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 cryptocurrencies, 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 must make it possible to transfer ” stable corners “, these cryptos that mirror classic currencies, a long-awaited 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. At salvadorwhich made Bitcoin an official currency last September, we 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 its network, an overlay to Bitcoin, fills in the weaknesses of the cryptocurrency of Satoshi Nakamoto. 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 are 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 universe too masculine where the women are too few.

brilliant academic

Before getting there, as recalled by the specialized media Corner Telegraph, 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 besides teaching activities, she writes in the harvard review 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 theStudents for free culture association. And his official bio of 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 sofafor Stop Online Piracy Actand Pipa, for Protect IP Act. To counter these texts supposed to fight against illegal downloading, Internet users are mobilizing. In solidarity, many online services voluntarily go to sleep on January 18, 2012. A show of forcewill judge the press, which leads elected officials to withdraw their support for these controversial reforms.

To convince, the young woman does not hesitate to stage herself. In one of his itemsshe tells for example how a mix posted on her blog ended up being listed by the magazine The Wire in one of its 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 participates in the creation of theOpen Video Alliance. This association campaigned for open source videos that were not subject to royalties. A militancy that led him, for example, to give a conference at Berlin against surveillance and the tech lobby. We finally see it 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 from Stanford, this university in the heart of Silicon Valley. The future boss of Lightning Labs then became interested in training questionsfor example.

But with Elizabeth Stark, activism is never far away. We find it behind this grandstand published in July 2014 on TechCrunch, calling on New York City 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 to 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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