Though the philanthropy under Bill Gates’ name has partnered with cryptocurrency firm Ripple in a bid to help the unbanked, the world’s second richest man said Tuesday that the main feature of Bitcoin and its ilk is not a “good thing.”
In previous media interviews, Gates has been quoted saying that Bitcoin is “better than currency,” and that it “is exciting because it shows how cheap (transactions) can be.” That was back in 2014.
When quizzed regarding his views on cryptocurrencies in his sixth Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session Tuesday though, the billionaire focused instead on the downsides of Bitcoin and its peers. Namely, that the cryptocurrencies don’t reveal the name of their holders in the way a credit card statement might—making it easier for illegal transactions to fly under the radar.
“The main feature of cryptocurrencies is their anonymity. I don’t think this is a good thing,” he said in the Reddit post. “The government’s ability to find money laundering and tax evasion and terrorist funding is a good thing. Right now cryptocurrencies are used for buying fentanyl and other drugs so it is a rare technology that has caused deaths in a fairly direct way.”
Notably, some cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are pseudonymous, while others such as Monero are billed as having additional privacy features. Signs have emerged in recent months that less famous digital coins such as Monero have become the cryptocurrency of choice for criminals.
In a parallel to his 2014 interview, Gates also commented on how cryptocurrencies did not require face-to-face interaction.
Back in 2014, when the price of Bitcoin totaled about $350 and average fees per transaction tallied 6 cents, and indeed after the infamous online drug market place SilkRoad was shuttered by U.S. officials, Gates noted that Bitcoin is better than currency as “you don’t physically have to be in the same place, and of course for large transactions, currency can get pretty convenient.”
Four years later today, though, Gates noted that when it comes to criminal enforcement, cash actually has an upside.
“Yes—anonymous cash is used for these kinds of things,” he wrote in the Reddit AMA, following a comment about cash’s anonymity. “But you have to be physically present to transfer it which makes things like kidnapping payments more difficult.”
Notably, though, while Gates pointed to the negatives of cryptocurrencies as a store of value, he did not decry the technology underlying it. And Gates has in the past made positive comments on the technological advancements that Bitcoin represents, rather than Bitcoin itself. During a BackChannel interview in 2015, he noted that people need to “draw on the revolution of Bitcoin, but Bitcoin alone is not good enough.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also released a software in October, in tandem with Ripple, in a bid to make it cheaper for developing countries to build financial services infrastructure.
The price of cryptocurrency poster child, Bitcoin, remained steady, despite on user speculating its value might drop following comments from the world’s second wealthiest man.
The price of Bitcoin rose about 3.5% Tuesday to $10,600.