Pando

Ridecoin combines Uber and bitcoin in the ultimate troll against government oversight

By David Holmes , written on December 12, 2014

From The News Desk

Over the course of its five-year existence, Uber has courted controversy and pushed the regulatory envelope at nearly every opportunity. From insurance to safety to privacy, Uber's Travis Kalanick has acted like a rebel with a $40 billion cause, and many local governments are still playing catch up. They say it's better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. Uber has time for neither.

(To be fair, its competitor Lyft has experienced its own set of controversies related to insurance, safety, and privacy as well, though its response to criticisms is rarely as brazen as Uber's).

Alongside Uber's centralized arrogance is Bitcoin's decentralized anarchy. The crypto-currency resists government regulation by design. The very things that make it appealing in theory -- anonymity, ease of transfer across borders -- attracts money launderers and buyers and sellers of illicit goods.

Now, in what might be the ultimate troll against government oversight, somebody has proposed an unholy union between Uber and bitcoin.

It's called Ridecoin and it sounds like it's straight out of Peter Thiel's dream journal. The tagline reads, "Bitcoin Uber! Distributed blockchain based ridesharing. Can't be shut down like Uber and Lyft. It just exists."

Well it doesn't "exist" quite yet. The app was built for the PennApps X college hackathon. As Shariq Hashme, one of the developers behind the project, describes it on his website, "Ridecoin was distributed ridesharing on top of the Bitcoin protocol, with web of trust mechanics to incentivize good behavior. Protocol was interesting, but the mobile app didn't work well."

Nevertheless, the notion of overlaying the bitcoin platform over industries like ridesharing that already operate only tangentially within the law, is a potential nightmare for user safety. Although Uber may act like it has nothing to lose, it has local governments to answer to -- along with the occasional US Senate inquiry. But with no centralized authority whatsoever, no servers to shut down, no assets to seize, and no CEO to oust by investors, Ridecoin is a dystopian libertarian fever dream with zero accountability to keep its riders and drivers safe. And while the idea is more thought experiment than reality, it offers a glimpse at the horrifying logical conclusion of Silicon Valley "disruption."

[illustration by Brad Jonas]