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MobileCoin has raised $30M for private mobile payments (techcrunch.com)
48 points by rms 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments



I was talking to Moxie's cofounder, Joshua Goldbard, the other month about this. They strongly depend upon secure enclaves to achieve it.

It seems like a rather clever use of DMCA related technology, potentially backfiring in the DMCA's face if it is extended to other use cases.

However, using secure enclaves seems like chasing a fading rainbow. The tech doesn't work without trusting the enclave, yet if we trust it, we're re-centralized our trust in chip makers like Intel.

Or worse, if it works extraordinarily well, I'm afraid DMCA related gangs will figure out how to lawyer those use cases out of existence in the same way they lawyer-ed in the tech to begin with.

I'm glad Moxie & co. are trying though, somebody has to! I have been previously very skeptical about the claims made by Signal, though, but as long as the enclave works, then they seem to hold true.


For what it's worth, we also trust the NSA to have written and verified our most important cryptographic hash functions, leading to the first rule of crypto -- never roll your own novel hash function.

I see this as the start of a community effort to verify Intel SGX. I imagine that the process of rolling out a consumer facing high stakes product on SGX involves external verification of SGX beyond what it's gone through before.


Care to share what claims you were skeptical about?


Can someone explain why the average user would prefer this over using venmo?


I am an expat who doesn't have a local bank account in my country (Sweden). Thus I can't use Cash, Venmo, Apple Pay, etc. or their Swedish equivalent (Swish) to send money to local friends after we go out to eat, etc. Paypal is my only real alternative right now, and I will never use Paypal. This might allow me to easily send cash to my local friends.


Pessimistically, they won't.

Optimistically, they solve consumer micropayments by allowing the unbanked to send and store money via WhatsApp.


Ok, that makes a lot of sense for the unbanked. I personally don’t know many people who are unbanked but maybe that number will grow in the future? I’m just trying to think about explaining this to some friends and why they should do this. Totally anonymous/private transactions between parties not having to use a bank?


From what I understand, the unbanked are really more of a thing in the developing world. The same crowd that'd be receiving micro loans were they looking to start small business in say rural Myanmar


Actually, I believe about 7-8% of the US is also unbanked. But that might be a specific to US (compared to other Western nations).


I lost a bank account last year and was unbanked for a little while. I really hate my customer service interactions with banks and would be quite happy if I could unbank myself.

Life pro tip:

If your Charles Schwab broker emails and says that they're wondering why your retirement savings are nothing but medical marijuana penny stocks and if you'd like to come in to talk about healthy portfolio management strategies, you should go into the local office and not ignore that email.


The bulk of those in Uganda are unbanked. Everyone here uses WhatsApp. Something like this would be a great way for me to pay contractors and domestic staff who right now only take cash.


Most people who use whatsapp live in the third world. Almost everyone uses it in Guatemala, and most people also don't have a bank there.


If they're unbanked how are they getting the money on there in the first place?


The world wide web my dude


Privacy - All transactions on venmo are easily accessed by venmo and other third parties.

International transactions - Venmo is very limited in this regard.

The unbanked - As stated already, there are about two billion unbanked people worldwide.

Avoiding banking cartels. - We've fed these parasites enough, don't you think?

Ease of use - A payment over a social network would be relatively seamless, particularly if you believe that apps allowing for rapid transfer between cryptocurrencies will be feasible (they are to some degree already).


I live in Uganda and something like this will be a great mobile money alternative. MTN and their ilk take a huge chunk of change for mobile money, and if this is cheap it’ll catch on very quickly here.

It should also make paying domestic staff and various contractors easier, and that’ll be nice.


They'll still have to pay the gatekeepers if they want to convert their cryptocurrency into something liquid.


Of course. As long as gatekeeper fees are less than the 3% charged for mobile money it’s a win


Street-level drug dealers would love secure and anonymous mobile payment platform for b2c and b2b settlements.


In the USA at least, it still exists, and it's called cash.

If cash were invented today, it would be illegal. For most small payments if not large transfers, in the USA consumers actually have the right to transact anonymously. Tracking micropayments publicly forever on a blockchain seems like a step backwards. Being able to track large transfers on a blockchain is one of the benefits of living in the world where the Byzantine General's Problem has been solved.


I guess you can now pay for illicit drugs using Signal without being tracked...


How are you not being tracked when your transaction will be on the blockchain? I can't believe we're still at this argument.


Read about this one on Wired awhile back. Nice to see it making progress. Would love to see a succinct description of how this compares to / is better than the slew of other privacy coins...? Also, is there a first real use case in mind that doesn't involve a big established messaging app adopting it for payments? (that seems hard/complicated/requires a different skillset than building the software). In any event, congrats to the team. Smells like one of the better projects out there!


