Riccardo Spagni, aka ‘fluffypony’: the man behind Monero

July 23, 2018
Chris Wheal

Discovering the face behind Monero, Riccardo Spagni, aka ‘fluffypony’ is relatively straightforward. Spagni’s twitter feed and numerous YouTube videos are all there for you to mine, so to speak, giving you access to THE personality of Monero’s technical project lead, one of Monero’s eight community members.

Riccardo (fluffypony) Spagni

Based in South Africa, Spagni was involved in the bitcoin space since 2011, prior to that he had time in a listed company in South Africa rising up the ranks swiftly. An experience he said he did not enjoy and he left to build an export-import business, which grew to a “reasonable success” and it’s where he discovered bitcoin.

He didn’t launch what is now Monero. That was done by another dude called thankful_for_today who Spagni colourfully called a “gigantic douche bag”. Spagni forked with six other contributors early after that launch in 2014 and the community followed “which was cool”.

The only problem was “they didn’t want an alt coin”. Spagni makes it sound like the group was lumbered with it. He said no one sat around saying, “hey, let’s launch an alt coin we could make so much money. Instead, we ended up with this alt coin which was like a baby being deposited you know the bell rings at three in the morning and there’s this toddler and you are like (whispers] great what am I going to do?”

Spagni it seems drew what may have been the short straw for a project based on anonymity and said he ended up “doing what no one else wanted to do and became the lead maintainer.” Monero’s development is powered by its community.

De facto face of Monero

Spagni has become the de facto face of Monero. He comes across as affable and fairly modest in videos, witness his description of the new tools added to Monero that he deadpans back in 2017 as being “kind of hard because hey it’s an open source project driven by a bunch of people I dunno that we probably don’t know what we’re doing.”

Fluffypony finally gets a new office sign: Source: @fluffypony

Still, given the initial reluctance and, perhaps hapless start, Monero’s contributors grew attracted to the project based on privacy and commits per month increased.

As a group the community members (like other cryptocurrency projects) operate at collegiate level. In earlier presentations, Spagni had a habit of calling a lot of Monero’s jazzier features as ‘really cool’.

For example, “the disconnected architecture which allows you to run a Monero node and then connect to the Monero network and then all your wallets can sit behind that and it’s kinda cool because like in our home we have one Monero node on the network and the wallet is on a computer on my wife’s computer they can all connect to that one node and we don’t have like three different nodes all connected to the same network which is pointless.”

He grows even more excited when discussing the successful proof of work algorithm that closes the performance gap between CPUs, GPUs and ASICs. “You can’t make anything ASIC proof it doesn’t exist but what it does mean is that today in a landscape dominated by GPU miner CPU miner are still viable and that’s cool too.”

Where privacy leads

However, fluffypony is clearly doing something that interests a lot of people and has the support of a dedicated community. His twitter feed has more than 64,000 followers, his description on twitter is self deprecatory he’s calls himself “Breather, Thought Follower, Cereal Intrepreneur. Director of Skullduggery at the Institute for Lemonade Studies. I do other stuff too.”

Modesty aside, in the industry Spagni is seen as a pretty big name given the size of his following and that Monero’s digital coin XRM is ranked 9th in the cryptocurrency charts, which adds to the heft of his influence. The coin is known for its untraceable, secure and unlinkable features thanks to a number of yes, very cool features such as the stealth addresses; ring signature and ring CT, which are all to do with randomizing addresses, spinning outputs and maximizing confidential transactions.

Just recently Spagni was one of the headliners at the virtual Hack Summit conference, which aims to not only spread the word about blockchain and cryptocurrencies, but to do it in as simple a language as possible.

Although blockchain and cryptocurrencies is still elusive to Joe Public they can be forgiven because as Spagni explained on TechblogWriter podcast it is a complicated “and heavy technical space and when it comes to building applications, it’s not just technical from a cryptography perspective but it involves aspects of game theory, aspects of incentives and economics.”

However, there is a drive for educating the masses and to share the ideology. Usually you can find Spagni with the privacy bit between his teeth which is expected given the status of Monero as the alt coin guaranteeing anonymity.

When Spagni is explaining Monero and its future, he is generally arguing, somewhat compellingly, about privacy and that “no, it’s not just for criminals”.

Rage against the privacy machine?

Spagni acknowledges he may very well speak to the hand and not the face when it comes to making this argument. The general population just doesn’t care enough about privacy. In a presentation to the Bitcoin Conference in February 2017, he cited research that suggested only 8% of individuals ranked their purchasing habit as deserving of anonymity.

Shocking to Spagni who sees the average human being in a deal that is awfully unequal in his eyes when they give up their rights towards privacy. He says, “the reason is people are happy to compromise their privacy as long as they can play Farmville (the app game).”

Posted by a twitter user, Spagni said at a Consensus conference on a panel on privacy: “When you say I don’t need privacy because I have nothing to hide, that’s like saying I don’t need free speech because I have nothing to say.”

Spagni says: “Privacy tends to be either a taboo subject or have a negative connotation, which makes companies that focus on it ‘outliers’. That’s not a great position for a for-profit company to be in.”

Making privacy mandatory

Monero is here to get back the privilege and right to financial anonymity that most citizens have happily ceded. And, it’s a serious matter for the developers of Monero who understand and are aware according to Spagni that their code could mean not only securing people’s money or life savings but also keeping someone out of jail or even the difference between life and deaf.

The rising profile of Spagni, the speeches and appearances at conferences are plainly to spread the word about the ideology behind a cryptocurrency such as Monero which is as important as its technology.

At the nub of it, Monero is built cryptographically to confound anyone trying to track a user’s transactions both passive and active surveillance and it’s not about illegitimate use (although plainly criminals will benefit), it’s to make privacy mandatory for cryptocurrencies.

Privacy is not something only criminals benefit from. If you have transactions that are anonymous that means you are unlikely to receive targeted advertising based on your spending habits. At a business level you may want to keep sensitive business relationships or financial information on the QT.

A decentralized system is pointless unless privacy is mandatory declares Spagni. Even if a digital currency has a great number of users and a core group of users use privacy enhancing features separately anonymity becomes less likely every time a user moves in and out as a result of leakage. Monero is pushing to make sure every privacy enhancements become mandatory and as he characterizes: “It’s a heavy, heavy responsibility. It means we need to be careful and absolutely absolutely sure about the things we do”.

Post written by Chris Wheal
Chris Wheal is editor of OpenLedger's news and features service. An award-wining business journalists himself, he runs a team of freelance journalists from across the UK and north America.

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