Imagine you have three to five friends you could trust completely with your identity and your life’s savings. Maybe you do. These friends shouldn’t know each other, or if they do, they must be more loyal to you than they are to each other. You still have that? Now, imagine a world in which none of those friends lose their phones, accidentally delete important apps, travel to places where they’re out of reach for a few days, or, eventually, die.
That is the world in which HTC’s new blockchain phone, the HTC Exodus, makes sense.
The idea behind the HTC Exodus, HTC’s “decentralized chief officer” Phil Chen told Wired, is to give users ownership over their “identities and data” and offer them a safe place to stash their cryptocurrency—a hardware wallet instead of the software ones most cryptocurrency holders use. Currently, the majority of us turn over the keys to our personal information to companies like Facebook, Apple, or Google. Our money lives in centralized banks, or maybe our cryptocurrency lives in the centralized Coinbase. If we were the sole owners of the safeguards to all these things, we wouldn’t have to rely on those centralized and often morally problematic third parties. Plus, Chen told Wired, “Centralized honeypots are continually hacked.”
The HTC Exodus instead plans to keep users’ keys in secure spaces separate from their phones’ operating systems, and if their phones get lost or stolen, users can essentially lock up those spaces. HTC is working with technology called TrustZone to accomplish this.
But this still leaves potential users with a big problem. If they’re the only ones who own their wallets and the keys to it, what happens if they forget how to access or lose both their wallet and keys?
If you own the HTC Exodus, you can always plan for this in advance by writing down all the information you’d need to access your wallet on separate, tiny pieces of paper, which you roll up and place in different lock boxes in different corners of your home—or maybe make holes in your walls and store the boxes there and then re-plaster and wallpaper your kitchen and basement so no one is the wiser. Then, you could create an intricate treasure map to your information using hints that only you would be able to decipher, like a more complicated version of the password-access questions people make to get into their bank accounts when they inevitably forget their login info.
Or, you can split that information between three to five trusted friends. This is HTC’s current and only suggested solution—and there are a few minor holes in it.
When dividing your key between those friends, you’re ensuring that together they have all the information you’d need to access your identity, data, and cryptocurrency. Separately, they’re left in the dark. You’ll have to hope that those friends never attend the same party.
That shouldn’t be a problem if a) you don’t mention to any of the friends who the other partial keyholders are or even that they are, and/or b) those friends don’t know each other—have never met, may never meet, or if they did, would definitely hate each other too much to collaborate on stealing your cryptocurrency. Either that, or none of your friends are tech-savvy or creative enough to extrapolate what they could possibly do with the information you’ve provided (i.e., steal all your money). After all, even otherwise trustworthy people can go bankrupt and resort to desperate measures if they’re smart enough to figure out what those desperate measures could be.
Furthermore, people change all the time. Friends have falling outs, people who previously weren’t close come together under unexpected circumstances, and others overcome hatred in favor of scoring a big pile of money. Think of Reservoir Dogs. Mr. Pink, Blue, Blonde, Orange, Brown, and White weren’t friends. They didn’t even know each other’s names, and they still attempted to pull off a jewelry heist as a team. It didn’t go well, but that’s hardly the point.
What if your friends are more forgetful and irresponsible than you? What if they lose their phones, or delete the app they’d installed to help you safeguard your key? You heard that right: you have to get them to install an app—a hard sell for particular types of friends, like those who don’t trust technology or are older than 65. What if one of those friends travels to another country where they get their phone stolen? It just takes one. These “what if” scenarios could go on forever (for example, what if you don’t have any friends?), but we’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.
Chen admitted that “this is the 1.0 version” of the HTC Exodus. “There are other backup plans we’ve thought of,” he told Wired, “but they’re not part of the solution yet.”
In the meantime, if you’re thinking of buying the HTC Exodus 1.0, maybe it’s also time to consider making new friends.