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March 25, 2014, 10:46:44 PM
 #441

Decentralized Applications to Offer More Than Just Bitcoin Transactions
Daniel Cawrey (@danielcawrey) | Published on March 25, 2014 at 22:32 GMT | Events, News

The future of digital currencies and the question of whether that future involves decentralized applications took center stage at CoinSummit San Francisco on 25th March in a talk that included Ethereum‘s Vitalik Buterin; Mastercoin Foundation’s David Johnston; and NXT‘s Brian Snyder.

The panel was moderated by Adam Levine of popular online podcast Let’s talk Bitcoin.

________________________________________________________________

The purpose of distributed applications is to better economize digital resources.

The concept of bitcoin was the impetus for this, but Vitalik Buterin of Ethereum, David Johnson of Mastercoin and Brian Snyder of NXT believe that there are many use cases for cryptographic systems outside of just money systems, the use case that bitcoin has popularized.

Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin told the CoinSummit crowd that cloud storage is one example of decentralization disrupting software:

“Dropbox has a markup of 100x. But, what if you could reduce that to 10x? What if you could sell space on your hard drive?”

Such forward-thinking ideas were on full display in a talk that discussed how bitcoin could have ramifications beyond the world of finance, and how today’s entrepreneurs are working toward this goal.

Next-generation projects

The panelists talked at great length about distributed uses beyond bitcoin, and how soon these ideas will come to life.

Mastercoin’s David Johnston, whose organisation provides a protocol that uses bitcoin to enable embeddable records such as smart contracts, said:

“In 5-6 years I think you’ll see a billion people using bitcoin, but they won’t even see that they are using.”

The proof-of-stake cyrptocurrency NXT is focused on fraud prevention via the use of tokens, Brian Snyder told the audience. The idea is to build something distributed but also provable and secure.

“I’ve seen credit cards get hacked, I’ve seen IDs hacked,” Snyder said.

Ethereum is building distributed autonomous corporations, or DACs, to offer more complex functions to enforce the advanced functions of money.

Said Buterin, the core developer of Ethereum:

“We want to reinvent the wheel. And make it better.”

He said that Ethereum is focused on building a more scalable bitcoin that can do much more than just spend.

Added Buterin: “I think the reason to do this independently [of bitcoin] is all about scalability.”

Distributed software interest

(L-R) Synder, Johnston, Buterin, Levine
(L-R) Synder, Johnston, Buterin, Levine
The panelists agreed that Bitcoin’s rising price and hashing power are major problems, ones that they say squeezs out the mainstream’s interest in building out its infrastructure.

Said Buterin:

“Bitcoin itself isn’t really all that egalitarian.”

Alternatives such as NXT, Mastercoin and Ethereum are next-generation software concepts that can inject new ideas into the cryptocurrency community. Mining is important for today’s cryptocurrencies, but new ways to offer incentives to the community are going to be important.

Said David Johnston:

“If you’re not doing something that requires hashing power, you need to find ways to incentivize other groups.”

The talk concluded with what David Johnston called ‘Johnston’s Law’:

“Everything that can be decentralized, will be decentralized,” he said.

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March 26, 2014, 10:39:43 AM
 #442

Vault of Satoshi Gets Full Money Services License for Canada
Jon Southurst (@southtopia) | Published on March 26, 2014 at 03:40 GMT | Companies, Exchanges, News, Regulation, US & Canada

Canadian bitcoin exchange Vault of Satoshi announced today it had gained a full Money Services Business license in its native country, after spending “some time” in a probationary period. Announcing the license on Reddit, Director of Marketing Adam Cochran wrote:

“Vault of Satoshi has always gone the extra mile to be a ‘by the books’ exchange. We’ve always been a registered corporation, let users know who we are, always reported to FinTrac, we follow all the same regulations as a currency exchange, and we operate inside all Canadian regulations on financial services.”

The license is national, allowing the company to operate in every province of Canada as it serves clients located in most countries around the world. “We are also currently streamlining our bank end financial systems to open ourselves to additional currencies so that in the future we can better serve clients in their local currency,” Cochran said. He added that, while the legal costs of compliance were probably higher in Canada than some places, it was preferable to operating in a grey area and taking risks with clients’ money.

“The decision was no contest. It’s the same reason why others continue to operate in the US from overseas, they are taking a gamble with your money, whereas we at Vault of Satoshi will only operate in methods and jurisdictions in which we can be a fully compliant financial entity,” he continued. “We don’t want your bitcoins magically disappearing and so legal decisions like this are absolutely paramount to making sure we can continue to operate properly.”

The company is also applying for a license with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC), saying it wants to be a “legal, transparent and reliable exchange [...] to be a positive part of the ever evolving cryptocurrency legal landscape here in Canada.”

Looking positive

It’s a dash of good news for Vault of Satoshi, which at the beginning of March announced “a temporary and voluntary withdrawal from the United States, due to the challenging legal/political landscape for a foreign entity operating in the cryptocurrency space.” It also added that it was working day to day with legal experts and striving towards re-entry into the US market in a secure, legal and reliable manner. Vault of Satoshi was critical of the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which it claimed had been opaque about compliance requirements. It also cited the recent Charlie Shrem arrest as proof of an increasingly hostile regulatory environment, and said the need to undergo separate compliance procedures in nearly all US states was prohibitively expensive.

