El Salvador’s decision to make Bitcoin legal tender was accompanied by introducing an official Bitcoin wallet, Chivo, that was supposed to help convince Salvadorans to embrace the cryptocurrency. But people have started complaining on social media about funds going missing from their wallets—and the lack of assistance from El Salvador’s government—months after Chivo’s debut.
Twitter user “El Comisionado” collected a series of tweets about this issue on December 18. The complaints allege that various amounts of BTC worth anywhere from $100 to $16,000 have disappeared from Salvadorans’ wallets via numerous unauthorized transactions. El Comisionado’s thread includes 50 tweets complaining about a total of $96,223.83 in BTC missing from the users’ Chivo wallets.
Tom’s Hardware contacted the Ministry of Justice and Public Security Government of El Salvador for comment on these complaints but has not received a response.
Many of the tweets collected by El Comisionado include screenshots depicting the unauthorized transactions from the affected Chivo wallets. The user who complained of $16,000 in BTC disappearing, “DVBT Multiservices,” also complained about the El Salvador government’s apparent inability to help investigate the missing funds and threatened to go to the media if the government doesn’t get to the bottom of the problem.
Losing hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin via Chivo probably won’t instill confidence in El Salvador’s official wallet. Not that many Salvadorans were likely to be particularly confident about the wallet in the first place—issues had marred the software before it even launched.
There were initial concerns about Chivo because the wallet relies on facial recognition software to prevent unauthorized access to the funds. Facial recognition is a fairly standard security measure used by Windows Hello, Face ID, etc. However, biometric authentication for a government-run program is still a privacy concern—especially when the Salvadoran government heavily pushed Chivo as it did.
The wallet’s debut also suffered from technical issues. The BBC reported that “platforms such as Apple and Huawei weren’t offering the government-backed digital wallet” and that “servers had to be pulled offline after they couldn’t keep up with user registrations” when Chivo’s rollout started in September. Not exactly a good look for the software that’s supposed to kick-start the crypto revolution.
Oh, and the facial recognition was easy to fool, too. CoinDesk reported in October that identity thieves were claiming unused wallets to steal the $30 worth of BTC given to every Salvadoran who signed up for Chivo. The app was supposed to prevent such abuse, but one person reportedly made a wallet for their grandmother after scanning “a photo of a poster on his wall of Sarah Connor” from “Terminator.”
All of which leaves Salvadorans with a government-backed Bitcoin wallet that couldn’t keep pace with demand when it launched. It requires them to use facial recognition that identity thieves showed was easier to trick than a few generations-old iPhone with Face ID and seemingly allows thousands of dollars to disappear without recourse due to a combination of technical and bureaucratic limitations.
It’s hard to imagine this experience with Chivo leading many Salvadorans to consider moving to the Bitcoin City that El Salvador President Nayib Bukele wants to build.