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Ethereum Founder Explores Privacy Pool System In New Research

  • September 7, 2023

As international regulations change, individuals are increasingly interested in preserving their privacy. One of the co-founders of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, and others released a research paperThe authors explored the intersection of blockchain technology and financial regulations through the lens of privacy pool systems. 

The paper introduces a fresh perspective by leveraging zero-knowledge proofs to tackle privacy challenges while simultaneously upholding regulatory standards. 

Buterin and his co-authors Jacob Illum, Matthias Nadler, Fabian Schar, and Ameen Soleimani seek to find a “middle ground” reconciling the need for privacy with regulatory compliance demands.

Research Raises Concern About Tornado Cash

The document starts by analyzing the well-known tool for enhancing privacy in cryptocurrency transactions, the Tornado Cash protocol. This protocol enables users to carry out crypto transactions without disclosing their identities. 

However, recent legal actions, including criminal charges and sanctions imposed by the US  Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Tornado Cash’s founders, brought a significant drawback to light. 

The main drawback is law-abiding users’ challenges in disassociating themselves from the unlawful activities the protocol inadvertently attracted, the research noted. “There is no way for genuine users to distance themselves from the criminal elements drawn to the protocol.”

ETHUSD price chart
Ethereum’s price currently hovers around $1630 in the daily chart. | Source: ETHUSD price chart from TradingView.com

Ethereum Founder Suggests An Applicable Solution To Privacy Protocols

Buterin’s proposal offers a solution by introducing the concept of “association sets” within privacy pool protocols. 

This enables users to publicly verify the origin of their funds while safeguarding their privacy. By proving their affiliation with specific association sets, users can show that their funds come from legal sources without disclosing their complete transaction history.

The fundamental concept is to permit users to share a zero-knowledge proof that demonstrates the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of the sources of their funds. This is accomplished by proving their membership in customized association sets that adhere to specific criteria mandated by regulatory requirements or societal consensus.

In an imaginary situation, Buterin provided an example: “Let’s imagine we have five users—Alice, Bob, Carl, David, and Eve. The first four are law-abiding individuals prioritizing their privacy, while Eve’s background raises some doubts.” Buterin further added:

When these users wish to withdraw their funds, they specify the group they associate with, encouraging them to involve more users to enhance their privacy. However, they intentionally leave out Eve to avoid arousing suspicion from merchants or exchanges.

In the given example, users are motivated to enlarge their association sets to safeguard their privacy, as they can select which group to participate in when they want to withdraw funds. 

However, the users intentionally exclude Eve from their association set to avoid perceiving their funds as suspicious by merchants or exchanges.

In Eve’s case, she would need to create an association set that encompasses all five deposits since she cannot exclude her deposit. A similar use case will need to be implemented by users who want to continue operating on Tornado Cash but separate from illegal activities. 

Tornado Cash contributor Ameen Soleimani, one of the research’s authors, joined others in presenting the solution at the University of Basel “Finance meets DLT” conference in Switzerland. While some celebrated the paper, others criticized it due to its connection with Chainalysis.

This company has been the target of controversy from crypto users due to its connections with the US government. A social media platform X user asked: Who defines an illegal transaction, the SEC?

Featured image from Pixabay and chart from TradingView.com


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