Client protection

Client safety and protection of client assets remained paramount, Cochran added.

“Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, we like our peace of mind and that security and reliability is something we strongly feel a responsibility to bring to our clients. We’ll never take a risk with the trust they have invest in us,” he said.

Vault of Satoshi otherwise exchanges USD and CAD for digital currencies in any country other than those on its blacklist, which contains the usual financial world suspects plus the US, Thailand and Iceland.

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March 26, 2014, 10:40:16 AM
 #443

What the IRS Bitcoin Tax Guidelines Mean For You
Danny Bradbury (@dannybradbury) | Published on March 26, 2014 at 07:33 GMT | Analysis

The US Internal Revenue Service finally announced its guidance for virtual currencies yesterday, explicitly referring to bitcoin (see the announcement here and notice here). The increased clarity – provided three weeks before the end of the US tax year - will come as a relief to many who were scared to get involved in bitcoin, commercially. But what does it mean for different members of the bitcoin community?

US businesses wanting to get involved in bitcoin have been waiting for this for a while. As recently as January, US Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson pressured the IRS in her annual report to Congress, telling it that it needed to publish guidance. The lack of rules was a serious problem, she said, and many businesses would be surprised to hear that capital gains could be imposed on bitcoins.

Well, now, that’s official: in its guidance, the IRS has said that bitcoin should be treated as property, making it subject to capital gains tax. That has significant ramifications for different kinds of businesses and individuals dealing in bitcoin.

Miners

Miners that produce their own bitcoins are now subject to two different tax charges. They must include the fair market value of the virtual currency on the day that it is mined into their gross income.

Another stipulation in the IRS guidance is that capital gains are due on the sale of bitcoins viewed as a capital asset. The taxpayer must take this fair market value on the date of acquisition as the basis price for the coins. Capital gains will be due on the difference between that basis price and the eventual sale price.

This means that if and when they sell the bitcoins that they have mined, they will have to pay capital gains tax on any profit that they have made while owning them. Furthermore, if an individual mines bitcoin as a business, the net earnings from that business will be treated as self-employment income, and will be subject to self-employment tax.

Dave Carlson, a US entrepreneur who runs a mining operation that earned almost $8m a month in revenue when bitcoin was at its peak, says that this could spell trouble for miners.

“The implications of the new IRS  tax guidance will be a major factor for those US miners who didn’t anticipate it and are already on the edge of profit.  A capital gains tax on all coins mined could drive mining revenue below cost of power for many, forcing them to shut down,” he says. ”Pool operators will have to issue 1099s to all their US contributors, which will drive pool fees higher.

The exception here is if bit coins aren’t viewed as capital assets, but are instead viewed as inventory. This would be the case if a miner (or any other business) made the selling of bit coins their core business. In that case, any gains on the bitcoins would be taxed as an ordinary gain or loss.

“The test depends on the facts and circumstances and there’s not a simple bright line rule,” says Tyson Cross, a San Diego tax attorney who runs Bitcoin Tax Solutions, an advisory site about bitcoin taxation. “Asking yourself if you’re a miner, how you fall into that test, will be kind of murky.”

At least one miner has a strategy to get around the taxing of bitcoin when mined, though. Yana Kesler, a certified public accountant from Philadelphia, purchased a $7,200 mining rig last year, and had it hosted in Europe.

“When you mine yourself you are the producer. When you ask someone else to mine for you, that’s your investment,” Kesler says. She calculates the basis value of her coins as zero, but says that she does declare capital gains when she sells the coins.

Investors

The same basic concepts for capital gains realizations apply to investors who obtain their bitcoins through exchanges. They must measure the fair market value on that day as the basis for capital gains realization when they eventually sell the coins.

This is a good thing for investors though, argue tax experts. The alternative would be to impose foreign currency gains on most profits, which are taxable at a higher rate. Instead, investors who hold their bitcoins for more than a year and a day will be charged at the long-term capital gains rate, which currently rests at 15%.

This is what serious investors have been rooting for all along. “Winklevoss called it,” says Jacob Farber, an attorney in the virtual currency group at legal firm Perkins Coie, referring to the SEC filing for the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust. “They said that it should be treated as subject to capital gains. As investors that would be the right outcome.”

There’s another upside for investors, says Cross: certainty. “That’s a huge issue for investors, especially institutional investors,” he says, adding that he spoke to several institutional investors who were on the fence because of a lack of IRS guidance.

Exchanges

The exchanges themselves may have a tougher time of it, though. Farber’s colleague Richard Peterson, chair of Perkins Coie’s tax practice, says that now bitcoin is being classed as property, this will impose a reporting overhead. The key here is the 1099-B federal tax form, used to report the proceeds of a broker or barter exchange.

“If I sell my shares through Merrill Lynch, they send me a 1099 on which they have to list the property sold, the date it was sold, the price, and then if they have the information they would have to report my tax basis and my gain or loss,” he says. “They would need to do that for every transaction I do for the entire year, and send me one statement.”

