In a post on Medium yesterday, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong announced that several of the exchange’s recent hires who are former members of the Italian spyware firm Hacking Team will “transition out of Coinbase.”
The employees initially joined Coinbase after the company acquired blockchain intelligence platform Neutrino in February. Several commenters on Twitter pointed out that many of these new hires were former leaders of Hacking Team, which has a history providing services that monitored and endangered human rights activists and journalists in repressive regimes. Following a BREAKERMAG post from David Z. Morris that highlighted Hacking Team’s links to the Saudi enforcement group that later played a role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the #DeleteCoinbase hashtag began to pick up steam on Twitter.
“We took some time to dig further into this over the past week, and together with the Neutrino team have come to an agreement: those who previously worked at Hacking Team (despite the fact that they have no current affiliation with Hacking Team), will transition out of Coinbase,” wrote Armstrong on Monday. “This was not an easy decision, but their prior work does present a conflict with our mission.”
Since the public outcry began in earnest, Coinbase’s only public comment about the Neutrino acquisition came from company’s head of sales Christine Sandler, who appeared on Cheddar March 1. “We are aware of the backgrounds of some of the folks that were involved in Neutrino, and we are looking into that,” said Sandler. “The compelling reason for making the acquisition was that Neutrino had some really industry leading and best-in-class technology.” She also mentioned that it was “important” for Coinbase to find new blockchain intelligence providers, as their current ones were “selling client data to outside sources.” Armstrong’s blog post did not address the sale of client data brought up by Sandler.
Reactions on Twitter to Armstrong’s blog post were, of course, mixed. Some praised Coinbase for the exchange’s ability to consider public criticism and make relevant changes—a move that many companies have fumbled (we’re looking at you, Facebook).
However, others argue that the vague wording in Coinbase’s post gives them too much leeway to not make meaningful changes. Saying the Neutrino team members that “previously worked at the Hacking Team” will “transition out” of Coinbase could mean they’re sticking around for months, or even longer. As some pointed out, we don’t know when they will be let go from the exchange, and there’s always the chance any one of them could get hired back as a contractor.
In addition to noting how Coinbase did not outline a clear plan for the former Hacking Team members, people also pointed out how the company continued to praise the controversial group in its latest blog post.
And yes, people noticed how Armstrong avoided the topic of Coinbase’s former intelligence providers selling customer data.
Some continued to express unwavering anti-Coinbase sentiments.
Coinbase was not immediately available for comment. We will update this post if we hear back.