The main difference is that MobileCoin trusts Intel's SGX to create a platform that should be able to scale quickly on mobile. It also has a solution to allow for private key recovery in case you lose your phone.

Zcash is more provably secure as it doesn't require trusting Intel's SGX but it's untenable on mobile right now as it's too computationally intensive. Monero and Dash are effectively anonymous for small transfers but for very large movements of money, the deep state can crack their tumbler algorithms. They provide good enough rather than verifiable anonymity.

As CEO of the Signal Foundation, Moxie is in a unique position to encourage Signal protocol chat services to adopt something like MobileCoin. I would imagine that progression would go Signal -> WhatsApp, and that Signal would only reject MobileCoin if Moxie himself rejected MobileCoin. I think there isn't really a first use case other than an existing Signal protocol service adopting it.


I don't understand - was this a traditional fund raise, or an ICO? I had thought ICO at first, since it's a crypto currency, but the article doesn't come right out and say it.

If it's an ICO - how does that work, exactly? People buy some amount of the coin at a valuation, and then they'll be able to use it later once the actual application comes out?


It makes a lot of sense for this coin to be on Stellar network. It is fast and cheap, and they can actually create their own coin whenever they like and treat current ones as tokens. I think this is smart move and much better then creating on Ethereum because of speed and price that goes along with it and often is not mentioned.

My 2c. Or 2 satoshis


The white paper says it uses the Stellar consensus protocol but doesn't specify that the coin is on the Stellar network.


The idea seems exactly like Electroneum.


Or Aeon. Or Phoneum. Or Telcoin. Or Status.im. Or a dozen other coins with near identical goals.


Aeon – Is pretty much like any cryptocurrency in general. They are trying to act like Monero but fast payments and multiple transactions like Litecoin. So the only I thing I see similar about Aeon and Telcoin is that they are on a mobile friendly. (Pretty much has to be for major adoption)

Status – Is an Ethereum-sending app, where you can send Ethereum and messages back and forth. Therefore, I would compare this more to PayPal, than Telcoin. Team is somewhat lackluster. In addition, this is about sending crypto between people (mainly Ethereum) and relates to Telcoin because it is on a mobile phone.

Phoneum - is a decentralized cryptocurrency that operates on mobile devices via app only, empowered by blockchain technology. The app also comes with a built in miner. I honestly could not find too much and it is not listed on CoinMarketCap. If I had to compare this to another crypto, it would be Electroneum, not Telcoin. They are literally doing the same thing and have a patent pending on the mobile miner. Telcoin – is a cryptocurrency designed to facilitate digital asset exchange with telecom channels provided by operators worldwide. They are trying to simplify it to where anyone, with any type of phone can send money, through a simple text.

These are all short examples and don’t give them full justice but the only thing they all have in common is that they are all cryptocurrencies and that they can be used with a phone. Telcoin is the only one that has shown great progress by partnering with big names like Wipro and GSMA. This shows that they are in the same realm with Telecom providers and are willing to comply with all the standards and regulations. I personally believe that this is a sleeper project and whenever it takes off, it is going to fly. Look at the team/advisors and tell me they are not bound for some success within the telecom industry.


How are any of these things the same other than their claim to be "mobile"?


Mobilecoin is a token powered by a stellar smart contract. I don't care if Moxie or god himself is the lead of the project, because it's incredibly limited in scope (actually stellar advertises that as a feature of their smart contract platform) I doubt it will succeed. And no, a fancy mobile UI is not worth $30mil.

Before someone replies with a quote from the whitepaper about what it /will/ do, don't bother. Until it's released I doubt any and all claims from the team. Because it's no different from any other high profile raise for a cryptocurrency and every single one so far has failed to deliver.


> I don't care if Moxie or god himself is the lead of the project

> Until it's released I doubt any and all claims from the team.

It's fine for you to have your opinion, but understand that you aren't meaningfully contributing to the conversation with statements like the ones above. Other people, obviously, will have different viewpoints, and it's best that we can talk on the merits of the arguments.


It is absolutely contributing to the discussion.

The merits to be discussed are "its not done yet, and anything that doesn't work NOW in crypto probably won't work ever".

If someone wants me to belive their claims they should build something, get it working, and THEN sell it. None of this pre sale IOU stuff.


A voice of (reasoned) doubt in a sea of unwavering optimism and praise is a contribution. HN tends towards the latter. See: Sharing economy, autonomous vehicles, Musk-related anything, smart contracts, etc


«don't care if Moxie or god himself is the lead of the project»

By this attitude, you would have failed to correctly value the potential of early Amazon (because "an online bookstore is not worth $X.")