He suggests that exchanges may now have to file such a form describing every transaction made by a client. For some high-volume clients, this could run into hundreds of trades each year. Are bitcoin exchanges, which haven’t been legally bound to do this, ready for the administrative burden?

Jaron Lukasiewicz, CEO of New York-based exchange Coinsetter, couldn’t comment on whether the firm was set up to do that today, or whether its systems would need to be altered to accommodate the change.

“Companies in the space will now have to determine how to help customers report taxable gains properly, which won’t be easy,” Lukasiewicz says. “However, I don’t think this tax treatment is a huge surprise to most people who have bitcoin gains.”

Consumers

Tracking capital gains represents a sticky problem when it comes to bitcoin owners paying for goods and services using the digital currency.

If you convert your bitcoins to fiat currency and then make everyday purchases using dollars, it will be relatively easy to report the short or long-term capital gains that single transaction.

But if you use the bitcoins in your wallet to purchase goods directly, then theoretically, the IRS should be informed of the capital gains incurred on the bitcoin at the time of the purchase, pointed out various tax attorneys that CoinDesk quizzed yesterday.

If you bought $25 in bit coins, and they went up to $75 in value, and then you went to Overstock and bought a sweater using bitcoins, then technically speaking, you should account for the $75 in capital gains when you spend those coins, says Peterson.

“That’s the gain that the service is going to want to track when retailers accept bitcoin. That’s where the true administrative nightmare comes in. There would have to be some town hall meeting with the [IRS] to resolve that.”

This rule imposes an unrealistic burden on bitcoin users. At best, if they rule was enforced then they would have to rely on a merchant providing the current US dollar value for a bitcoin purchase for their records, attorneys said. They would then have to compare this dollar value with the basis price (that is, the fair market value of the bitcoins on the day that they acquired them).

The consumer would have to do this for every bitcoin-based purchase that they made throughout the year, and add it all up at the end. If the merchant accepting bitcoin for payment didn’t provide a current US dollar value, then the person spending the bitcoin would have to do the math themselves, making it doubly hard to keep track.

None of this makes bitcoin attractive as an everyday unit of exchange, argue attorneys.

In practice, though, it seems unlikely that anyone would do this. Greg Broiles, an attorney specializing in estate planning, trust and probate, who spoke on bitcoin and taxation at Bitcoin 2013, argues that accountants have a concept called “materiality“. This essentially argues that transactions should only be included for accounting purposes when they’re significant enough. An $8 sandwich paid for in bit coins probably doesn’t count. A $30,000 Harley probably would, though.

In theory, then, the IRS rules seem to bring advantages to those who invest in bitcoin as a long-term property-class financial asset, while discouraging those that want to use it as a form of digital currency. In practice, Boiles argues that the latter group probably won’t care, and won’t report it.

Merchants and payment processors

There are two other types of business that might be affected by the new IRS guidance: merchants, and the payment processors that support them.

The payment processors – known as third party settlement organizations (TPSOs) in tax-speak – are now required to file 1099-K reports for their merchants if the number of transactions settled for the merchant exceeds 200, and the gross amount of payments made to the merchant exceeds $20,000.

Coinbase didn’t return our request for comment, but BitPay, the other large processor in the bitcoin space, said that it does file 1099-K forms for merchants.

For many merchants, these tax rules shouldn’t change much. Many, such as Overstock, take payments in bitcoin via payment processors but have them immediately converted to fiat currency, meaning that they don’t hold a position in the digital currency, and therefore won’t be exposed to capital gains taxes. It will be up to the payment processors to simply send them a 1099-K form at the end of the year.

Companies, contractors, and employees

Contractors getting paid in bitcoin must declare its fair market value on the day of payment as part of their gross income. Companies paying salaries in bitcoin must withhold tax in the same way as they would if paying in regular fiat currency. There don’t seem to be many of the latter, though.

So, the burning question is – what do you do with those bit coins that you mined or bought two years ago and let languish on your hard drive? Don’t be naughty, advises Broiles: report them.

“I think that IRS is going to want you to amend past-year returns,” he says. Let’s say that someone mined a lot of bitcoin two years ago and then forgot about it. My suggestion would be to amend the tax return for the year when they mined it. The growth between long ago and today will be taxed at the long-term capital gain rate.”

None of this is set in stone. Tax attorneys and other experts will no doubt file commentary on the IRS notice, which is subject to change, and which should eventually be replaced by regulation that could differ in its approach. For now, though, at least the bitcoin community in America has something to go on.

Statements in this article should not be considered tax advice, which is best sought directly from a qualified professional.

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March 26, 2014, 10:42:40 AM
 #444

Today in Gox: Police on the Case, More Coin Rumors
Jon Southurst (@southtopia) | Published on March 26, 2014 at 09:40 GMT | Exchanges, Mt. Gox, News

Mt. Gox rose again today to announce it is now working with Japanese police to investigate what happened to the bitcoins it lost, misplaced, or had stolen by hackers.

