Crypto-portrait: Elizabeth Stark, the activist who wants to democratize Bitcoin

After campaigning for the defense of digital freedoms, Elizabeth Stark embarked on a crazy project that could be a game-changer for Bitcoin.

We are in the process of bitcoinize the world with Lightning “. Here, summarized in a tweet, the incredible promise of Elizabeth Stark, the boss of Lightning Labs. This American company is working hard to democratize the star of crypto-currencies, thirteen years after the creation of Bitcoin. After a first beta published in 2018, the start-up presented its new protocol, Taro, a few months ago. The latter should make it possible to transfer “stable coins”, these cryptos which reflect classic currencies, a highly anticipated innovation.

And lately the news has been pretty good. “It is one of the most compelling technological paths of the moment”, ignites even Michael Saylor, this American boss who has become one of the apostles of cryptocurrency. Thus, one can tip in Bitcoin on Twitter thanks to Strike, an application based on the network Lightning. In El Salvador, which last September made Bitcoin an official currency, you can also consume thanks to QR codes of Lightning.

Bitcoin Cryptocurrency
The democratization of Bitcoin, the goal of Elizabeth Stark. // Source: Editing by Nino Barbey for Numerama

Overcome the weaknesses of Bitcoin

Why is Elizabeth Stark’s start-up arousing so much hope? Because his network, an overlay to Bitcoin, fills in the weaknesses of Satoshi Nakamoto’s cryptocurrency. Which explains why this project is so followed by maximalists, those supporters of bitcoin who think that this crypto-currency has a central role. “The Lightning Network must enable more, faster and cheaper payments”, summarizes the crypto expert Renaud Lifchitz. That is three critical points where Bitcoin has proven to be inefficient.

“This would allow everyday use of this cryptocurrencyadds Adli Takkal-Bataille, the president of the association Le Cercle du coin. But this is a very old debate. Some of the maximalists will tell you that it is the panacea. The others that there is Ethereum and its overlays which are already establishing themselves as the standard ». Suffice to say that if successful, Elizabeth Stark would become the high priestess of Bitcoin. A feat in this too masculine universe where there are too few women.

brilliant academic

Before getting there, as the specialized media Coin Telegraph reminds us, the boss of Lightning Labs, recognizable by her bangs and her long black hair, was rather atypical. It is indeed a brilliant academic, a pure product of the Ivy League, these universities of excellence in the Eastern United States. Where many creators of tech flagships have instead preferred to drop their studies. She is a graduate in international relations and from Harvard Law School. And in addition to teaching activities, she writes in the Harvard journal dedicated to technological legal issues.

A journey carried out hand in hand with a commitment to a freer Internet. In the 2000s, Elizabeth Stark will indeed flourish in activism. The young woman becomes a public figure on the subject of digital freedoms. She joins the board of directors of the association Students for free culture. And his official bio from the time mentions his collaboration with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It is the flagship American NGO for the defense of freedoms on the Internet.

The battle against Sopa and Pipa

His commitment will be embodied through the fight against two reform projects: the Sopa, for Stop Online Piracy Act, and Pipa, for Protect IP Act. To counter these texts supposed to fight against illegal downloading, Internet users are mobilizing. Out of solidarity, many online services voluntarily put themselves on hold on January 18, 2012. A show of force, the press will judge, which led elected officials to withdraw their support for these controversial reforms.

To convince, the young woman does not hesitate to stage herself. In one of her articles, for example, she tells how a mix posted on her blog ended up being listed by The Wire magazine in one of her tops. “I had just posted something on my blog, and without any extra effort on my part people all over the world started listening to my mix”she underlines this fan of electronic music.

Elizabeth Stark also participated in the creation of the Open Video Alliance. This association campaigned for open source videos that were not subject to royalties. An activism that led him, for example, to give a conference in Berlin against surveillance and the tech lobby. We finally see her alongside figures of American hacktivism, such as Aaron Swartz. This famous defender of digital freedoms, now deceased, had worked on RSS technology or co-founded the Reddit forum.

Elizabeth Stark hiding behind a computer in September 2008. Source: Joi Ito/Flickr
Elizabeth Stark hiding behind a computer in September 2008. Source: Joi Ito/Flickr

natural pivot

So, is it surprising that the digital freedom activist has converted to crypto-currencies? Well no, because the parentage is pretty clear. Admittedly, the crypto community has some speculator-baiting sides. But it is the cypherpunks, those activists advocating more privacy on the Internet, who are considered the conceptual godfathers of Bitcoin.

For Elizabeth Stark, this pivot to Bitcoin will take place in several stages. She first joined StarX, an entrepreneurship incubation program at Stanford, this university in the heart of Silicon Valley. The future boss of Lightning Labs is then interested in questions of training, for example.

But with Elizabeth Stark, activism is never far away. We find her behind this column published in July 2014 on TechCrunch, calling on the city of New York to open up to Bitcoin. But at the time, the entrepreneur already had an idea in mind. “The Bitcoin protocol has enormous potential”she says in a tweet of February 2014.

And brush the metaphor of TCP and HTTP. The first is the data transport protocol, the second the communication protocol developed for the web. She thus already suggests that Bitcoin should be supplemented with a new layer. It will therefore be Lightning Labs, created two years later with Olaoluwa Osuntokun. This computer expert from Nigeria comes from Google.

Funded to the tune of $80 million by investors, the start-up is now supported by the trading application robinhood and by Jack Dorsey. The Twitter founder is known for his Bitcoin fervor. But don’t think Elizabeth Stark has taken the big head. “Bitcoins for billions [de personnes]not for billionaires”, hammersdoes she always.

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