Monero. Talk about apathy to privacy and the things that you think will mean Monero never succeeds. And we discuss them.
Peter McCormack: Amazing, this has been great. I’m glad we finally got to do it, hopefully we’ll catch up again soon.