The rising trend of bitcoin and substantial growth of investments in the digital currency space has increased the awareness of bitcoin across major cities in the United States.
Since early 2015, an escalating number of mainstream media outlets, international government agencies and law enforcement agencies have exclusively featured bitcoin in various publications and reports.
Such coverage brought bitcoin one step closer to mainstream awareness and adoption, as more people began to understand and notice bitcoin as both an alternative currency and an innovative financial network.
Seeking to explore the awareness of the digital currency in the country’s largest cities, including Chicago, business strategist and consultant Tal Newhart and his small team of researchers conducted a social experiment
in the suburbs of the city.
Newhart’s experiment was divided into two main phases: During the first part of the experiment, Newhart’s team wore a t-shirt with a QR code embedded at the back of the clothing which led to a bitcoin address for a donation to Bitcoin research.
In a few days, the short-term campaign generated about $68 in donations. Newhart then used the same bitcoin address and QR code to see if anyone would try to steal the money generated from the Bitcoin research campaign in the streets of Chicago.
During the second phase of the experiment, Newhart’s team printed a QR code of the private key corresponding to the bitcoin address and included the word “SHA-256” on the bottom of the shirt, as a reference to the hashing algorithm used for bitcoin.
In less than five minutes of wearing the shirt in the suburbs of Chicago, Newhart received an automated text notification that the bitcoin address used for Bitcoin research campaign was emptied. Some individual used a mobile phone to import the private key printed on Newhart’s shirt and used it to transfer the funds to a personal account.
"While the first part of our experiment showed that people can be generous, phase two proved that Bitcoin thieves can be lurking anywhere," said Newhart.
Newhart and his team then devised this experiment to explore the vulnerability of bitcoin wallets and the awareness of the digital currency.
"A recruiting client, the CEO of a financial services company, had previously had some personal bitcoins stolen when he left his private key in plain view in the back seat of his Mercedes when he had it valet parked. We devised this experiment to see if this was a one-in-a-million event," Newhart said.
Based on the results of the experiment, Newhart advices all bitcoin users to keep private keys secure and stored in an encrypted format.