If I were Apple, I would ban Bitcoin wallet apps too

If I were Apple, I would ban Bitcoin wallet apps from the App Store too.  Possibly though, I would ban them for different reasons than Apple might have.

Having Bitcoins on a mobile device that is used for surfing the internet and running general purpose apps is an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen for both Bitcoin and for Apple.

Even though I have the BlockChain.info app, I have never carried Bitcoins on my iPhone because I just don’t think it’s a good idea.

If Bitcoin wallets on Apple devices were commonplace, I expect the day would come when people lose their funds en masse because somebody found a vulnerability and exploited it to steal wallets.  Even a simple vulnerability in Safari the web browser – like the one that was used to jailbreak iPhones in the past – and a good spam campaign – would be all a hacker needs to mass pillage bitcoin from Apple users.

There are two kinds of wallets I would support if I were Apple.  One would be a wallet that doesn’t actually store the bitcoins.  Instead, such a wallet would scan a QR code from a “paper wallet”, only for the purpose of immediate spending.  All change would be returned to another address, off the device.

A second might be a wallet that was limited to storing pocket change, perhaps limited to $20.

I like to carry around blank paper wallets.  I put them in my wallet right next to the small amounts of cash I would normally carry.  Sometimes I carry small amounts of Bitcoin on loaded paper wallets, especially since I like to give tips in Bitcoin to those I know are interested.  A strategy of carrying paper wallets, along with a mobile app that lets me spend them, is everything I need to be a full-fledged Bitcoin citizen with a risk profile no different than carrying fiat cash:

  • I can give Bitcoins to non-Bitcoiners by sending Bitcoin to one of my blank paper wallets and handing it to them.
  • I can send Bitcoins digitally, to other people’s Bitcoin addresses, by importing a paper wallet and sending them from my phone.
  • I can ask someone for Bitcoins by tearing a paper wallet in half and giving them the payment address.  They can pay now if they’re able to, or later if they’re not.
  • I can promise someone Bitcoins I don’t have in my possession, by tearing a paper wallet in half and giving them the private key.  I send the Bitcoins later when I’m able to.

While carrying paper wallets takes some preparation, it’s worth pointing out that printing off a few paper wallets on my home printer is no more inconvenient than driving to the bank to get cash from an ATM.

So, in conclusion:

  • Bitcoin wallet developers, please consider submitting an app to Apple’s App Store that avoids storing Bitcoins, but instead, allows spending of Bitcoins strictly from paper wallets.  It’s worth testing Apple to see if they will allow this.
  • Apple, please consider allowing Bitcoin apps that meet the specs and mitigate the concerns I have just described.

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