- Coinbase will lay off former Neutrino employees
- Neutrino sold spyware to governments with questionable human rights practices
Coinbase exchange is dropping some employees from the newly-acquired Neutrino. This comes after widespread criticism over the Neutrino founders’ history with the controversial Hacking Team, a controversial surveillance technology firm.
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong announced through an official blog post on March 5, 2019, that the exchange will lay off employees of Neutrino who had worked for the controversial Hacking Team; the said workers will not be joining the London team as originally planned.
A Gap in the Intelligence Process
The announcement comes following widespread criticism following the February 19, 2019 decision by Coinbase to acquire Neutrino.
Even before the ink that sealed the deal dried, a Twitter campaign urging Coinbase users to delete their accounts started and has been raging as a result of the involvement of Neutrino’s top management in leading projects under the Hacking Team, the startup that supported governments known for human rights abuses.
The exact number of Neutrino employees who served with the Hacking Team is not yet clear but among them the company’s website names at least three former executives namely CEO Giancarlo Russo, CTO Alberto Ornaghi, and CRO Marco Valleri.
Coinbase CEO Armstrong says in their blog post there may have been a gap in their diligence process, as a result of which Coinbase failed to evaluate all of Neutrino’s facets about the company’s mission. In explaining their decision, Armstrong stated:
“We took some time to dig further into this over the past week, and together with the Neutrino team have come to an agreement: those who previously worked at Hacking Team (despite the fact that they have no current affiliation with Hacking Team), will transition out of Coinbase.”
Spyware in Journalists and Activists Computers
Hacking Team was a surveillance and security technology company that has been severely criticized for selling their products to governments like Egypt, Kazakhstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkey that are known for serious human rights violations.
A 2015 report said the team’s spyware was discovered in computers belonging to journalists and activists. The most recent example of the outcome of the Hacking Team’s activities was its alliance with the Saudi Arabian authorities, with the belief, the company’s spyware could have aided the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The decision to give former Neutrino workers a boot has resulted from the close association between the company and the Hacking Team and which has made the blockchain and cryptocurrency community sleepless nights.
How Coinbase is going to handle the departure of the affected employees will go a long way in demonstrating what values the exchange cares about. Speaking to the Motherboard publication about the crisis, Clovyr CEO, Amber Baldet said:
“Given the number of accounts Coinbase has opened, how they choose to implement compliance tools and their relationship with law enforcement will impact a lot of people.”