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Coinbase Users Struggle to Delete Their Accounts in Protest

Users trying to #DeleteCoinbase are having trouble after the exchange acquired a startup staffed by former Hacking Team members.

by Jordan Pearson
Feb 28 2019, 10:09pm

Image: Shutterstock

Users of Coinbase, a major exchange for buying and selling Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, are having trouble closing their accounts in protest after the platform acquired a startup founded by former members of a highly controversial Italian hacking tool vendor.

Coinbase announced its acquisition of Neutrino, a startup that traces cryptocurrency transactions, last week. Neutrino’s key staff are former members of Hacking Team, which sold surveillance and intrusion tools to international governments with dubious human rights records. The acquisition was met with widespread condemnation in the cryptocurrency community, which kicked off a hashtag—#DeleteCoinbase—aimed at fomenting a groundswell of account closures in protest.

Some #DeleteCoinbase participants were met with roadblocks when trying to close their Coinbase accounts, however, and are now helping each other move off of Coinbase.

To close a Coinbase account, you have to have a balance of zero. Some users with infinitesimal fractions of cryptocurrency called “dust” in their accounts, which are usually leftovers from various transactions, were reportedly met with an error message when they tired to send these small amounts to an external wallet, saying the amount was too small to send.

According to a Coinbase spokesperson, the minimums are in place to ensure the fees incurred when sending money over the blockchain are covered.

To get around this limitation, users are sending their dust to other Coinbase users before closing their accounts. To expedite this process, independent developer and Bitcoin enthusiast Udi Wertheimer started the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain. The hashtag is a play on the recent Lightnight Network trust chain, in which cryptocurrency enthusiasts passed along a bit of cryptocurrency on the Lightning Network (and tweeted about it) like a kind of modern chain letter.

The #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain, on the other hand, comprises a chain of people passing their dust along in order to close their accounts in succession.

“I hope that this message makes Coinbase understand that a press release won't fix this,” Wertheimer told Motherboard in a Twitter direct message. “They need to disassociate themselves from Hacking Team if they have any hope of earning people's trust again. I don't know if this can happen, so the alternative is that people at least know about it and get to decide for themselves.”

Coinbase spokespeople told Motherboard on Wednesday that while the firm does not support Hacking Team’s past actions, it couldn’t pass up on Neutrino’s technology.

Some users are reporting issues closing their Coinbase accounts even after transferring all of the dust out. It’s unclear what is causing this issue, or how widespread it is. Coinbase spokespeople were not immediately available to comment on this problem.

Self-described Bitcoin maximalist Jeremy Seaside participated in the #DeleteCoinbaseTrustChain, cleared all of his Coinbase accounts out, but still couldn’t close his accounts, he told me in a Twitter direct message.

A screenshot shared with Motherboard shows that he completed all the necessary steps to close his account, but an error message nonetheless tells him, “You can’t complete the account closure quite yet.”

Coinbase account deletion
Image: Jeremy Seaside

“I have completed 12 different steps, only to be told I still cannot close my account,” Seaside told me in a Twitter direct message. “I am currently waiting for their customer support to help resolve the issue—but in the meantime, I am still a user, subject to their terms of service, which now apparently involves unprecedented levels of personal financial surveillance.”

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