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Not Your Keys, Not Your Coins. Why Do We Say That? 

Understanding the Mantra: Not Your Keys, Not Your Coins in Bitcoin Self-Custody

Bitcoin, a digital or virtual cryptocurrency, is decentralized, implying that it operates without a central bank or single administrator. Unlike traditional banking systems, Bitcoin allows the users to take ownership of their funds through a concept known as self-custody. A popular phrase within the Bitcoin community conveys the essence of this concept – “Not Your Keys, Not Your Coins.” This mantra is a fundamental principle in the world of Bitcoin self-custody and holds significant implications for understanding and managing cryptocurrencies.

The Principle Behind the Mantra

“Not Your Keys, Not Your Coins,” is essentially boiling down the critical difference between owning Bitcoin or merely having a claim on them. When users buy Bitcoin through an exchange, the exchange often holds custody of the purchased coins on their behalf. In this scenario, what the users ‘own’ are essentially IOUs from the exchange – promises that they hold a certain amount of Bitcoin in their account. Essentially, the user does not own their Bitcoin; they have simply entrusted their Bitcoin to the exchange. The inherent risk here is if the exchange is hacked or goes bankrupt, the Bitcoin could vanish with little to no recourse for the user.

On the other hand, self-custody of Bitcoin means control over your private keys. This is where the mantra “Not Your Keys, Not Your Coins” really rings true. When you hold your private keys, you have full ownership and control over your Bitcoin. No one, not even a government or hacker, can deprive you of your coins without these keys. This level of ownership is unprecedented in the history of money.

The Importance of Self-Custody

The concept of self-custody is especially relevant in times of financial uncertainty or instability. Prior to Bitcoin, storing wealth in a manner that could not be seized, frozen, or arbitrarily confiscated was nearly impossible. With the invention of Bitcoin, this became a reality. And self-custody, or absolute control over one’s own assets, is arguably the most important feature of Bitcoin.

By taking self-custody of your Bitcoin, you eliminate the risk of being another victim of an exchange hack or bankruptcy. It would mean that your wealth stored in Bitcoin is entirely in your hands, immune from external risks linked to financial intermediaries. However, self-custody also comes with its own set of responsibilities. If you lose access to your private keys, or they get stolen due to poor security practices on your part, you could lose your Bitcoin forever. Practicing self-custody requires a good understanding of managing digital assets securely.

Strengthening Your Control

Understanding the underlying technology of Bitcoin and wallets can help strengthen control over your Bitcoin and ensure greater security. Wallets, in essence, don’t store your Bitcoin but provide a convenient way to manage your keys and addresses for making transactions. In the world of Bitcoin, your private keys are your coins. Losing access to them means losing your coins.

Three types of wallets help enhance Bitcoin self-custody:

  1. Hardware Wallets: These physical devices store your private keys offline, making them immune to online hacking threats.
  2. Paper Wallets: As the name suggests, these wallets involve printing your private and public keys on paper for safekeeping.
  3. Software Wallets: These programs can be installed on your computer or mobile devices. While these are online and thus carry some risks, they are useful for active Bitcoin users who often transact.

Conclusion: A Call for Empowerment

Bitcoin, as a form of digital property, offers an unprecedented opportunity to assert financial self-sovereignty. The mantra, “Not Your Keys, Not Your Coins,” urges individuals to embrace this new paradigm and underscores that Bitcoin is not just a new kind of currency or investment, but rather a tool for financial freedom.

However, adopting this mantra doesn’t mean jumping blindly into self-custody. Individuals need to consider their technical knowledge, ability to manage digital security, and risk tolerance. Balancing these factors will help individuals establish the best way to manage their Bitcoin, whether that be through an exchange, or via self-custody.

In the end, self-custody represents what Bitcoin is all about: empowering the individual, establishing financial independence, and taking control of one’s economic future. To truly embrace it, one must understand and adopt the concept behind “Not Your Keys, Not Your Coins”. It is the key to possessing and managing your Bitcoin’s true value—it’s the essence of financial self-sovereignty in the digital age.

Read our wallet guide to help you pick the right solution for you.

If you still don’t feel comfortable with self-custody and you have lots of questions, you can book a call with me at the link in here and I can explain how it all works.

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