Björkcoin: Björk’s cryptocurrency album project dissected (impolite ranty version).

 

I wrote up Björk’s cryptocurrency album project over on the blockchain blog. This was reprinted on Hypebot (and was No. 5 on Hypebot for the week) and then cut’n’pasted by a pile of clickbait collector sites, which is why I have to write this stuff like a link-filled ad for myself. It was third hit for “bjork” on Google News UK (not logged in) for a while, which is nice. I sold a few books (UK, US) off the back of it.

The blockchain blog is a slightly professional endeavour (and now has a Patreon!), so I have to be a bit restrained. I have to convince people who don’t already agree with me. Show, not tell. But I promised I’d write a Rocknerd version too, with what I was thinking when I was writing it.

Not too shabby.

The first I heard of this latest wizard wheeze was a link in Fast Company on the subject: Bjork’s new album goes all-in on the blockchain craze. My first thought was “oh no.”

Famous musicians have long had a habit of adopting some awful headline-friendly technology or other, that’s utterly unready for prime time consumer use, in order to show that they are hep and with it and looking to the astounding future. Let’s do 3D! Let’s do holograms! Let’s do virtual reality! Let’s do cyberspace! It’s one thing when, say, Severed Heads get a technology and beat the crap out of it to see what falls out, because they’re good at it — they’ve always lived on the ragged edge of stuff that doesn’t work yet — and their fan base loves that stuff. It’s another when a mainstream pop star’s clearly bolted it on the side of an existing project to get media attention for their new thing. And to be fair, this was the first I’d heard that Björk had a new album on the way, and it’s been most of the press coverage so far. So you can’t say it didn’t do the job.

But when you hear someone in music is doing something “blockchain,” the correct first reaction is “what the shit.”

The artist will, like anyone whose ears have pricked up at the siren call of magical internet money, usually have been cast in the role of sucker, rarely in the role of scammer, and in the more hilarious cases in the role of sucker who thinks they’re the scammer. If they’re lucky they’ll be doing it just for the marketing, and quietly kill the project when it goes nowhere.

Your default assumption when you hear the word “blockchain” should be that every single person involved is an incompetent scammer. Blockchain people make music industry people look competent.

When I write up a crypto offering, it always ends up a process of just doing the obvious kicking the tyres and then documenting how they fall down the stairs, hitting their head on every step on the way down. A collapse board cascade of slapstick incompetence. Every. Time.

The Fast Company story is substantially a rewrite of a story on MusicAlly on Thursday 2 November, based on an interview with Kevin Bacon from Blockpool.io, who tells how they are setting this up in partnership with Björk’s label, One Little Indian. MusicAlly is about the industry nuts and bolts, particularly anything digital, so that’s their angle. (I contacted Stuart Dredge at MusicAlly asking about this, and he was most helpful.)

Bacon has previously been sceptical as to blockchains saving the music industry — mostly because no blockchain can possibly scale to the size of the music industry (per Rocknerd passim) — but is pushing this new project pretty hard.

The deal is: you preorder the album, with actual money (credit card or PayPal) or various cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dashcoin or Audiocoin … no Ether, in 2017? I would love to hear Bacon’s justification for including Litecoin and Dash and not Ether), and get 100 Audiocoins, Bacon’s own cryptocurrency, for free. If you do various unspecified future Björk-related things, you can get more Audiocoins! Or buy Björk stuff with Audiocoins.

1 ADC was worth 0.19 of a cent at the time of the story, though of course there was a huge spike in the price over the weekend and when I wrote the piece it had rocketed to 0.57 of a cent. Insofar as it can be said to be “worth” anything, as we’ll see below — turning it into ActualMoney is AHAHAHAHA *choke* no.

The album’s official press release from that Thursday mentions:

Björk will also be the first artist to use cryptocurrency in a meaningful way, making her album available to pre-order and buy with Bitcoin (BTC), Audiocoin (ADC), Litecoin (LTC) and Dashcoin (DASH) — all now valid currency in her online store.

