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It has been a totem of the cryptocurrency community that the numeric addresses of Bitcoin and other wallets will protect the identity of those using them to buy and sell.
A new paper, released this week by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University, has shattered that presumed anonymity. Titled “Cooperation among an anonymous group, protected Bitcoin during failures of decentralization,” the paper is now posted on the researchers’ server.
Lead researcher Alyssa Blackburn of Baylor and Rice, along with team-mates Christoph Huber, Yossi Eliaz, Muhammad S. Shamim, David Weisz, Goutham Seshadri, Kevin Kim, Shengqi Hang, and Erez Lieberman Aiden, used a technique called “address linking” to study the Bitcoin transactions in the first two years of its existence: January of 2009 to February of 2011.
Their key discovery is that, in those first two years, “most Bitcoin was mined by only sixty-four agents […] collectively accounting for ₿2,676,800 (PV: $84 billion).” They are referring to the process of minting new coins by solving computer challenges.
That number — 64 people in total — “is 1000-fold smaller than prior estimates of the size of the early Bitcoin