The statement, posted on the homepage on letterhead bearing CEO Mark Karpeles’ name, said:

Following its application for commencement of civil rehabilitation, MtGox Co., Ltd. consulted with the metropolitan police department with regard to the disappearance of bitcoins which is one of the causes for said application. MtGox Co., Ltd. hereby announces that it has submitted necessary electronic records and other related documents.

MtGox Co., Ltd. intends to fully cooperate with each competent authority. Further, MtGox Co., Ltd. continues to make efforts to clarify facts as quickly as possible and to recover from damages.

The announcement is carefully worded, not mentioning whether Mt. Gox chose to consult with the police, whether the police came to Mt. Gox, or if it was just a routine matter as part of the civil rehabilitation process. According to a report by Reuters, the police do not intend to make any further statement on the matter.

Other than knowing the authorities are involved somehow, and the words “recover from damages” at the end, the update probably does little to comfort those who lost large sums of money when Mt. Gox declared bankruptcy nearly a month ago.

Rumor file

Another tiny ray of hope today came in the form of a tweet by Eren Canarslan, an investment banker from Turkey:

The one-off tweet, followed by nearly a whole day of radio silence (that as of press time still hadn’t been broken) probably would have been written off as trolling or wishful thinking had it not been for these two other cryptic tweets he’d posted on 4th and 5th March:

Within two weeks, Mt. Gox announced it had discovered 200,000 BTC in an ‘old format’ wallet. In the world of lost bitcoins, this has bestowed a kind of prophetic status on Eren Canarslan, whose bitcoin-associated follower count increased markedly over the day.

It has not yet been established what his connection is to Mark Karpeles, Blockchain, or any insider information. The 4th March post drew a bemused response from ZeroBlock, Blockchain’s subsidiary.

It has also raised interest in the company he was supposedly tweeting to, Hong Kong’s Patrona Partners. That company responded by tweeting “Only thing I know he is not trolling,” with a link to an image of Canarslan’s earlier post.

We await, like a flock of seagulls around a small child, the next morsel either Mt. Gox or its claimed ‘insiders’ toss in our direction.

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March 26, 2014, 10:44:10 AM
 #445

Rumours, Panic and a DDoS Attack: Huobi’s Wild Week
Jon Southurst (@southtopia) | Published on March 26, 2014 at 10:30 GMT | Altcoins, Companies, Exchanges, Litecoin, News

While everyone was preoccupied with bitcoin price drops after last Friday’s ‘fake Chinese bitcoin ban‘ news incident, something even more dramatic was happening at China’s largest exchange, Huobi, and its new litecoin trading system.

A ‘flash crash’ on the exchange saw the price plunge to just 1 RMB (Chinese yuan) a short time after a hoax news report of a complete government ban on digital currencies was posted on microblogging site Sina Weibo and reported by Sina’s financial news service.

The number of trades executed at that price is unknown, as is the total amount of money lost – either by the company or by traders who lost due to margin calls. However, soon after the incident, Huobi agreed to make its customers whole again at 70 RMB ($11.29) per LTC for anyone who sold below that level.

Furthermore, the company said, negative balances would be reset to zero – even those still in the red after the 70 RMB redress.

Huobi CEO Leon Li said litecoin volumes had recovered by about 80% since, and users seemed to be satisfied with Huobi’s resolution, but predicted that the full 100% recovery would more time.

This incident was very similar to the bitcoin flash crash at BTC-e on 10th February, supposedly induced by panic in the aftermath of Mt. Gox’s suspension of all withdrawals. The price of 1 BTC dropped to $100 for just under two minutes, but that was long enough to do damage.

DDoS attack

That wasn’t the end of Huobi’s wild week, however. On Sunday 23rd March, the exchange suffered a crippling distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that took its site offline for the whole day.

News outside China has been almost non-existent, causing internet sleuths to speculate over whether, if at all, these incidents were related and who might be behind them. Prankers? Blackmailers? Business rivals? Huobi itself? Even Huobi management says it doesn’t know for sure, but it insists, as did BTC-e in February, that it did not engineer the crash or profit from it.

Huobi had officially started litecoin trading just two days prior to the crash, and prices had not been spectacular over that time. While LTC had crept higher against BTC and USD in anticipation, actual figures after the launch were underwhelming.

Since the crash, the price has not risen above its pre-Huobi launch level and, on BTC-e, one litecoin is currently trading for around 0.027 BTC, $15.80, and 98.4 RMB, which is almost exactly the same rate.


Blackmail trend

There have been some other high-profile DDoS attacks in recent weeks, said to be the result of blackmail attempts. Project management site Basecamp (formerly named 37signals) went down just yesterday in what its owners said was an extortion attempt, while Meetup was also taken down a couple of weeks ago after receiving an email saying:

“A competitor asked me to perform a DDoS attack on your website. I can stop the attack for $300 USD. Let me know if you are interested in my offer.”

Even if these DDoS incidents are completely unrelated, they point to a recent trend in computer crime: extortion of both businesses and individuals has lately increased, either via overt threats like the one Meetup received or malware like CryptoLocker, which demanded similar amounts from its victims.

Response to the crisis

Comparing its fate to that of BTC-e, Huobi has published an official response (in Chinese) to the fake news and subsequent crash on its site.

