In only a month, the little-known bitcoin alternative known as Darkcoin has rocketed nearly tenfold in value–from around 75 cents a coin to almost seven dollars. Its selling point: Darkcoin offers far greater anonymity than bitcoin, mixing up users’ transactions so that it’s incredibly difficult to trace a payment to a person. And though few have yet to accept that more-anonymous coin for actual goods and services, the promise of Darkcoin’s privacy features seems to have sparked a miniature boom. It’s one of the fastest growing among the wave of cryptocurrencies that’s followed bitcoin’s success, with the total value of its combined coins topping out at nearly $30 million.
Darkcoin, supporters argue, serves a real privacy need. Despite its reputation for being more anonymous than traditional money, the bitcoin network actually allows anyone to see every transaction on a public accounting ledger known as the blockchain. Users often have to take extra steps, like mixing their coins in a “laundry” service, to prevent those addresses from being tied to their identity by any government or corporation that wants to snoop.