Although initial coin offerings and the blockchain have taken over seemingly every company, tech-related or not, the big tech companies have been understandably reluctant to get into something so associated with a scam.
The US Patent and Trademark Office have released a blockchain-related patent that Amazon first filed for in 2014, and it’s not exactly what you’d expect. Rather than coming up with a way to secure the delivery chain or drones using blockchain, Amazon instead has appeared to work out a way to de-anonymize cryptocurrencies, and make money selling the data to law enforcement (or anyone else). Crypto-libertarian this is not.
The patent, first discovered by Motherboard, describes a “streaming data marketplace” for associating data from multiple sources. The potential applications are nearly infinite, but the blockchain-specific applications become clear in the patent’s detailed description:
One example is a data stream that publishes or includes global bitcoin transactions (or any crypto currency transaction). These transactions are completely visible to each participant in the network. The raw transaction data may have little meaning to a customer unless the customer has a way to correlate various elements of the stream with other useful data. For example, a group of electronic or internet retailers who accept bitcoin transactions may have a shipping address that may correlate with the bitcoin address. The electronic retailers may combine the shipping address with the bitcoin transaction data to create correlated data and republish the combined data as a combined data stream. A group of telecommunications providers may subscribe downstream to the combined data stream and be able to correlate the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses of the transactions to countries of origin. Government agencies may be able to subscribe downstream and correlate tax transaction data to help identify transaction participants.
What Amazon is imagining here is a complete system to collect all the relevant data from everyone dealing with Bitcoin — internet providers, online stores, postal carriers — and combine it into a dataset to provide real-life identities to the government. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this is possible — Bitcoin wasn’t actually designed to be an anonymous system — but Amazon spelling out the possibilities of data surveillance in a patent brings it all to life.