“The system was told to sell at market price, but there were not enough LTC buyers, and transactions could not be completed, so finally the inventory was liquidated at below market prices. When the liquidated LTC was not sufficient to cover borrowings, some small portion of customers experienced a negative asset balance.”

“Huobi only opened up LTC trading two days before the 21st March incident, and so there was not enough depth in the market. In the midst of a market panic, there were not many orders that varied greatly from the market price, and so the system could not close positions using normal prices, and it was only when that the price went down to 1 RMB that the position could be closed.”

Engineering the crash itself would make no sense for the company, the statement continued, since both buyers and sellers were Huobi customers, and the crash did great damage to the company’s brand new LTC trading platform and its reputation in general.

When asked who might have been behind the fake government ban announcement, Li told CoinDesk:

“The fake news was most likely a result of an individual/group maliciously manipulating the price and causing a drop on purpose. They were able to get away with it because people are concerned about the uncertainty in policy.”

“To prevent such things from happening in the future, three things need to happen: 1) established media should not publish unverified news about policy; 2) investors need to have basic judgment; 3) the industry should have an authoritative channel for posting news.”

Getting traders to act rationally would be an achievement, and is something markets have probably desired for hundreds of years. Controlling media statements on government policy, though, could be easier in China with its vast state-connected media networks.

Taking further action

Huobi is calling for Sina Weibo (a similar service to Twitter) to reveal the owner and Chinese ID number of the ‘Caitongshe’ account that started the fake rumor in the first place, in the hope it can file a lawsuit.

It is also requesting that any users who bought litecoin for 1 RMB to post pictures of their trades on Weibo (as some have done already). The trades were legal and within the rules, but Huobi wants to demonstrate publicly that the company did not trade at the low price or profit from the crash.

Huobi also insisted that its bitcoin platform remained robust, and did not suffer large setbacks even after the official Chinese government announcement of 5th December, or the fake one of last Friday.

Admitting its risk management strategy for the new litecoin system could have been better, however, Huobi promised improvements to prevent wild fluctuations in future.

To be properly responsible to its customers, the company concluded, after a meeting with all stockholders, Huobi has agreed to use a portion of its loan loss provision funds to cover losses suffered by the exchange’s users.

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March 26, 2014, 12:05:26 PM
 #446

New Polish Bitcoin Exchange Bitmarket.pl is Launched
Jaroslaw Adamowski | Published on March 26, 2014 at 11:55 GMT | Exchanges, News, Startups

With digital currencies becoming increasingly popular among Poles, a new bitcoin exchange, Bitmarket.pl, was launched this month in the country.

The company said the exchange aims to lure traders with high levels of security and a fast turnover of transactions.

Said Michał Pleban, co-owner of the exchange:

“What is important, only our own funds are allocated in the hot wallet, while our clients’ funds are safe in the cold wallet. We merge the rapidness of a currency exchange with the elasticity of a stock exchange.”

Pleban presented the exchange and its business model at a seminar on bitcoin, held on 24th March at the Warsaw School of Economics (Szkoła Główna Handlowa).

From domains to bitcoins

“The exchange was launched this month, but we represent a company which has been active on the Polish market for eight years,” Pleban said. “We are an offshoot of AfterMarket.pl – the largest domain aftermarket website in Poland, with more than 250,000 .pl domains in its portfolio.”

Pleban is the main architect of the website’s code, and said that the security measures employed by Bitmarket.pl are multilayered and based on two-step authentication, but do not negatively impact the speed of transactions.

Said Pleban:

“In addition to this, we decided not to impose any fees on users’ transactions on the exchange.”

That said, the company does collects fees for withdrawals of funds from user accounts. These are currently PLN 1 ($0.33) and PLN 5 ($1.65) for electronic fund transfers and regular bank transfers, respectively, and 0.0001 BTC and 0.001 LTC for digital currency transfers, according to data from Bitmarket.pl.

Trust-building essential

With Pleban’s statements clearly aimed to garner the trust of the local digital currency scene, which has seen several bitcoin-related incidents over the past few months, local observers say that market entry is increasingly difficult for new Polish exchanges.

As part of its trust-building efforts, Bitmarket.pl has tried to emphasize its financial foundations. The exchange is owned by Luxembourg-based EuroDNS, which has a share capital of some €540,000, according to figures released by company representatives.

Recent examples of turbulence in Poland’s bitcoin market include Bitcurex, the country’s leading bitcoin exchange, temporarily shutting down its site on 14th March following a hack that targeted funds in its users’ bitcoin wallets. The site resumed service on 18th March after stating that the perpetrators did not manage to break its security measures and gain full access to its operational hot wallet.

Late last year, though, another Poland-based bitcoin exchange reportedly fell victim to a hack and its owners were forced to shut down the site. Bidextreme.pl was hacked in November 2013 and its customers’ bitcoin and litecoin wallets were emptied.

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March 26, 2014, 02:04:41 PM
 #447

Agora Commodities Reports $10m in Bitcoin Sales
Nermin Hajdarbegovic | Published on March 26, 2014 at 12:35 GMT | Investors, Merchants, News, Wallets

Agora Commodities has managed to sell more than $10m-worth of gold and silver for bitcoin since it started accepting the cryptocurrency last year.

