"Inside ChangeTip: A Special Buttcoin Investigative Report," -- All this and more, plus Andy Rooney, Tonight on 6 Blocks
Good Evening, I'm Lesley Stahl. Mike Wallace is out tonight. Notice! If you just want to get to the most interesting part, skip to IV. Shill Bots
In the world of Bitcoin, one startup has taken the community by storm. ChangeTip, a service that allows users to "tip" minute fractions of a cent to one another on online social media, has been rapidly accumulating a rabid, loyal fanbase of people spamming thinly-veiled bot-generated advertisements, in a decidedly clumsy attempt at native advertising. More interestingly, ChangeTip doesn't even actually use Bitcoin -- it maintains a centralized, internal ledger of "who" has "how many bits" and then, when the user is ready to cash out, pockets the ledger-balance of "bits" and delivers dollars to their banking account. At no point in the entire process is a user does a user ever actually have to touch bitcoin, and at no point in the entire process of tipping is any money actually being moved around on the blockchain. Essentially, ChangeTip is a Bitcoin-based startup that in no way utilizes Bitcoin, save for the fanatical frenzy of the community of bagholders.
ChangeTip manipulates the bitcoin bagholders into shilling. These bagholders try to encourage new recruits into the cult by tossing an inconsequential amount of money -- say, $0.0001 (or 1/100th a penny) at a potential recruit. The relationship is mutually beneficial & serves two purposes:
ChangeTip: gets an excuse to post its thinly-veiled native advertisement anywhere on social media (especially reddit)
Bitcoiners: get a way to try to indoctrinate other people into the cult at virtually no expense to them, thus potentially driving up demand and thus the price of a bitcoin (since supply is roughly fixed)
III. Privacy Concerns
Bitcoin is, of course, heralded by renowned sources such as /bitcoin as being an anonymous / pseudonymous way to send "money" to anyone, anywhere, instantly*. ChangeTip, however, requires you to "link" your social media accounts to ChangeTip to function. Essentially, this means that with minimal effort and a few database queries, ChangeTip is able to create an online "fingerprint" of anyone using the service. For example, I could know that TulipCoins is also "Mike Hockhertz" on facebook, and can be found under the twitter handles @JIDF_4_LIFE and @WellsFargoCustomerSupport. Why is this so alarming? Because ChangeTip doesn't actually seem to have any business model. From the time the company began til the present, ChangeTip has generated a whole $0.00 of revenue. There is an appropriate adage to cite here: "If you're not paying for it, you're the product." I will note that ChangeTip suggests that at some point in the future they will start taking a 1% cut of all "tips", however, as we will show later, this is probably a red herring. To compound this problem, ChangeTip also enables users to "link" their banking account, and thus "cash out". As you can imagine, the possibilities are limitless for abuse here -- a single company knowing your entire social media makeup, and your bank account, and thus knowing your true identity as well. Needless to say, it is surprisingly accepted in bitcoin services for a service that connects-the-dots so much as it were given the anonymity/pseudonymity-intense community of bitcoin. "But wait!" I hear you say -- you don't have to cash from from ChangeTip. You can send your money to another wallet and later cash it out at a Bitcoin Exchange. Yes, this is true, but forgetting an important key detail: the company that just invested $3.5 million in & effectively owns ChangeTip ("Pantera Capital") also has invested heavily in 2 of the biggest Bitcoin exchanges -- those being the Slovenian-run BitStamp and US-based Circle. The point is, even if you make the effort to move over to either of these exchanges, you can still be tracked (and rather easily at that). *Yourexperiencesmaydifferbyupto6hrs.Numerousmiddlemanfees&preposterousvolatilitymaywillapply.Drinkthekool-aidresponsibly.
IV. Shill Bots
ChangeTip seems to employ 2 kinds of Shill bots, in addition to their main ChangeTip bot. Important to note, ChangeTip has already been outed for running what I call "Giver" shill bots recently.
"Giver" bot: initiates the following chain of events
"Giver" bot initiates: Hey loofa, Your comment has recived a RANDOM TIP! 100 bits changetip I am a bot, going round Reddit sharing the news and joys of Bitcoin and ChangeTip . If you've never heard of ChangeTip, it's a cool Micro-Tipping service avaliable across a variety of social networks, including Reddit. I do hope you'll accept this tip, and I hope to see you in the /Bitcoin and /ChangeTip communities soon! Happy Tipping!
