Anna KeyWed, Nov 11, 2020 3:26 PM
Diego Salazar From Monero: “Crypto Will Always Be Fairly Niche”
Monero is one of the most popular altcoins and a synonym for privacy in the crypto world. Unlike some other digital money, which can only boast a semblance of anonymity, Monero implements the CryptoNote Protocol, which allows users to secure information about the sender, recipient, amounts of transactions, and wallet balance. These features make Monero a particularly attractive asset for users concerned by increased attention to cryptocurrencies from regulatory authorities.
We talked to Diego Salazar, an assistant to the Monero Core Team, about the present and future of the project. In this interview, you will learn what advantages Monero has over Bitcoin, what principles of work provide Monero users with exceptional confidentiality, how the COVID-19 epidemic has affected the altcoin market, and more.
Tell something about yourself. What brought you to Monero, how did you get started here? What is your role in the Monero community?
Something about me? I love Mexican food, I squat, and I'm a UI/UX designer. I found Monero because when I first started out as a designer, I was looking for a niche (it's a competitive space). A year or so prior I clicked around the cryptos and found the awful website. It was unforgettable. It was Monero. So yeah, I initially didn't come here to be a part of the revolution, and I didn't come because of the promise of BTC or anything. I came for selfish reasons. But after reading up on this stuff, I realized my values coincided with how they were trying to bring about change, so I stuck around, and now I'm here. What do I do for Monero? I'm an assistant to the Core Team. I do some community work, some design work, etc. etc. A little bit of everything really.
How would you briefly explain to beginners who are just starting to get acquainted with crypto what Monero is?
Monero is like Bitcoin, but private. Bitcoin has the censorship resistance and finality of transactions as enforced by miners. Monero has all of that, but you don't know the sender, amount, or receiver of each transaction like you do with Bitcoin. Most people actually think Bitcoin is private. It's not. So Monero fills this gap and, in my opinion, is stronger money than Bitcoin because of it.
When they talk about Monero, they say Bitcoin is dead, Monero is the future. What are the strengths and competitive advantages of Monero? Why is Monero better than Bitcoin?
People saying these things really don't have an understanding of trade-offs. Everything is a trade-off. Monero blows Bitcoin out of the water when it comes to privacy, but it has larger transactions because of it. Will this be a problem for scaling in the future? We don't know. We can only speculate. Some say no, others yes. We haven't reached that point yet. The Bitcoiners are making a bet that completely transparent transactions and crystal clear auditable supply is the correct path. Monero is making a different bet (though Monero's supply can also be audited). I personally don't mess with Bitcoin. Too transparent.
I like my privacy. I'd rather not EVERYONE be able to see the equivalent of my monthly bank statement just to browse when they'd like.
Is Bitcoin dead? No. It's very much alive and well. Is Monero a shitcoin? Also no. The maximalists are kinda stupid.
Monero transactions are much more difficult to track due to ring signatures. Tell us what it is.
Ring signatures are actually only one of the three-prong approach that Monero has to privacy. Ring signatures hide the sender, RingCT hides the amount, and stealth addresses hide the receiver. If one of these technologies is compromised or is weakened due to heuristics, it doesn't compromise the others. So some privacy will be lost, but much of it will hold up. They compensate for each other's weaknesses. But ring signatures in particular? They are a way to hide your real transaction output in a crowd of other outputs, and nobody knows which one is the real one. In this way, the real output (and sender that used it) remains secret. Hide in the crowd.
We are all committed to protecting our right to have privacy in the digital age. Monero has increased privacy, but will it remain the dominant coin in this segment? How decentralized and anonymous Monero really is?
Will Monero stay the dominant coin? No one can say. I know this answer doesn't make for an interesting article. Newspeople want drama and fights and huge, grandiose claims about how we are the best and everyone else is the worst. But that's not the real world we live in, is it? That's only the reality we're being sold.
The reality is, Monero is definitely currently the strongest privacy contender because at present we are the ONLY COIN that has mandatory privacy.
Everyone else has some privacy features but they're usually bolted on as an afterthought, and always opt-in. Opt-in privacy doesn't work, and this has been shown time and time again. If another coin was to finally grow some balls and make their privacy features mandatory we could actually have a real conversation about the pros and cons of the different protocols and see how they stack against each other, but we currently can't do that because we're the only one who has mandatory privacy. Pity.