Presumably all other musical cryptocurrency linkups and web record shops taking cryptos to date have been meaningless, then!

Because bloody nobody bothers with basic “DOES THIS EVEN WORK ON THE SIMPLEST LEVEL” journalism these days, all other press coverage of Björk and crypto seems to be rewrites of the MusicAlly story, many — including from the music press! — via The Times‘ rewrite of the MusicAlly story. Fast Company gets points for having bothered to track down some background on Audiocoin. Dredge was slightly disconcerted too, but MusicAlly did generally get a link and a mention at least.

It isn’t just the music or general press who are lazy, by the way — Izabella Kaminska from the Financial Times, one of the few journalists bothering to point out the trivially obvious problems with cryptocurrency stuff, posted a bit of a rant a few weeks ago on the topic:

It’s kinda baffled us for five years straight as to why so much of the financial press hasn’t really bothered to kick tyres in the crypto world, entranced by the ever-rising price of bitcoin and seemingly blind to the notion that concepts like “trustless” probably just mean “untrustworthy.”

So, let’s do the simplest possible thing that would warrant the label of “journalism,” and just run through the process of trying to buy the record!

The album’s preorder page on the One Little Indian shop site shows no way to accept cryptocurrency as yet — if you slog through as far as “Payment Information,” the only options are “Credit Card (Worldpay)” or “PayPal.” As I write this, there is no information concerning cryptocurrencies anywhere on the label’s website. The last news concerning Björk is from 25 October, and the piece before that was in June.

The preorder page on Björk’s own site does, once you get to the checkout, have a generic “CryptoCurrency accepted here” logo. There’s a “What is cryptocurrency?” link below the logo that just takes you to the front page of Blockpool.io, which doesn’t answer the question — the site is a pile of impenetrable in-cult crypto jargon. “Cryptocurrency is irrelevant and key to Blockchain.” Yeah, that’s great, thanks.

If you click on the “CryptoCurrency accepted here” logo, four more logos come up, for Bitcoin, Audiocoin, Litecoin and Dash. The pop-up info boxes for Bitcoin and Audiocoin have a quick paragraph each; the other two just say “litecoin description” and “dash description”, because finishing your website before you try to take people’s money is too much like work.

I select “Audiocoin” and hit “continue”, then “place order”. It spins a while, then pops up an address, a QR code and “To complete your payment, please send 2505.69 ADC to the address below.” To be fair, this is about as straightforward as it could get. Though I bet you they haven’t tested what happens if something goes wrong with the payment process.

The Björk store will proceed to email your password to you in plain text. I said “FUCKING WHAT” quite loudly when I saw this in my inbox:

So that’s my plaintext password, sent in plaintext email. They’re storing passwords in plain text.

(It is philosophically possible they just sent the plaintext password as an email but stored it encrypted. It’s not the balance of probabilities, though.)

For those of you who aren’t IT people, let me assure you, speaking as an IT professional, that this is “holy shit you people are fucking incompetent” territory, and, should they get hacked — given they’re so sloppy as to have at any time thought this was a good idea, I would actually be surprised if they hadn’t been pwned already — will provide the hacker with not just a juicy collection of access to everything you’ve ever sent this site, but to what for many users will be the passwords on other sites, because most people reuse passwords.

And the thing is, it’s really easy not to store passwords in plain text. It’s absolutely standard to store a hash of the password, salted against later decoding. You’d have to be a drooling idiot to do a web shop storing a password in plain text in the first place.

So, I wouldn’t shop at the Björk website unless and until they announce and complete a full rewrite of the site that pays due attention to basic fucking security.

(I am told by a user on Reddit /r/bjork that they don’t email your password in plain text any more. But having done this at all is indicative of systemic issues, and I wouldn’t trust them until they’ve admitted having done the stupid thing publicly and done a rewrite.)

So I bought a record, got my entire online life pwned and have 100 Audiocoins! What the hell is an Audiocoin?

