No, Bitcoin’s Blockchain Doesn’t Harbor Child Porn And The Assertion Is Old News

Thanks to a new research paper everyone is up in arms about Bitcoin being used to store CP on its ledger which means those operating a full Bitcoin node are responsible for possession charges. While this sounds absolutely horrifying, and like it would be the end of the digital currency, the reporters reporting on it lack basic knowledge of the blockchain.

The research study goes on to explain:

“Blockchains…irrevocably record arbitrary data, ranging from short messages to pictures. This does not come without risk for users as each participant has to locally replicate the complete blockchain, particularly including potentially harmful content…Our analysis shows that certain content, e.g., illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal…our analysis reveals more than 1600 files on the blockchain, over 99% of which are texts or images. Among these files there is clearly objectionable content such as links to child pornography, which is distributed to all Bitcoin participants.”

The argument that CP is on the blockchain isn’t fresh news and it isn’t new either, it was first dragged up in 2013, and has since been revived, six years later because of researchers.

However, these researchers aren’t being all around honest, or simply just don’t understand how the blockchain works.

Yes, you can hide text within the blockchain, but anyone searching for the text would come up with a hexadecimal coinbase parameter of Bitcoin like – 000000000019d6689c085ae165831e934ff763ae46a2a6c172b3f1b60a8ce26. Which when decoded will give you text, the hexadecimal used in this example is Satoshi’s infamous signed message on the genesis block, “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”.

Another paper published in July 2017 goes into the act of implanting data into the Bitcoin blockchain entitled: “Data Insertion in Bitcoin’s Blockchain” the study explores and explains how the hexadecimal coinbase data “is arbitrary and can be up to 100 bytes in size”.

It also notes that only miners have the ability to insert data, which is typically used to signal mining support for proposed protocol changes like Segwit debate last year. There are five additional ways in which data can be encoded into the Bitcoin blockchain, one such being the OP_RETURN option which is the center of the child pornography scandal. The 2017 research paper explains that “this method is appropriate for inserting small amounts of data (or transaction metadata), but it is not suitable for large quantities of data.”

What’s more the OP_RETURN function in Bitcoin can only store a mere 80 bytes of information, which is also subject to deletion. While the report about CP on the blockchain goes into how CP could be stored it leaves out that Bitcoin nodes are capable of pruning “provably unspendable” UTXOs for efficiency, which includes OP_RETURN data.

So what does all that mean translated to non-technical jargon?

It means that anyone who seeks to use the Bitcoin blockchain to find child pornography would need to perform an absolute tedious impossible task.

  1. First, the predator would need to download the entire Bitcoin blockchain and sift through 251 million transactions to find the data they seek.
  2. Ensure that the version of the blockchain they were using wasn’t subject to pruning that might have removed the OP_RETURN data.
  3. Then proceed to extract the data and any web links that might be concealed in the data using some sort of steganography extraction tool decoding the hexadecimal numbers into clear text.
  4. Finally, they type the links into their browser (most likely a dark web onion URL hosting the Cheese Pizza content) and hope that the website hasn’t been seized by the feds for disgusting offensive content. (Which those types of sites get seized all of the time.)

In short, to assert that the Bitcoin blockchain contains child pornography is dishonest, and deceitful it is the equivalent to saying that the internet contains CP. The blockchain could temporarily host links to CP websites but that is not actually hosting the images and videos themselves which are illegal. Theoretically, any database can be used to embed a hidden message or post to harmful child pornography be it Facebook, Twitter, or any other website.

As Nic Carter wrote: “Any journalist writing about arbitrary content injection into the Bitcoin blockchain should be extremely careful to detail to what extent that content exists, is extractable, viewable, etc. A text string which is a URL link to a [website displaying a thing] is not [the thing itself]. That is an extremely bad interpretation. Do not conflate the two. If you are willing to claim that “the blockchain contains X” you should be able to prove that you can extract X.”

Why would predators choose to use a Bitcoin database that expunges its OP_RETURN data compared to using a normal looking cat picture or normal website’s database which doesn’t get erased periodically?

Bitcoin is currently trading at [FIAT: $8,673.38] according to Coin Market Cap at the time of this report.

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