One of the core principles of YC is that the value of an early-stage company mostly depends on the founders, not the initial idea (as it can change.)


> potential of early Amazon

Except this is not "early Amazon".

This is someone promising to build a mini-Amazon on AWS.


Again, the initial idea—mini-Amazon or whatever—doesn't (really) matter. It will evolve. It will change. The company may pivot. The valuation reflects the potential of the founder's skills, relentlessness, overall vision, track record, etc.


> because it's incredibly limited in scope (...) I doubt it will succeed.

What is the correct amount of scope to ensure success? I'm curious what's the logic behind your comment and negative predictions.


I would say that being legitimately innovative and not exactly like every other ICO with hollow promises would be where I draw the line.


> legitimately innovative > exactly like every other ICO > hollow promises

These are subjective opinions, doesn't seem like a rigorous line.


What are some ICOs you do support?


This seems unduly negative. Genuinely, why do you think their use of Stellar's consensus algorithm makes it limited in scope? From my understanding they are just using their consensus not the actual network, and the use of SGX seems like a valid innovation. I'm not aware of any cryptocurrencies that can run on a "light" client without having to trust their node - is there one?

I hear you on the delivering bit though.


Your github led me to https://turtlecoin.lol/ which makes your point and undermines it at the same time. Turtlecoin launched with an incremental and a catchy name and no ICO and on the surface sounds like it achieves a lot of what Mobilecoin attempts to.

Ultimately though, Turtlecoin is a parameter tweak and relaunch of existing coins that doesn't solve the core problem of consumer payments. Mobilecoin is at least attempting that, and for $30M, they should at least get a fancy mobile UI, hopefully one that filters up to an improvement of the Signal UI also.

It's right to be skeptical. Blockchain applications aren't being delivered. Still, the promise of blockchain convergence requires us to believe in a future that we can't quite see at hand where applications start being delivered all at once and the ecosystem hits critical mass. I'm now in the business of skeptically predicting the future and I've basically started pre-rejecting all ICO pitches if it's not being delivered imminently.

MobileCoin still stands out as a clever, simple design where the economic value comes from one trusted crypto anarchist saying that we as a society can in fact use Intel SGX for critical applications -- like a simple implementation of consumer micropayments. I, like many others, didn't believe this until Moxie said it was ok, but I believe in this because Moxie is in fact the most trusted person in Silicon Valley.

I'm curious about your blockchain side projects beyond Turtlecoin hacking, feel free to email me if you have any interesting code running...

Also I recommend Moxie's English language writing to everyone; it's sublime. https://moxie.org/stories.html


Thanks for the detailed reply. To me TurtleCoin is just a fun project that's trying a different approach: make something first. It has a long way to go and as it exists now is how you describe. In the long run the project members are hoping to take it well past that, which I'm sure you saw on the site.

When I first heard about mobilecoin I thought it was different too. The problem I have is why are they raising money right now? Show me a working MVP (not a sketch UI) first. It's crazy that people are raising this amount of money with absolutely nothing to demo. I have more faith in mobilecoin launching something worthwhile compared to other coins but I'm still very skeptical... name recognition and private raises don't change much.

As for now I've just been messing around with TurtleCoin. The project (along with the low price) has managed to create a community that's interested in building things with it. I like being able to hack on something, and no other crypto project has offered that environment.


You're not going to beat out Venmo, Apple Pay, and other established platforms.

Can this blockchain currency nonsense end already? People need to stop trying to force a given tech to do something specific all the time. It's literally the definition of "trying too hard".


> You're not going to beat out Venmo, Apple Pay, and other established platforms.

Those are established platforms where you are. Anecdotally, no-one here (NL) uses Venmo or apple pay, recently there's been an increase in popularity of 'tikkie' (https://tikkie.me/) which allows people to send payment requests through whatsapp (used by 90%< of people here). so if something like this is ingrained in whatsapp directly apps like that would lose popularity, i think


Consumer micropayments is one of the most basic possible applications of this technology and that it hasn't been implemented yet is sad. I'm not a fan of the customer experience of Venmo and Paypal and Apple Pay that require me to have a bank account or a credit card. They work in the first world for transfers over a certain minimum but there is really clearly room to innovate still.

Do you see a future where blockchain technology exists but consumers don't use cryptocurrency? I do also. Who is to say that WhatsApps's implementation of Mobilecoin has to use their own proprietary cryptocurrency instead of letting users denominate transfers in local fiat currency?


There are plenty of alternatives in developing countries. (I live in one such country and no one here uses any of the things you listed.) None of them are based on the block chain. They don't require bank accounts or credit cards. They don't work just for "certain amounts".

If those things don't exist in America it is because the market for them in America doesn't exist.




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