Portland-Based New York Times Tech Writer Sarah Jeong Warns of “Double Edged Sword” of New Tech

“There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism.”

At a talk at TechfestNW today, Sarah Jeong, the Portland-based New York Times editorial board writer covering the tech industry, described the outrageous 2014 trail of the Dread Pirate Roberts in a Dark Web drug bust.

Ross Ulbricht (aka "the Dread Pirate Roberts," as he called himself online) is serving life in prison for selling drugs via bitcoin on a Dark Web exchange called the Silk Road.

Ulbricht, Jeong says, was ultimately caught by FBI agents in a San Francisco public library with the laptop he'd used to execute the deals and launder money.

"We're talking about massive internet drugs marketplace," Jeong says. "And bitcoin was the currency of choice."

Jeong says Ulbricht's trial was arduous, in that lawyers spent a majority of their time explaining to the judge and jury what blockchain and bitcoin are and how they work. She adds that after the trial, a couple law enforcement officers were also found to have stolen bitcoin using Silk Road moderator credentials.

"This was just a massive shit show," she says. "Blockchain snitched on them."

Related: Sarah Jeong Is Watching the Web From Portland. She Sees a Pile of Garbage.

The lesson of the trail is one that she says is important for bitcoin users to understand, which is that "anonymity is not a feature of bitcoin."

While terms like blockchain and bitcoin are still foreign to a lot of internet users, Jeong says we have a responsibility to educate ourselves.

"Tech is not just a niche field about gadgets," she says. "It's a growing part of our lives with a lot of problems."

As she did in a WW cover story this week, Jeong continues to argue that you should know about tech just like you "know how to vote and why voting matters, and should be upset about outcomes even if you're not an elections law expert."

"I think tech right now is integral to democracy and people have a stake in understanding it," she says.

When asked by moderator, WW reporter Katie Shepherd, if people denouncing social media but continuing to use it is hypocritical, she said we have little choice: "There's no ethical consumption under capitalism."