One of the often-cited advantages of Bitcoin and similar decentralized cryptocurrencies is a high, even though not absolute, degree of privacy and anonymity afforded to their users.
It would, therefore, make sense to expect that protesters in some of the world's current hotspots, cut off from traditional sources of funding, would find peer-to-peer financial networks that leave out central banks and governments particularly helpful.
But these are still digital currencies – and that means their usefulness degrades sharply when the authorities, for example, switch off internet access to an area.
CoinDesk, a site dedicated to cryptocurrencies and digital assets, says that in reality, the system doesn't work as well as might be expected.
In Hong Kong, protesters are saying that with internet shutdowns mesh networks and messaging apps like Telegram aren't proving to be a good solution in allowing individual users to take advantage of the crypto technology.
The report suggests that cryptocurrencies are not only faltering when faced with technical obstacles but have also failed to win the hearts and minds of demonstrators themselves, who seem reluctant to use them. In Hong Kong, anonymous sources said that in order to move their money out of the territory, most people still use traditional bank accounts.
At the same time, those who might wish to share experiences with others are finding it ever more difficult to access social networks, as China cracks down on the likes of the Kuniao browser, used to access sites blocked by the Great Firewall.
Other protest-stricken areas like Iran experience government-imposed internet blackouts – the most recent one lasting five days. In addition, the country has only six bitcoin nodes, while even with connectivity to the global internet, bitcoin wallet apps and apps like Telegram remain blocked.
In Lebanon, protesters have recently taken to the streets in reaction to “a local banking crisis and government corruption” – while bitcoin traders reportedly got hit by hackers. An anonymous source who allegedly fell victim to the hack said that attackers compromised the idea of mobile identity as they have been able to “hijack” apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, used by cryptocurrency traders.
“In all three contexts, current bitcoin infrastructure was found to be insufficient,” the report said, identifying accessibility to this technology as the main problem.