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Child pornography links found in bitcoin blockchain, research finds

Some users of the bitcoin blockchain could be in legal hassles because of child pornography links. A team of German researchers has found 1600 files of data in the blockchain that could link to child pornography and several other objectionable documents. This discovery could bring the shady side of bitcoin transactions to the forefront and pose a threat to its widespread adoption.

The details of the research are available in ‘A Quantitative Analysis of the Impact of the Arbitrary Blockchain Content on Bitcoin’. This German paper was prepared by researchers from RWTH Aachen University.

Of the 1600 non-financial entries analyzed by researchers, most were completely harmless. Some of them contained violations of copyrights while 8 contained sexual content. A few files have also been linked to or depict ‘mildly pornographic content’. However, 274 links found have links to child pornography websites. One file contains a minor’s nude image as well.

Miners at risk

Because the objectionable material was found in the blockchain, bitcoin miners could be charged for illegal possession of objectionable content. People who have volunteered to host the blockchain on their computers, for mining purposes or not, will also be liable for similar action. However, bitcoin traders and investors will not be charged. A participation in the bitcoin blockchain, however, could pose a threat to the volunteers.

The objectionable material found by researchers is logged as non-financial entry into the blockchain. The designs of the network allow such notes and entries in the system. It could, therefore, become a legal offense to obtain, use or participate in the blockchain network.

The uploaders of these files and links are still unknown and the reason behind this trade is still vague. However, experts believe that these files got added in the system as notes for transactions. It is also likely that these links were added as transactions in the system by the uploaders. They could be bitcoin miners, cryptocurrency exchanges or even individual users who have access to the bitcoin software.

The researchers said, “Since all blockchain data is downloaded and persistently stored by users, they are liable for any objectionable content added to the blockchain by others.” The anonymity of the networks is preventing the researchers from finding the users who added these links.

Can blockchain designers handle these concerns?

The researchers have asked blockchain designers to ensure that such objectionable material is not added to their systems. Even if it is, the spread of the links and materials must be stopped. If not, all the users who have access to the blockchain will have to deal with legal hassles. Nobody will know if they have downloaded a blockchain (or a part of it) that contains such objectionable material if the creators are not proactive.

The objectionable material can be found on sites like YouTube and social networks as well. However, the creators of these websites can create filters to avoid their spread to the masses. Moreover, these websites are not completely anonymous like the bitcoin network, which adds some level of credibility.