Audiocoin — the website is presently down for a rewrite, that’s the archive version as of when I wrote the story — is what is commonly referred to in the cryptocurrency world as a “shitcoin” — an extremely minor altcoin created in the hope that “if we make our own magical Internet money, we can get rich for free too!” that proceeds to fall flat on its face. It was launched in 2015 by Bacon’s company Aurovine, a web-based independent record shop founded in 2012.

It is as utterly worthless and useless as it appears to be. The website touts (or used to tout) various ill-specified claims concerning “HELPING ARTISTS & FANS TAKE BACK MUSIC”, “Our game changing, decentralised music currency rewards fans and artists at the same time” and “As more websites adopt virtual currency you’ll be able to use your AudioCoins for a myriad of services”, but there is no reason for any of this to happen. It started nowhere and is currently nowhere.

Bacon sees the Björk project as a way to push the concept of cryptocurrency:

The more exciting piece of this is people coming in: a gateway to come in to crypto, rather than simply getting people to part with their cryptocurrency to get an album. This adoption story is important: getting crypto is a barrier, because generally you go through the Bitcoin gateway: you buy a Bitcoin then trade it for other currencies. But that’s really difficult for younger people: if you’re a teenager and you’re trying to convince your parents to buy you a Bitcoin or part of a Bitcoin, that’s a difficult sell!

Bacon is touting Audiocoin as something that will go up uP UP!! to the moon:

If they do the right thing and keep it until they’re 25, it’s probably the deposit on an apartment.

This is something that is not going to happen. The historical price graph (below) is typical for a shitcoin nobody cares about; you’ll see that it closely tracks the price of Bitcoin more than anything, because non-Bitcoin cryptos generally do. You’re lucky if you can even convert them to bitcoins freely.

And you will never convert these Internet pogs to ActualMoney, unless Aurovine or Blockpool start exchanging them in both directions themselves. You can only trade ADC on three minor and profoundly dodgy exchanges, of the sort that never saw a shitcoin they didn’t like — Yobit (Russia), Cryptopia (New Zealand) and Bleutrade (Brazil) — and only Yobit offers a trading pair with conventional currency (US dollars or Russian rubles) rather than other cryptos. Yobit is also having problems with the authorities in Russia, Ukraine and Indonesia (translation) because they keep trading against their own customers. Cryptopia is in the Anglosphere, but only seems to deal in NZD Tethers (a substitute crypto “dollar” token of widely questioned exchangeability) rather than actual NZ dollars. Yobit’s “dollars” are also Tethers.

Audiocoin price, June 2015–November 2017.

In Audiocoin’s Bitcointalk announcement in 2015, they talked up a pending tie-in with Radiohead, which went nowhere but may have explained the price spike early on in the above graph. It’s not clear what caused the July 2017 spike — but minor coins like this are like penny stocks with negligible trading volume, so the “price” is trivially manipulable by the slightest movement. (As of 1945 UTC on Tuesday 7 November 2017, total trading volume in the previous 24 hours was $55,817.69.)

The price is insubstantiable, and it’s not clear it’s based on anything that’s much of anything. These aren’t meaningfully tradeable objects.

The company blog — which has broken CSS — has a 2015 post about Aurovine being invited to participate in Imogen Heap’s “Tiny Human” project, which I was actually surprised to see continuing to be a rich source of comedy gold in this new context. When I go to the Aurovine site, the Imogen Heap page works, but trying to click through to the “Tiny Human” page gives a “500 Internal Server Error”. The last Internet Archive version, from November 2015, offered the song for free, or for 50 ADC donation, which you could get by signing up with Aurovine. The page shows 29 donations of ADC by this method.

The Björk project is being run by Bacon’s other company, Blockpool, a business-to-business blockchain consultancy. That’s a term meaning “snake oil salesmen,” and I wrote a whole book chapter to help you defend yourself against this line of bollocks. Blockpool’s address is a Simply Buy A London Registered Office! service, offering “A prime Covent Garden, London WC2 address as your registered office.” So I’m sure you can trust them to be of substance.