How decentralized and anonymous are we? This is a hard question to answer because people value different things. We have the most egalitarian mining with RandomX. If you value decentralization in mining, then Monero is top in class. We had a fair launch and no ICO, pre-mine, or founder's reward. If [you value] the distribution of supply factors into how decentralized you think something is, then Monero sits with the big boys. We do as much as possible to not compromise on decentralization and privacy. I won't say we're perfect. Again, not interested in pushing headlines with huge claims that only serve to hurt people and make drama. But I will say we are currently the best in class, and will probably stay that way for the coming future.
The use of private altcoins has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you associate the growth of interest in private coins with?
People are getting more educated by the day about how much of their information is out there, and how it can hurt them to be so open. As I said earlier, so many people actually get into Bitcoin because they think it's the better, more private option, only to learn that this isn't the case. Institutions are eating away at our privacy at every turn. Governments, corporations, and even other individuals. As people start learning just how damaging the consequences can be, they will try to move towards more private alternatives. Monero is one such option. I'm not surprised by our growth, but I also know there will also be a subset of the population (perhaps even the majority) that will never value their privacy as much as (I think) they should. These people will probably never come to Monero, but that's fine. As long as we're a tool that helps the people who need it and care, that's good enough for me.
What is Monero Research Lab? There’s not much information about it on the web. What kind of research is conducted there? And how does the admission work?
The Monero Research Lab (MRL) is a loose collection of affiliated researchers who do privacy and Monero related research. There's not much info about it because, like mostly everything in Monero, it's not a formal institution. There's no physical building or company or anything behind it.
It's (Monero Research Lab) researchers of all kinds, walks of life, and education levels that come to further privacy in distributed systems
and since Monero has been quite friendly to novel research in the past, researchers often feel safe working with our community.
Now even though there are no formal requirements or mandatory education levels, someone who is a known expert (PhD in math or cryptography for example) will probably have his suggestion and ideas taken a little more seriously. But we have definitely had high impact contributions coming from anonymous individuals, or other unlikely places. "Experts" don't have a monopoly on good ideas, or even math smarts! As you can probably imagine from my answer then, requirements for admission are non-existent really.
But yeah. They do excellent work. We've had two full-time, PhD researchers, funded by the community via donations, and they've made huge changes in Monero for the better.
We have noticed the information about atomic swaps on Monero GitHub. Is there any work underway to deploy peer-to-peer exchanges?
We ourselves are not working to deploy peer-to-peer exchanges. The Monero community's goal is to do one thing and do it well. That one thing is to make a private, fungible coin. If someone from our community decided to make such an exchange, then we wouldn't mind, of course, but it's not a focus of the dev team. We hope with our atomic swaps implementation for it to be as easy as possible for other projects, wallets, and exchanges to implement with little overhead. Let them do what they do best, and us do what we do best.
In one of the issues of Monero Talk, the developer behind the creation of Monero, Ricardo Spagni, said that cryptocurrencies are not yet ready to take a place in the sun. Do you agree with this statement? And why do you think so?
First off, Riccardo Spagni is not the creator of Monero. This is a common misunderstanding, but he didn't make Monero. He was simply the most public face in its early days, both in terms of work done on the coin, and public speaking about Monero to the masses.
The real creator of Monero was actually a scammer that wanted to make the project for his own nefarious purposes, but the early community (including Spagni) saw the project had promise and took it from him. The scammer left, and the project has been in the community's hands ever since.
History lesson aside, I agree with what Spagni said about cryptocurrencies not being yet ready for the limelight. They're clunky, horrible UX, slow to use, and provide little benefit to the masses. There's just no reason for the average Joe to want to use cryptocurrencies for anything beyond using it like a penny stock. They can't even spend it anywhere! The barriers are currently too high for anyone who is not an idealist to try to switch over. The reality is, most people are just not ready to be their own banks. They value the protections that banks give them, both physical protection for their money, and government promises to cover losses in the event of a catastrophe (in the USA where I reside anyway). Cryptocurrency promises freedom from a monopolized money system, but none of these protections or guarantees, and as most people don't care about freedom from this system, and value the guarantees, they will not switch.
