Coinbase, a digital asset exchange based in San Francisco, recently acquired Neutrino, an Italian firm that specializes in cryptocurrency surveillance. The deal is intended to help the exchange cut down on theft, a major problem for the cryptocurrency industry. Shortly after the announcement, though, Twitter users sounded the alarm about Coinbase’s shiny new toy.
That’s because Neutrino’s founders previously worked for a company which sold spyware (i.e., surveillance software) to Saudi Arabian operatives as well as other repressive regimes. As far as we know, none of Neutrino’s employees are still affiliated with that business, called Hacking Team, but the connection is deeply distressing to some Coinbase users. In December, the Washington Post linked Hacking Team to the Saudi unit which ultimately killed Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian dissident and journalist.