10

I'm watching a YouTube video with over a million views, where someone called munecat claims that the control of the Bitcoin network was largely held by several big players around 2014, with implication that it is so now as well. The link is timestamped, the claim itself is about twenty seconds, transcribed below.

Bitcoin mining was mostly decentralised back in the naughties with the few early adopters running single graphics card in their homes, but it only took around five years for just three mining pools to have control over more than half of the network.

Since Bitcoin was released in 2009, I would assume the claim is about the state in 2014, maybe 2015. I will be grateful for answers regarding any time period in Bitcoin's history.

10
  • 1
    Huh, I've been lurking (and sometimes commenting) on Skeptics for quite some time, and I still get the "New contributor" marker.
    – jaskij
    Aug 26 at 0:47
  • 5
    I suspect this is because you've not earned any points (until now). Aug 26 at 0:57
  • 1
    Some nice graphs at btc.com/stats/pool?percent_mode=2014#pool-history. I think we could certainly cherry-pick some periods when this was true. Aug 26 at 5:58
  • 2
    E.g. February 2014, when they quote GHash.IO 30.23%, BTC Guild 20.34%, Eligius 18.81%. Not sure if this is solid enough data for an answer. Aug 26 at 5:59
  • 2
    @tuskiomi "Centralized" just means "Having power concentrated in a single, central authority" (as defined on Wiktionary); it is a state of being, not a process, so doesn't imply anything about what other states existed before or afterwards.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 26 at 16:23

1 Answer 1

10

According to several articles (examples: Ars Technica, The Guardian, Bitpanda.com), in 2014 a single mining pool (GHash.io) came close or even exceeded 51% of total mining hashrate. Different sources quote different percentages - ranging from 42 to 55 percent, but it is enough to say that assuming the claim is indeed about 2014, it is correct and one or possibly two pools controlled over 50% of total mining network for a short period.

Regarding the implication of situation being the same today - GHash.io reaching the critical size was a wake-up call for its members, and membership quickly dropped: it lost around 2/3 of its members, and by the end of 2015 was virtually defunct. Since then, judging by statistics published by btc.com, the largest pools struggled to grow over 25% of total hashrate. That said, the claim is again true at the moment - in August 2022, the three largest pools control 24.2% (Foundry USA), 15.2% (AntPool) and 15% (F2Pool), for a total of 54.4% of total network hashrate.

A clarification on how applicable the term "centralization" is to mining pools: in most implementations (and specifically in GHash case) there is a central organisation that runs the server the miners are linking to coordinate their efforts, validate their work and handle payouts. In a way, the hardware owners (pool members) are renting out their hardware to the actual miner (coordinator). Thus, a malicious network admin in theory is capable of using the network as a whole to perform a double-spend attack, which is the main concern voiced whenever Bitcoin network centralisation is mentioned. How real this danger is depends on a specific implementation; but its existence is one of the main incentives behind the development of decentralised peer-to-peer mining pools.

As far as I'm aware, there were none succesful 51% attacks on Bitcoin itself up to this point.

Note that the relevant fragment of the video is not really concerned with internal vulnerabilities of the bitcoin network, but rather with infrastructure surounding it. Centralized exchanges allow for government control over usage of cryptocurrencies, which undermines several selling points for the whole system; for this particular concern the 51% threshhold is irrelevant, and the total number of users bottlenecked by these centralized services is more important. By my estimations, only ~4-5% (and probably less) of bitcoin network users do not use some kind of centralized pool for mining, and 99.9% use exchanges at some point.

0

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .