Why Is This Bitcoin ATM Decomposing in a Burger Joint?

The company that claims to run the world’s largest network of Bitcoin ATMs seems to have misplaced a kiosk.

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Jul 2 2015, 2:00pm

Image: Jon Christian

The Bitcoin ATM in the corner of Harvard-area fast food joint Tasty Burger is looking pretty rough. Its once-bright orange signage is peeling at the bottom, the display is dead, and someone has stuck a chewed piece of gum to the side, like a diacritic under the graffiti tag scrawled on the dusty cabinet in red marker. Most strikingly, the ATM's front access panel has come unlatched, leaving bare circuit boards, a credit card reader, and miscellaneous electronics exposed.

According to a Tasty Burger employee, the kiosk appeared last year and worked for just a few months before falling into disrepair. Its husk has apparently been standing there ever since, like a cenotaph to an otherwise forgotten moment in techno-libertarian hubris.

This much is clear: in happier days, the ATM in Tasty Burger was run by ZenBox, a Santa Monica-based Bitcoin startup that last year claimed to operate the largest network of Bitcoin ATMs in the world.

"We want to saturate the market with ZenBox and to be a recognized brand that is reliable and trusted," said ZenBox CEO Cailen Sullivan last October in an interview with CoinTelegraph, a cryptocurrency news publication.

Zenbox's Andrew Jasco—job position, according to LinkedIn: "Strategic Partnership Genius"—is intensely apologetic about the abandoned ATM, though he admits he's surprised to hear it's still lingering in Tasty Burger.

"I was informed by our operations team that that machine had been moved, so somebody's going to, uh..." he said, trailing off and chuckling ruefully. "Yeah, that's not good."

The derelict ZenBox kiosk seems emblematic of the nascent Bitcoin industry

The most troubling aspect of the bricked ATM, of course, is the possibility that a hacker could walk into Tasty Burger, access its guts and recover customers' personal information. One of Bitcoin's nominal strengths, at least in the public imagination, is its potential for anonymous transactions, but ZenBox's machines, according to the company's website, process credit cards and collect users' palm prints, headshots and scans of government-issued identification.

"I think everything is encrypted," Jasco said. "It's a great concern."

According to a Tasty Burger representative, an associate at the restaurant's real estate management company was responsible for the kiosk. The associate, in turn, said that she was no longer "involved with the BitCoin" but that I should talk to Alex Peterson, of Vis Nova Ventures, an outfit that "owns and operates a growing network of ZenBox Bitcoin kiosks." Peterson said that the Tasty Burger ATM has been out of service since November of last year, and that there are no plans to bring it back online.

"There appears to have been an attempted robbery of the safe in the last couple days," Peterson said. "We incurred no losses but are currently working with management to try to identify the culprit using video surveillance footage."

The kiosk contains no cash, Peterson said.

I eventually reached Sullivan, ZenBox's CEO, who explained that the kiosk in Tasty Burger, unlike other ATMs in the ZenBox network, was built by the Las Vegas-based startup RoboCoin, which provides software and hardware for moving and converting Bitcoin. Last autumn, RoboCoin released a software update that many in the Bitcoin community felt collected too much information about customers. After discussing the situation with Peterson, who owns the Tasty Burger kiosk but contracted with ZenBox to operate it, they agreed to shut down the unit. Sullivan, though, says he was under the impression that the machine had been taken out of public.

Image: Jon Christian

"It was a bit of a shock to get your email, and to hear that our skin was still on the machine, because we hadn't had anything to do with it for many months," Sullivan said.

In a sense, the derelict ZenBox kiosk seems emblematic of the nascent Bitcoin industry, which has been haunted by volatility, high profile catastrophes, and poor followthrough. Mt. Gox, which swelled to become the world's largest Bitcoin exchange during the currency's early years, collapsed after it admitted it had lost a cache of Bitcoins valued at $450 million. Hackers robbed exchange Bitstamp of $5 million worth of coins. Meanwhile, the currency itself is still difficult to get ahold of, falling short of promises that it would become as convenient as credit cards or cash.

As for the ATM at Tasty Burger, Jasco said that now that he's aware of it, he's going to try to have it removed.

"At the end of the day," he said, "the thing probably shouldn't be there, because it's not a very pretty machine to look at."