Three former members of a controversial Italian hacking and surveillance tool vendor will “transition out” of cryptocurrency firm Coinbase, CEO Brian Armstrong announced in a blog post Monday night, after a week of intense pressure.
Coinbase, which operates popular cryptocurrency exchanges for laypeople and professionals, acquired blockchain analytics firm Neutrino in February. Neutrino’s leadership—its CEO, chief research officer, and chief technology officer—are all former members of Hacking Team, a controversial firm that sold spy tools to governments with abysmal human rights records before getting hacked itself.
The acquisition spawned a #DeleteCoinbase movement to close accounts en masse in protest of Hacking Team’s history, which includes giving governments the means to spy on journalists.
According to Armstrong, Coinbase “had a gap in [its] due diligence process” when it acquired Neutrino. Now, the former Hacking Team members at Neutrino—Giancarlo Russo, Marco Valleri, and Alberto Ornaghi—will “transition out” of Coinbase, Armstrong wrote.
“While we looked hard at the technology and security of the Neutrino product, we did not properly evaluate everything from the perspective of our mission and values as a crypto company,” Armstrong wrote. “We took some time to dig further into this over the past week, and together with the Neutrino team have come to an agreement: those who previously worked at Hacking Team (despite the fact that they have no current affiliation with Hacking Team), will transition out of Coinbase.”
It’s unclear if “transition out” really means “fired,” or what this means for Neutrino, which presumably just lost its entire C-suite. At the time of writing, Russo, Valleri, and Ornaghi are still listed as Neutrino’s executives on the company’s site. Coinbase spokespeople were not available to comment by publishing time.
The whole episode demonstrates a few things. First, it shows Coinbase is responsive to the community when it threatens its user base (and that a Twitter hashtag arguably resulted in some action), and that selling hacking tools is something that will come back to haunt those who do so.
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