There are 2 main roughly generalized forecasts about the future of crypto: either it will be widespread, or it is a bubble, and the industry has no future. Do you have your own prediction for the future of cryptocurrencies? And about Monero's place in this future?
I personally think cryptocurrency will always be fairly niche. "Mass adoption" is something spoken about by people who have little idea just how little value cryptocurrencies have to the common person (as explained in the previous question). That and, cryptocurrency is nowhere near ready for adoption even if it did happen (also as explained above). I don't foresee either of these two things changing in the foreseeable future. Many of our grandchildren will have it in a good place.
And Monero will occupy a niche within that niche. Of those that value freedom, there will be a subset that values privacy, but that's not everybody sadly. Some people don't care, or aren't smart enough to sort good solutions from bad solutions. Such is life. But for that niche within the niche that need or use Monero, it will always be there. It's not some shitcoin ICO that will disappear when the money is gone. We've been doing this without funding since the beginning ;)
Crypto intelligence firm Chainalysis and data forensics company Integra Fec have won a combined $1.25 million contract to provide tools that "break" Monero for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). What do you think of tracking transactions, identifying specific details as well as providing information on network activity? How will Monero face this challenge?
Metadata kills. Any leaked data or metadata is a piece of a larger puzzle, and privacy is about reducing or eliminating this leakage. Monero does not claim we're perfect, and we don't cry like babies when someone points out flaws in our privacy. Usually, we know about them already. We even have an entire YouTube series (called Breaking Monero) dedicated to attacks that can be done on our coin. For us, it's better these things are known, both so users can decide if using Monero is right for them, and so researchers can study the problem. This is better than the alternative of pretending they don't exist, and trying to attack anyone who sees new flaws (like others). Getting defensive helps nobody as long as the discussion has both accurate information and is being held in good faith.
Openness and transparency about our flaws and our future research is how this will get done in the long term. Not by hiding and hoping nobody sees it. Because somebody will. And we need to be prepared.
Monero gave impetus to the study of privacy, and thanks to this, new technologies and projects appeared, and Monero became a measure of the effectiveness of these technologies. This is incredibly cool! What other prospects do you see for using Monero technologies outside the financial sector?
I do know that some of the technologies that Monero has used, developed, optimized, or perfected can be used for non-blockchain activities. Ring signatures were around before Monero, and bulletproofs have many other applications as well. Ultimately, Monero is just trying to add to the large pile of privacy research, development, and application, as other projects (most of them not even blockchain-related) are trying to do as well. In this way, we can make the world a better place that honors people's privacy.
Some of the technologies that Monero has used, developed, optimized, or perfected can be used for non-blockchain activities.
The last network update took place on October 17th. The key upgrade is compact linkable spontaneous anonymous group (CLSAG) technology, an enhanced version of the Monero ring signature scheme. Please tell us more about CLSAG. What is it and how has it improved things?
I stated already that Monero has a three-prong approach to privacy composed of ring signatures, RingCT, and stealth addresses. Each of these technologies has proving systems, math, and cryptography nested inside them by which they prove different statements mathematically. CLSAG is a replacement for one of our proving schemes. It basically makes the math of this proving system smaller and more efficient. This leads to smaller, faster to verify transactions, which means better long term scaling.
Finally, tell us a few words about the short and long-term plans of Monero. What should we expect from the project in the future?
You know, Monero is actually kind of boring. Anytime someone asks us about our future plans, the answer is always the same. Make things more private, and make our current privacy schemes more robust and efficient. We're pretty focused on that one singular thing, but it's such an important job, and somebody has to do it. Like the roads we walk on, bridges we cross, plumbing in our houses, and other critical portions of infrastructure in our everyday life, someone had to put them there. They didn't appear magically, and they're definitely not the most exciting topics of conversation. But without them, we'd be living a very different life. They're important to our modern world. I think the same about Monero. We're laying the pipes, paving the roads, and building the infrastructure needed to have financial privacy. It's not a grandiose claim like most of the shitcoins out there about how they're going to revolutionize XYZ industry (which, newsflash, they won't), but it's a goal worth pursuing.
As for specifics, we have next-gen privacy protocols in research like Triptych and Arcturus, which have the potential to greatly improve our privacy in the future. As always, we're also working to make the UX of Monero as simple as possible, so privacy is not just accessible to tech nerds, but to everyone should they want it.