Second-richest man in the world and Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates took a jab at cryptocurrencies during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session.
When the interview started, crypto communities expected Gates to start on a positive note as he was involved with Ripple as a partner to help their mission of banking the unbanked. However, his stance seems to have changed. He commented that the government’s ability to track the movement of laundered or terrorist funds “is a good thing”, and added:
"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. I think the speculative wave around ICOs and cryptocurrencies is super risky for those who go long."
This was criticism towards the nature of cryptocurrencies and their lack of transparency. His outlook on the new technology was not always like this though. Back in 2014 in another AMA, he mentioned that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had plans to create a new digital currency that would be transparent, unlike Bitcoin.
Though Gates pointed out negative aspects of cryptocurrencies as an anonymous payment medium, he did not discount the underlying technology supporting them. In 2015 during a BackChannel interview, he commented that people needed to “draw on the revolution of Bitcoin, but Bitcoin alone is not good enough.”
At that point, his optimism towards the technology behind Bitcoin was clear, and even commented that it was better than fiat currency in that transactions would not need people to be in the same place, and makes it more convenient especially for large transactions.
The crypto communities were less than impressed by Gates’ newfound view on cryptocurrencies. It incited a lot of feedback from Twitter that covers how ‘wrong’ this was.
On the technical grounds, Anthony Pompliano – venture capitalist and cryptocurrency enthusiast – commented that cryptocurrencies are not as anonymous as Gates mentioned it to be and that the same scenario for illegal purchases could easily apply for fiat currencies as well.
Pompliano pointed out that "He spewed the normal nonsense about funding terrorism & money laundering."
More people on Twitter attacked the comment from different angles. Some joined in on Pompliano’s comment and further emphasized how this was a typical response from the “old and rich”.
Bill Gates just said cryptocurrencies have caused many “deaths in a fairly direct way.”
Then he spewed the normal nonsense about funding terrorism & money laundering.
I’m starting to think the criteria for being old and rich is hating crypto 😂 they’ll all learn eventually
— Pomp 🌪 (@APompliano) February 27, 2018
Others criticized the way Gates said it has caused deaths ‘in a fairly direct way’, and responded that the same is easily achieved by cash. Some went so far as to comment that replacing ‘cryptocurrencies’ in his statement with ‘USD’ would give out the same sentiment. One tweet captures the harsh reactions of many other users and delivers the point of generalization:
You clearly have no idea about what youre talking about. Crypto is used to buy drugs? USD isnt. Euro isnt. Cad isnt. Be real. Dont go and try to incriminate the whole community for a niche drug market that is a small percentage of total cryptocurrency marketcap. You know nothing
— Avo Ginanian (@ginanian) February 28, 2018
In conclusion, it is right to acknowledge the downsides of Bitcoin. However, it is best to note that criminal activity can easily take place with many other known mediums like cash and the Internet. According to recent studies, only less than 1% of Bitcoin activity can be attributed to illegal activities. On top of that, cryptocurrencies have evolved over the years to have more and more useful use cases beyond just making transactions anonymous.