USA Today’s Edward Baig caught up with Mark Cuban on the topics of Bitcoin and his new venture Cyber Dust following the South by Southwest (SxSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Austin was also the home for the Texas Bitcoin Conference where Charlie Shrem addressed attendees remotely while under house arrest. Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatre and Magnolia Ventures, and is the chairman of AXS TV. His general thoughts on Bitcoin:
I think as an encryption technology it’s great. I think as a transport mechanism that it’s unique and has a great opportunity in the future. I think it’s got no shot as a long-term digital currency.
His synopsis has been echoed previously by several media outlets over the past few months and is intuitive: Bitcoin and its peers are not behaving as any workable currency should. This is evidenced by it not being treated as real currency even by those dealing in it: “They all translate it to dollars. And if you translate it into dollars it’s not a currency.” But its underlying technologies and economical motivation are an indispensable step toward the future of sustainable digital currency, even if Bitcoin itself doesn’t survive.
Cuban compared Bitcoin to gold, a comparison usually reserved for the context of comparing Litecoin to silver. He said that you have to physically guard your private key, just like you have to physically protect gold. Although Bitcoin is more like a “religion” whereas gold has some inherent industrial value, the “perceived value” of both is what really drives their valuation and day-to-day price swings.
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Cuban’s new venture Cyber Dust is like Snapchat for texting. Snapchat is a mobile app allowing for instantaneous sending of photos and videos which are then (believed to be) deleted within a few seconds, leaving behind no trace and saving data storage space. Snapchat attracted buyout interest from the likes of Google and Facebook, just as WhatsApp did. It was speculated to be valued as much as $3-4 billion.
Cyber Dust is intended to complement texting, not necessarily replace it. The premise is that our messages can always wind up causing unintended consequences long-term, perhaps three years down the road. The message is long forgotten from our minds. It may very well have been sent to the right people, with the right content, at the right time. But it can always be used against you at the receiving end where its no longer under your control, perhaps in a lawsuit three years from now. Or with a former employee now working at a different company. The goal is for people to realize they have a “disposable” alternative to sending traditional texts. (It would be interesting if Cuban was partially motivated by fear of a new world where his controversial comments, which have thus far landed him more than $1.6 million in total fines, are permanently etched in the ledger of history.)
He maintains that not only businesses, but even consumers, and even the younger generation, will start to see the need for such functionality as they become increasingly wary of their indelible digital footprint left on places like Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest.
The worlds of Bitcoin and Cyber Dust appropriately clash at a time when Bitcoin is totally anonymous, yet completely transparent. At a time when MtGox deleted its entire Tweeting history days before declaring bankruptcy. And at a time when Newsweek considers what would have been had it not posted some private details about the Nakamoto family, which are now irreversibly absorbed on the other side of the web.