The firm points out that bitcoin gained more than 4000% in value last year, although that’s not the company’s primary focus, which is more on shiny, tangible commodities rather than digital currencies.

The biggest rush came in late 2013, as the price of bitcoin skyrocketed. Clearly, there were many speculators who decided to trade in their bitcoins for precious metals.

Just getting started

Agora Commodities is a relatively young company, but it is already the biggest dealer of precious metals for bitcoin on the planet. In addition to gold and silver, the company also sells platinum, palladium and rhodium.

The company sells a wide range of products, ranging from 1 kg gold bars priced at $43,000, to one-ounce silver coins priced at $21.

Bitcoin lovers can even combine their love of cryptocurrencies and precious metals with Agora’s Silver Bitcoin Specie, a quarter-bitcoin piece priced at $23.50. No bitcoin included, of course. It features a handy QR code on the back and the design is rather nice, especially the binary string on the margin.

The only problem is that international shipping is quite costly, increasing the price of the purchase significantly. So, unless you plan to make a substantial investment in precious metals, it may not be worthwhile – especially if you were thinking about picking up a single coin as a gift, or a geeky conversation piece.

Coins as BTC wallets

If all this talk of physical coins sounds familiar, don’t worry, it should. Mike Caldwell, the entrepreneur behind Casascius has been minting physical bitcoins for a while. However, his efforts were curtailed last year, when the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) ruled that his activities were essentially ‘money transmitting’ and that he did not have a permit to carry out such services.

Caldwell then turned to minting unfunded coins, which feature private keys and can be stocked with BTC by the buyer. Caldwell describes them as “paper bitcoin wallets inside a coin container”.

While physical coins aren’t very practical, and they are essentially the opposite of what a digital currency was intended to be, they do look quite a bit more appealing (and durable) than your average paper wallet.

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March 26, 2014, 02:05:12 PM
 #448

Cryptocurrency Payment Processor GoCoin Gets $1.5m in Funding
Daniel Cawrey (@danielcawrey) | Published on March 26, 2014 at 13:27 GMT | Companies, Investors, Merchants, News, Startups

GoCoin has announced it has raised $1.5m in funding in order to expand its operations as an international payments platform for cryptocurrencies.

The round was led by the Bitcoin Shop, which is a publicly traded company on the over-the-counter market.

“Our investment in GoCoin reflects our confidence in their product and their team,” Charles Allen, CEO of Bitcoin Shop, said in a statement.

Former Facebook COO Owen Van Natta and investment firm Crypto Currency Partners also participated in the round.

“User demand continues to grow for alternative payments,” said Van Natta, adding:

“I’m excited to deepen my involvement with GoCoin and their best-in-class payments solution for merchants and game publishers.”

Expansion and competition

GoCoin plans to use the funding to expand its sales and technology teams as demand for cryptocurrency payments grows.

“In our case, it’s expanding the sales staff in terms of direct sales and channel sales. And we’ll probably augment the technology team slightly,” said company co-founder Brock Pierce.

The company was started in July 2013 and its platform went live in December.

GoCoin competes with Coinbase and BitPay in the bitcoin payment processor market. Pierce believes that GoCoin is the number three cryptocurrency payment processor in the world today. The industry will see a lot more competition in the future, he says:

“My view is that there is probably room in this market for 15 of these companies.  If you look historically in payments world, you normally see room for 15 of these types of companies.”

International focus

A favorable regulatory environment in Singapore led GoCoin to incorporate its business there. And it is focused on markets outside of the US.

“I think we’re the only payments company that’s focused on international markets,” said Pierce.

The demand for alternative cryptocurrencies as a form of payment outside bitcoin is also something that makes GoCoin stand out as a payment process. Said Pierce:

“We’re agnostic when it comes to currencies. If there’s mutual demand from merchants and consumers to either spend or accept it, we’ll add the currency.”

GoCoin started to accept litecoin back in January. It recently added support for dogecoin as well.

“We’ve had an international multi-currency focus since day one, and this round will help extend our global footprint and take our services to the next level,” Steve Beauregard, CEO of GoCoin, said in a release announcing this latest round of funding.

Last November, GoCoin raised $550,000 in an early seed round.

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March 26, 2014, 02:05:47 PM
 #449

Circle Receives $17m Funding, Unveils Exchange and Wallet Service
Emily Spaven (@emilyspaven) | Published on March 26, 2014 at 13:00 GMT | Circle, Companies, Exchanges, Wallets

Circle Internet Financial has closed a $17m Series B funding round and announced the launch of its first consumer product.

The bitcoin company raised the $17m from various investors, including Breyer Capital, Accel Partners and General Catalyst Partners, bringing its total funding to date to $26m.

Investment was also received from Oak Investment Partners, Pantera Capital and the Bitcoin Opportunity Fund, which is run by Barry Silbert, founder and chief executive officer of SecondMarket and founder of the Bitcoin Investment Trust.

Leonard H. Schrank, the former chief executive officer of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) also invested, as did Circle board member M. Michele Burns and Fenway Summer, a consumer finance advisory and venture firm led by Circle board member Raj Date.

