I hate crypto and the people who talk about it, because nobody seems to want to discuss the risks involved. Where are the failure stories? Why's everyone talking about going to the moon? How can one Elon Musk tweet send the value of Bitcoin plummeting to the ground?
I've been reading a lot in the past two weeks. I've also listened to my friend DeFi give me a crash course in signing up for Metamask and getting my first crypto wallet.
The whole time, I was trying and failing to follow along, all while the unspoken question was on my lips:
How trustworthy is crypto, really?
1. Lesson number 1: Bitcoin transactions themselves are not hackable — but everything else is fair game.
I wish crypto people would stop talking about how secure the blockchain is. Just because the blockchain is secure doesn't mean it all is. Nobody stops to explain that part. Or if they do, it's buried under tons of articles hyping up the next big protocol upgrade.
The specific meaning of 'secure' in the crypto world, as it turns out, is only the part where you conduct transactions. Everything else, like the password to your Bitcoin wallet (it works kinda like an e-wallet), the contract you enter when you buy some alt-coin, and the actual value of said coin — is not secure.
In 2016, a hacker exploited a flaw in a third-party project called The DAO and stole $50 million of Ether. That tells you all you need to know about the security of cryptocurrencies. Everything is 'secure' — until it isn't. Then suddenly, the refrain becomes "Do Your Own Research" and "Don't invest in anything you don't understand."
Even your wallet password has to be on a scrap of paper because anything saved electronically will get hacked. I can barely remember which drawer I put mine in.
That's how secure your investment is. Virtually any of it could disappear overnight if you make even the smallest of mistakes. Even now in the news, there are people who have lost billions in bitcoin because they threw away their PC years ago.
Compare this to a traditional bank, which can help you regain access to your account if you've forgotten your password 3 times in a row while trying to buy 50 kilos of cat food on a sunday evening after one too many drinks. Because who hasn't done that?
2. Lesson number 2: The word "Legal" doesn't exist. It's all based on Smart Contracts.
I asked my crypto friend, "Are there any legal processes to enforce your claim on your coin?" He answered: "There's no legality. It's all based on Smart Contracts."
With these smart contracts, you have to read them and make sure your rights are protected. If I need to learn and analyse code to make sure my contract isn't going to screw me over, it's too much work. I'm not a coder.
The alternative is to get a smart contract auditor to read and examine the code on smart contracts. There's also bad/lazy auditors, but we're somehow supposed to know the difference based on reputation. How's this any different from getting a lawyer to check your housing contract with your landlord? We're back to square one, relying on people who are experts to do the processes we can't — and just like lawyers, we will end up paying them a premium to do so.
The key takeaway is this: Anyone and everyone can scam you to high heaven if you're not careful. Whether through unfair and biased smart contracts, or through other methods I haven't researched enough for this blogpost.
There's nothing wrong with smart contracts as a concept. It's simply the fact that aside from doing your own due diligence, there's no overseeing body to enforce these contracts. What security benefit do they have over normal contracts?
3. Lesson number 3: Crypto uses coder lingo, which is not MEANT to be easily understood
I imagine most experienced crypto gurus shaking their heads reading this and saying "He'll get used to it eventually."
But what if I don't? What if I give up and go back to day drinking in my underwear on the weekends because crypto is simply too hard to understand?
Some consider crypto to be the shining solution for redistributing the wealth of the 99%, but I don't see any way a regular joe could even begin to understand this market. Even I, as someone who is comfortable with complexity as a science grad-turned-journalist, struggle with the basic concepts of crypto. How much more will people like my boomer parents, or non-STEM degree colleagues feel discouraged by all the impenetrable lingo?
You can't be mad at the majority of people for not having the same vision as you do if they haven't been on the same journey as you have. For most people with a full-time job and a lack of brain cells at the end of the week, it's impossible to keep up.
The crypto elite are the new gatekeepers of information, and I feel like I'm left to my own devices to test and figure out what works and what doesn't. It's like my university experience all over again.
4. Lesson number 4: The hype train comes with no brakes.
There are those who say, "The problem is not crypto itself, it's the hype that surrounds it." But crypto itself is a story that’s written collectively by all the bitcoin holders. It gets more valuable the more people know about it, help write it and the longer the story goes on. So essentially, crypto is based on hype.
It's ironic that crypto needs legitimacy in the eyes of world governments, but its value seems to be completely reliant on hype. A simple tweet from the world's richest man can send its value plummeting down.
Anyone who pulls out before a crash is regarded as a prophet — but even they will tell you they were just lucky to have pulled out when they did. And when people do lose confidence and start pulling out, half the time it's due to some rumor with no basis in fact.
The only time the hype train stops is when it crashes.
So where does this leave us? At the end of the day, we must look at who stands to benefit the most from this new world order. Who is it? I leave that to you to decide.
Be suspicious of any claim that says it has the answer to financial freedom. It's usually a lie to lead the masses down another poor decision while the rich get richer.