It’s a myth that rears its ugly head every so often, and it has found its way into the mainstream media once again.

And, unfortunately, this time, the story has gone viral…creating widespread fear, paranoia, and outrage.

German researchers claim to have discovered that some people are using Bitcoin’s blockchain to store and link to child pornography (CP) imagery, and the MSM is spreading the news like wildfire.

Here’s a snippet from the German researchers’ report:

Our analysis shows that certain content, eg, illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal.

Although court rulings do not yet exist, legislative texts from countries such as Germany, the UK, or the USA suggest that illegal content such as [child abuse imagery] can make the blockchain illegal to possess for all users.

Elevenews says the story is not only old news, but is fake news, and that understanding why requires a brief overview of Bitcoin’s code:

The false hypothesis comes from the fact that it’s possible to encode information in the blockchain. That was how Satoshi famously hid his message in the genesis block: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”.

Anyone inspecting the blockchain won’t find those words however. Instead they’ll find the following hash: 000000000019d6689c085ae165831e934ff763ae46a2a6c172b3f1b60a8ce26. That is the block’s coinbase parameter (nothing to do with Coinbase the company), written in hex.

The writer goes on to explain that there are only a few ways data can be encoded on the Bitcoin blockchain:

Only miners have the ability to insert data in this manner, and it’s typically used to signal mining support for proposed protocol changes. There are five other ways in which data can be encoded on the bitcoin blockchain, and it is the OP_RETURN option that is at the center of the child pornography story.

80 bytes is all that OP_RETURN can store, and what’s more that information is subject to deletion. That’s because bitcoin nodes are capable of pruning “provably unspendable” UTXOs for efficiency, which include OP_RETURN data.

Even if someone wanted to use the Bitcoin blockchain to search for child pornography, they would need to perform the following convoluted process, explains Elevenews:

  1. Download the entire bitcoin blockchain and sift through 251 million transactions to find the 1.4% that contain some kind of arbitrary data encoded in them.
  2. Ensure that the version of the blockchain you were using had been subject to no pruning that might have removed OP_RETURN data.
  3. Extract any web links that might be concealed in the data using some sort of steganography.
  4. Type the links into your browser until you eventually found a website that was still accessible.

Not only would it be very difficult to find any illicit content hidden in the blockchain, it is a bit funny that those sounding the alarms are using the Internet (which is flooded with such content) to spread the hysteria.

“To assert that the bitcoin blockchain contains child pornography is disingenuous, and is no more meaningful than saying that the internet contains CP. You could live to 100 and never encounter CP on the web, because that’s not how the web works. And that’s not how the blockchain works either,” Elevenews writes. “Asserting that there is child pornography on the blockchain would be like strolling through the U.S. Capitol Building, dropping a scrap of paper containing a deep web address, and then claiming that the American government is storing obscene content.”

The lesson? Be wary of outrageous claims you hear from the mainstream media regarding cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.