Jeremy Allaire, Circle founder, Chairman and CEO, said:

“We are thrilled to have such a strong showing of support and vote of confidence from world-class investors and strategic individuals as we move into the commercial phase of Circle.”

He explained the funding will allow Circle to build its team, increasing roles across product, operations, legal, compliance, security and customer support. Allaire also has plans to open offices in a number of locations outside the US.

On top of this, the funds will be used to invest in the infrastructure required to provide a secure platform for the company’s customers.

Product debut

Up until now, Circle has been very secretive about what it has been working on and the products it aims to offer. Today, the company has launched its first consumer product, but only a limited number of people will be able to test it out at this stage.

Allaire revealed his company is offering something akin to a bitcoin exchange and wallet service, although he is loath to use those terms.

Jeremy Allaire, Circle
Jeremy Allaire, founder, chairman and chief executive officer at Circle
He said users will be able to use the service to convert their fiat currency into bitcoins, then take advantage of tools that make it easy to send, receive and spend funds.

The company’s main aim is to open bitcoin up to a broader market and make it easier for the masses to get involved in digital currency. Circle wants to make sure the service it offers is perfect, though, before making it available to all.

“We are being very careful and deliberate in how we add users to our system, ensuring that it is a product that users value and recommend to their friends and family, and that, from an operational perspective, we are able to deliver an exceptional experience,” said Allaire.

He explained that his company is building a global consumer financial service and institution that it wants consumers to trust with protecting and securing their digital assets. This is something Allaire claims the vast majority of bitcoin companies have failed to do:

“They’ve failed to meet consumer support expectations, they’ve failed to meet even rudimentary security and audit obligations, and so we believe that the bar needs to be high in terms of offering a consumer service around bringing bitcoin mainstream.”

For this reason, Circle is being patient and is launching an invitation-only limited release this week.

Working with regulators

Allaire, who has founded two previous startups that both saw successful IPOs, said Circle hasn’t so far faced any problems with regulators or banking partners. He puts this down to Circle’s upfront approach.

“Unlike many first-generation bitcoin companies, we’ve been extremely engaged and transparent with regulators about our commercial and product plans,” he explained.

He believes it is important for companies in the space to educate government and commercial banking partners about what they are doing, and also integrate any feedback and suggestions.

“We’re all in this and learning together, and it’s critical that industry participants look at government and the banking industry as partners in building the ecosystem for digital currency,” Allaire added.

Investment

Circle isn’t the only bitcoin company to announce investment this week. Yesterday, Kraken announced it had received $5m in Series-A funding, led by Hummingbird Ventures.

Kraken, which allows users to buy and sell bitcoin, namecoin, dogecoin and Ripple, among other digital currencies, is owned by Payward, Inc.

Other companies in the space are expected to make funding announcements this week, too.

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March 26, 2014, 02:31:51 PM
 #450

New Binary Options Trading Service Takes Bitcoin-Only Payments
Jon Matonis (@jonmatonis) | Published on March 26, 2014 at 14:15 GMT | Bitcoin protocol, Investors, News, Prices

A new service for financial options has launched a beta website for nine different binary options, including gold, silver and crude oil, plus six foreign exchange pairs.

The offered currencies – euros, Australian dollars, New Zealand dollars, British pounds, yen, and Swiss francs – are all paired with the US dollar.

Different than previous binary option offerings, the new service – which is called UpDown – processes payments and payouts in bitcoin only.

With binary options, the trader selects the direction that the price of the underlying asset will move – either up (‘call option’) or down (‘put option’) – and purchases an option contract. This contract gives the buyer the right to exercise the option at the end of the specified time period, at which point the trader makes a return or loses the initial investment.

Binary options are sometimes referred to as ‘all-or-nothing options’, ‘digital options’, or ‘fixed return options’ (FROs), which are traded on the American Stock Exchange.

More popular outside the US, foreign binary options are offered by individual brokers, rather than through an exchange, and they typically have a fixed payout and risk. The brokers earn their revenue from the percentage discrepancy between what they pay out on winning trades and what they collect from losing trades.

Most foreign binary options brokers are not legally allowed to solicit US residents unless that broker is registered with a US regulatory body, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

First-generation brokers

First-generation binary options for bitcoin simply offer the BTC/USD currency pair as a trading vehicle, whereas second-generation operators also allow deposits and payouts in bitcoin. Coindesk first covered first-generation bitcoin binary options in June 2013.

Now, binary option brokers that trade bitcoin as an option instrument include anyoption, SetOption, TradeRush, and Bloombex-Options.

Fast and simple, the tradeable asset lists are extensive with durations of 60 seconds to one week. Payouts range between 60% to 85%, depending on the asset and option type. Top brokers will also provide news resources and trading tools.

Second-generation brokers

Second-generation brokers offering both bitcoin funding and bitcoin trading include UpDown, BTCOracle, and BeastOptions.

The first such trading service operating on the bitcoin block chain, Satoshi Option, debuted in March 2013.

