The Coinbase Neutrino scandal and its hashtag #deletecoinbase has died as quickly as it spread. After three weeks of uplift, Google Trends shows a hashtag returning to zero. But while there may be little left to discuss about Neutrino’s connections to Hacking Team, there remain wider lessons in the episode. It reveals our deep frustrations about privacy and our lack of agency to change a system incapable of our protecting our data.
On February 19, Coinbase announced the acquisition of a blockchain analytics company Neutrino. That made sense. Regulated exchanges need analytics to stay compliant. Buying Neutrino allowed Coinbase to bring these capabilities in-house, reducing reliance on third party vendors. Bringing these capabilities in-house was pro-user privacy. Rather than multiple entities having your data, just one entity has it. But then journalists discovered that some of Neutrino’s leaders had previously worked at Hacking Team, an Italian spyware vendor that created tools for authoritarian regimes to surveil and control dissidents and journalists. Shortly after, Coinbase announced that the Neutrino personnel with Hacking Team affiliations would be “transitioned out” of the company (though there remain questions about what “transitioned out” means).