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Tech by VICE

Dark Wallet, Now With Cash

The anonymous Bitcoin storage service has some new features, now all it needs are people to use them.

by Kaleigh Rogers
Jan 22 2015, 2:45pm

​Screengrab: Dark Wallet

Dark Wallet, the anonymous Bitcoin s​torage and transfer platform, was intended to guide Bitcoi​n back to its anti-establishment, decentralized roots. But the platform was released before it was fully developed, making it hard to build an active user base and live up to the radical vision its developers held.

Now, with some brand new features—including an option for customers to anonymously convert and withdraw bitcoin into cold, hard cash—its creators are aiming to attract more people and push Dark Wallet to the comprehensive, anonymous, cypherpunk daydream they hoped it would be.

When Dark Wallet debute​d its alpha version last year, it was still a work-in-progress, according to one of the developers who built the platform. Available as a browser plugin for Google Chrome (and soon, Mozilla Firefox), the team hoped that developers and hackers around the world would tinker with it and offer ideas for ways to improve.

"To be honest, last summer when we released it, it was just to get the basic platform online," Amir Taaki, the British-Iranian software developer who helped create Dark Wallet, told me. "But that was just more of a taster and now we're actually getting close to releasing the full platform. This is the point where we want people to download and to test it."

The latest version of Dark Wallet. Screengrab: ​Dark Wallet

In the latest version, Dark Wallet now hosts an independent Bitcoin exchange. Users can buy and sell bitcoin within the system, with the Dark Wallet team serving as arbiters. And since Dark Wallet can be used without providing any personal information, the developers claim users will be able to buy, sell, save, and send their money anonymously.

The developers have also paired up with Chip Chap, a currency conversion app, to make converting Bitcoin and withdrawing money seamless and anonymous too. Chip Chap can convert euros to Bitcoin and vice versa, and users can withdraw their converted bitcoin as cash at thousands of ATMs located around Europe without a bank card, just a phone.

"You enter your phone number and the quantity you want to withdraw, then you are given an address and you send the Bitcoin there. After you send it, you will receive a code. You can use this at the ATM to receive cash through a system called Halc​ash which is widely deployed in Spain and throughout Europe," Taaki explained.

Users can go to any participating ATM, enter the code they've been given (no cards required), and have cash in their hands instantly. It's one of the only systems in place for turning bitcoins into cash without revealing your identity.

The ChipChap function for Dark Wallet. Screengrab: ​Dark Wallet

But Dark Wallet is still use-at-your-own-risk, even in its updated alpha version. And after more than a year of build up without a final product to show for it, it's hard not to get a whiff of vaporware around the whole thing. The US government and the European Central Bank are taking Dark ​Wallet seriously as a potential venue for money laundering, especially after ISIS recommended the service. Taaki assured me they are very close to the final iteration of the software. They will release a beta version in a few weeks once they get more users and plan to have a complete, final version within a month or two.

But he also said Dark Wallet is just one project of many his team—which includes Cody Wilson, best known for creating pl​ans for 3D-printed guns—is working on as part of their crusade to change the way people​ think about government and society as they live and work at a small villa in Spain.

Other projects include plans for a site called Dark L​eaks, which would use a mathematical algorithm to break up, encrypt, and distribute classified documents and provide a way for people to pay money to get access to the information. Wilson is also launching ​a campaign to get elected to and then disband the Bitcoin Foundation, which his team feels is unnecessary and counterproductive to Bitcoin's original goals of decentralization.

Even if Dark Wallet never becomes the go-to for Bitcoin users, Taaki said the attention and funds it has garnered created enough momentum for the team to keep going.

"To be honest, I'm not too worried. A lot of opportunity came with [Dark Wallet] as well," he said. "Even if it's not with Dark Wallet itself."