That's what I got from going through 6 pages of the bots history. I can't even do this anymore, the shilling is just so fucking pathetic & what's even more pathetic is that its pretty goddamned obvious who is running it. Gee, I wonder who has experience writing reddit bots & trying to sneakily advertise their spamware through reddit comments? The bot owner (aka, ChangeTip) apparently deleted all their posts after someone figured out what they were doing (click context on any of the posts in the user history). Fortunately, the idiots behind said bot didn't realize that if you just click "delete" on a comment in a thread, it deletes it from that thread, not from the user account, so we now have a living testament of the sad extents of shillery one very sad company will go.
V. ChangeTip's Balance Sheet
This is what I originally was writing this post about before assuming the whole 60 minutes schpiel. As has recently been pointed out elsewhere in /buttcoin, the founder of ChangeTip Nick Sullivan recently claimed to the New York Times that ChangeTip had transmitted approximately ~$250,000 USD as of February 1, 2015. Numerous users pointed out that this was more than double the previously reported amount (as displayed on their front page) of $90,000 USD. However, for the sake of argument, I am going to make the following assumptions, which are extraordinarily optimistic and represent a "best case" scenario for ChangeTip.
Suppose Nick Sullivan is correct that they have transmitted $250,000 USD (again, actually it's $90,000 USD)
Suppose that ChangeTip has had a 1% fee in place from Day One (actually, they still charge no fee, i.e. 0%)
Suppose that ChangeTip has one employee (actually, they have at least 4 employees)
Suppose that ChangeTip has only been operating for 3 months (actually, its closer to >12 months)
Using the above suppositions, we can deduce the following:
Best Case Total Revenue:
$250,000.00 * (1% fee) = $2,500.00
Best Case Monthly Revenue:
$2,500.00 / (3 Months) = $833.33/mo
Best Case Yearly Revenue:
($833.33/mo) * (12 Months/Year) = $9,999.96/yr
Best Case Employee Salary:
$9,999.96/yr OR $4.81/hr
// Employee Annual Salary ($9,999.96/year) * (100% Yearly Revenue) = ($9,999.96/yr) // Alternative: Employee Hourly Rate ($9,999.96/year) / (52 weeks/year) / (5 days/week) / (8 hours/day) = $4.81/hr // again, this is assuming there is only 1 employee who receives all the money the company brings in over a year
Best Case Employee Salary VS Federal Minimum Wage:
$-5,800/yr OR $-2.44/hr
Federal Minimum Wage = $7.25/hr = $15,800.00/yr ($9,999.96/year) - ($15,800.00/year) = $-5,800.00 ($4.81/hr) - ($7.25/hr) = -$2.44/hr // again, this is assuming there is only 1 employee who receives all the money the company brings in over a year // as you may notice, ChangeTip cannot afford even a single employee being paid the federal minimum wage
At this point, I need to point something out to make it exceptionally clear. We've already used the absolutely-most-positively-exaggerated-and-optimistic figures conceivable to look into ChangeTip's balance sheets and we've found that even using those incredibly one-sided figures, ChangeTip couldn't even possibly pay for a single employee who works for minimum wage. What I wanted to make clear was this: mind you, we're not even taking into account business expenses such as: taxes, office space, infrastructure, marketing, human resources, developers, testers, requirements, customer support, business planners, accounts payable, executives, dividends to shareholders, reinvestment in the company, etc. You know, what a business actually costs to run.
In case you think that this has all been the work of a crazed know-nothing anti-bitcoiner sheep, feel free to peruse the knowledgable pro-Bitcoin(er) position on ChangeTip: http://hackingdistributed.com/2014/12/17/changetip-must-die/ A selection from said great article that was part of the inspiration for this post:
Back to ChangeTip: on its current trajectory, it is not a viable company. I am certain that the people who work for it are well-meaning, reasonable people. But the lack of a revenue stream is an inescapable fact. The math portends an unsustainable cash flow; they will ultimately have to fold or else change their business model. When the music eventually stops, our identities will be up for sale. Even if the company manages to stick to its current avowed business plan until bankruptcy, there is no telling what others will do with the ChangeTip data.
Feel free to double check calculations, but I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that ChangeTip is a gigantic PII-vacuum waiting to explode. I would feel bad for the changetipping bitcoiners, but in all honesty: this is the free market -- this is what they asked for -- this is what they deserve. Maybe the next ChangeTip will want to work on its reputation, amirite guiz? Oh, and where there's credit due, there's credit due -- even /bitcoin seems to somewhat be acknowledging that ChangeTip is an insolvent spam-machine: https://www.reddit.com/Bitcoin/comments/305dco/changetip_statistics_coming_soon/ Please let me know if there are any errors & I'll try to correct them.
tl;dr lol ChangeTip
edit: updated some grammar & redid the bit about shill bots to show the process more fully
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