Blockpool ran an ICO in April 2017, where it sold tokens for its private BPL blockchain. Like most ICOs, it was an attempt to sell magic beans to crypto suckers on the basis of Fear Of Missing Out, and was on the early upslope of the present bubble, so it’s possible the Financial Conduct Authority won’t bother with them absent a disaster.

Blockpool’s page on the Björk project talks up the cryptocurrency checkout plugin, and claims a “proprietary blockchain integration technology to build a smart rewards system.”

Their present consumer offering is MyBlockpool, a web-based cryptocurrency wallet, which for this project will mainly be a place for album buyers to dump their ADC and forget about it. Various hypothetical future offerings are posited. The “about” and “contact” links didn’t work when I tried them. The privacy policy and legal links redirected to an empty page. The support page was literally just the words “support works!” They’ve fixed this stuff since my article appeared, but I’m frankly amazed they let it out the door like this.

One thing the MyBlockpool site does not make clear to its target market of ordinary consumers is the utterly irreversible nature of cryptocurrency transactions. Literally the point of Bitcoin, and copies like Aurocoin, is that errors and thefts cannot be reversed, even in principle. You might think this was an obviously terrible idea, but Bitcoiners are gibbering ideologues who will tell you that actually this is the best idea ever because reasons.

This bites even the most experienced crypto users — Gavin Wood, the second lead developer of the Ethereum Project, and a Ph.D computer scientist, lost an estimated $160 million from his own company Polkadot’s recent ICO in a disastrous Ethereum wallet programming error just last week. Humans fuck up, and every functional financial system allows for this. That is, not cryptocurrency.

Blockpool will have problems if the Björk ADC offering achieves any popularity and their users start thinking of ADC as money, as people call expecting them to act in the role of a bank — their site looks like PayPal or something, a place where you have balances you can spend, cryptocurrencies in amongst regular currencies — and provide the sort of service an ordinary person expects when, say, their credit card is abused. When my credit card number got skimmed and someone in the Philippines spent £600 on it, the first I knew of it was when my bank called me to ask. They reversed the transaction and sent me a new card. If that had been a crypto, I’d have been shit out of luck.

Blockpool’s offering to businesses is a bunch of blockchain bafflegab that doesn’t seem to make sense because it doesn’t. It’s a pile of extruded blockchain hype product.

For everyday record buyers, the 100 ADC will be near-worthless and slightly annoying magic beans. Despite the pitch, there is no visible evidence that you will be able to trade ADC for actual money in the foreseeable future.

The MyBlockpool wallet is simple enough if you just want to use your ADC as single-function in-company tokens, like Disney dollars or car wash tokens. The public announcement without having filled in any of the legal or support details is not good. I anticipate trouble if this gains any traction with everyday consumers, to the extent the users think of it as being like money.

I can’t see anything in this that others will benefit from emulating. This project looks good on Audiocoin’s CV, but is an irrelevance on Björk’s CV. It got press. That’s good, right?

The Björk shop might have been a good place to spend some spare cryptocurrency on the album, except for the glaring evidence that it was coded by a process of whacking the keyboard with dildos until they’d churned out some exemplary PHP, and I would once again strongly recommend against putting any personal information into the site unless and until they confess and repair their sins against basic security with other people’s money.

One Little Indian was founded by actual anarchists, who would probably be most amused to read a book or two detailing the lunatic fringe right-wing extremist politics behind the design of Bitcoin.

I expect more stupid shit along these lines to pollute our pop kids’ precious memetic fluids in the future, because the music industry is founded on selling each other delusion and lies, and there’s plenty of both in blockchain land. If someone tries to sell you on this stuff, I repeat the advice given in the last line of my book: kick them in the nuts and run.

And I desperately hope that Björk is just doing this for publicity and amusement value, and is not taking blockchain dreams seriously.

Above: the Björkchain.

 

4 thoughts on “Björkcoin: Björk’s cryptocurrency album project dissected (impolite ranty version).

  1. Picture research thanks to /u/sietemeles on Reddit /r/buttcoin, who nicked the picture from Etsy first. I’m actually surprised they haven’t sold that last Björkchain …

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