‘Extremely risky’ and ‘inherently predatory’: Wikipedia organization decides to stop accepting crypto donations

May 2, 2022, 11:00 AM UTC

The organization that runs Wikipedia has decided to stop accepting donations in cryptocurrency form, for reasons ranging from crypto’s environmental impact to reputational damage for the open-source encyclopedia project.

The decision to shutter the Wikimedia Foundation’s BitPay account, announced Sunday, stemmed from a proposal made at the start of the year by long-standing Wikipedia editor Molly White. Over 70% of those voting backed the move.

“The Wikimedia Foundation has decided to discontinue direct acceptance of cryptocurrency as a means of donating,” the organization wrote. “We began our direct acceptance of cryptocurrency in 2014 based on requests from our volunteers and donor communities. We are making this decision based on recent feedback from those same communities.”

In her proposal, White said accepting crypto donations was a tacit endorsement of “extremely risky investments” and technology that are “inherently predatory”—and, certainly when it comes to the leading virtual currencies Bitcoin and Ethereum, “extremely damaging to the environment.” She said that the environmental impact “may not align” with the project’s sustainability commitments and that the Wikimedia Foundation risked reputational damage from accepting donations in crypto form.

The decision to shun crypto won’t have a major impact on the donation-led organization, as only 0.08% of its revenue last year—or $130,100—came in that form. In recent years, only 347 donors used that option, mostly giving Bitcoin.

The Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t hold crypto reserves; when it received crypto donations, it converted them straight into dollars.

The organization said it would continue to monitor the issue and “remain flexible and responsive to the needs of volunteers and donors.”

“I’m really happy that the Wikimedia Foundation implemented the request from its community, and I’m really proud of my community for making what I feel was the ethical decision after a lot of thoughtful discussion,” White told The Verge. “There are just too many issues with crypto for any potential donation revenue to be worth the cost of helping to legitimize it.”

Others dropping crypto

The Wikimedia Foundation isn’t the only big player in the open-source tech world to take this stance. Back in January, the Mozilla Foundation—which produces the Firefox web browser—also paused crypto donations because their environmental impact did not align with its climate goals.

Tesla stopped accepting Bitcoin payments for its cars nearly a year ago, for the same reason.

Bitcoin and Ethereum both function using a concept called “proof of work,” in which “miners” race to solve increasingly complex but otherwise pointless mathematical problems. If they win, they get to validate the latest block of transactions in the cryptocurrency’s blockchain, earning virtual coins as their reward.

This approach calls for ever more computing power, which chews up energy at a ferocious rate; Bitcoin’s carbon footprint is comparable to that of the coal-happy Czech Republic.

Ethereum is in the process of switching to the more environmentally friendly “proof of stake” model, in which those validating transactions just have to “stake” Ether coins to do so. However, this switch has been in the works for a long time, and there’s still no firm date for when the second-biggest cryptocurrency will abandon the proof of work model.

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