Witch Hunts and Public Data

I was reading a thread on Hacker News this morning and came across this gem of a comment:

One of the consequences of a public transaction chain is the great potential for witch hunts. Here's one of the first examples, but it surely won't be the last.

The backstory here is a couple researchers posted a paper suggesting that Satoshi (the inventor of bitcoin that nobody knows) had done a large transaction with the founder of Silk Road. That was picked up by the New York Times last weekend. Well it turns out that was not what happened. What happened in fact was this.

When things are public, like the bitcoin block chain where all the transactions clear, then people can and will look at the public data and speculate on what it means. We saw this happen as well with all the public smartphone photos that were taken and published during the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year.

I realize that the collateral damage from this activity is the potential for reputations to be smeared and real damage to be done to entirely innocent people. But I think radical transparency is, over the long term, a force for good and not evil. And I believe we will see more of it not less.

In our weekly meeting on monday, my partner Brad suggested we start looking for accounting systems that allow businesses that operate entirely on the web and mobile to start publishing their financial data publicly in real time. His assertion was that by making your business totally and completely transparent to users, customers, employees, and suppliers, you will increase trust and that will lead to a more sustainable relationship with all those parties over time. So we are looking for that now. If you have something like that or have seen it, please leave a comment here.

But more than just accounting and payment systems, I think we will see all the systems we use in our lives become more transparent over time and the data that becomes public as a result will provide countless opportunities to be analyzed, optimized, and yes, sensationalized. No good comes without some bad. That's the way forward progress works.