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Bill Gates warns cryptocurrency has a deadly side

Microsoft co-founder says criminals, terrorists and tax evaders benefit from cryptocurrencies' anonymous transactions.

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Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
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Lin-Manuel Miranda In Conversation With Bill & Melinda Gates

Bill Gates says cryptocurrencies are responsible for deaths because they allow online drug transactions.

John Lamparski / Getty Images

Bill Gates is no fan of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin despite the tech community's growing enthusiasm, linking them to drug-related deaths.

The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist said during a Reddit Ask Me Anything discussion Tuesday he opposes cryptocurrencies because criminals, terrorists and tax evaders benefit from the anonymous transactions they allow.

"The main feature of cryptocurrencies is their anonymity. I don't think this is a good thing. The government's ability to find money laundering and tax evasion and terrorist funding is a good thing," Gates wrote, responding to a reader's question.

Gates also said that because cryptocurrency allows anonymous trading in drugs online, it's "a rare technology that has caused deaths in a fairly direct way."

Bitcoin, the most popular and oldest digital currency, sprang up in 2009 and grew in popularity partly due to its ability to intentionally avoid the prying eyes of law enforcement and government officials. That reputation grew thanks to it being the sole currency accepted on Silk Road, the Dark Web marketplace for drugs and other illicit goods and services that was shuttered by the FBI in 2013.

But cryptocurrencies have evolved, according to Charles Hayter, CEO of the digital currency information firm CryptoCompare. He called Gates' comments "true to an extent but slightly naive.

"Naturally, cryptocurrencies were given their first utility in the dark markets," Hayter said. "That trend is declining with the majority of business now legitimate and increasingly so. The dollar has had its fair share of direct deaths too and will continue to do so. We have to look beyond these initial trials and tribulations towards the potential for a dimensionless value transfer system."

The Reddit AMA, Gates' sixth, covered a lot of ground. He also took on topics like whether he'd run for president, fighting Alzheimer's disease, eating genetically modified food and the one meal he makes for himself. 

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