Similar to the SatoshiDice betting game, Satoshi Option requires no account registration and no personal details. Payouts are near instantaneous and the service is accessible from anywhere in the world because it relies on the bitcoin block chain as the platform.

Maximum trade size per bitcoin address is currently set at 0.25 BTC. Since the available commodities are traded with publicly available pricing, the binary option outcomes are verifiable.

Unlike the other bitcoin-funded brokers that rely on proprietary platforms, BeastOptions operates on the third-party TRADOLOGIC trading platform, which provides a customizable front end that is a lightweight, high-performance solution for web-based or mobile platform trading.

Several binary option trading platforms exist and SpotOption, TRADOLOGIC’s biggest competitor, has been offering bitcoin binary options since mid-2013. Leverate‘s new platform also includes support for bitcoin binary options and CFDs, which is utilized by Plus500 and TopOption.

Contracts for difference, or CFDs, differ from binary options in that they allow the use of leverage and the contract can be closed at any time, whereas binary options have a fixed expiry. Counterparty risk is a concern for both instruments, which is what the very short-term binary options utilizing the bitcoin block chain seek to alleviate.

UpDown will soon be adding a BTC/USD trading pair to its binary option asset list after it negotiates an exchange partnership. UpDown refers to itself as a community-regulated project and is registered in the British Virgin Islands.

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March 27, 2014, 01:19:09 PM
 #451

Mining Malware Infects Mobile Market via Google Play Apps
Nermin Hajdarbegovic | Published on March 27, 2014 at 10:31 GMT | Crime, Mining, News, Technology

Cryptocurrency mining malware for PC platforms has been around for a while, but now it has gone mobile, specifically via the Android OS.

A team of security researchers from Trend Micro has managed to identify two apps that can use your Android device to mine litecoin and dogecoin.

The apps in question are called Songs and Prized, and both are available from the Google Play Store. Songs has between one and five million downloads so far, while Prized has 10,000 to 50,000 downloads.

This is not the first case of mining malware targeting new and unusual platforms. Linux recently got what was likely its first taste of mining malware with the Darlloz worm.

The Android ecosystem is quite a bit bigger, but targeting it is rather pointless from a mining point of view because the hardware simply isn’t up to the job.

Malware to the moon

The researchers identified the malware as ANDROIDOS_KAGECOIN.HBT, which has previously been found in repackaged copies of several popular apps, including Football Manager Handheld and TuneIn Radio.

The apps were injected with CPU mining code from a legitimate Android mining app, based on cpuminer. This time around the malware was found on Google Play apps, rather than repackaged apps from third-party app stores.

Google’s hands-off approach to app vetting (or lack thereof) will probably be blamed for the mess, but in all fairness this would not be the first time a big tech firm was used to spread cryptocurrency malware.

On New Year’s Eve, Yahoo’s European servers were piggybacked to spread mining malware to a large number of PCs, but the attack appears to have been limited and relatively unsuccessful.

Once installed, this strain launched CPUminer and connected to a dynamic domain, where it was redirected to an anonymous dogecoin mining pool.

Trend Micro said:

“By February 17, his network of mobile miners has earned him thousands of dogecoins. After February 17, the cybercriminal changed mining pools. The malware is configured to download a file, which contains the information necessary to update the configuration of the miner. This configuration file was updated, and it now connects to the well-known WafflePool mining pool.”

The researchers now say they have identified exactly the same behaviour in apps downloaded from Google Play. At press time, both apps were still available on Google’s app store.

This time around, the miner has been configured to mine litecoins rather than dogecoins. However, the focus was initially on dogecoins and researchers believe that the cybercriminal behind the malware “accumulated a great deal” of dogecoins.

Clever but pointless

Although this attack has infected many thousands of devices, researchers seem baffled by the fact that someone chose to attempt it in the first place. Smartphones simply don’t have enough processing power to mine cryptocurrencies effectively, and battery life is a further problem.

Trend Micro points out:

“Clever as the attack is, whoever carried it out may not have thought things through. Phones do not have sufficient performance to serve as effective miners. Users will also quickly notice the odd behavior of the miners – slow charging and excessively hot phones will all be seen, making the miner’s presence not particularly stealthy. Yes, they can gain money this way, but at a glacial pace.”

Trend Micro points out that there are plenty of telltale signs that point to an infection. CPUs in mobile devices spent much of their time idling, so it is relatively easy to notice that something is wrong.

The battery drains quickly and recharges slowly, but heat is an even bigger giveaway. As anyone who was ever hooked on mobile games knows, phones and tablets heat up quickly even after a few minutes of gameplay, as the System-on-Chip (SoC) processor kicks into high gear and starts operating at the highest possible clocks when faced with a lot of load.

It should be relatively easy to figure out if any app is mining in the background. Users who happen to notice unusual behaviour on their devices, such as a hot phone and low battery life, can easily identify the app responsible (go to: Settings > Battery), and remove it.

It goes without saying that the two apps mentioned above should be removed from your phone immediately, if you have them installed.

The ARM-based SoCs used in the vast majority of Android devices today simply don’t have the muscle to mine cryptocurrencies. They are designed to be efficient and operate within strict thermal and power envelopes, necessitated by the size of the device and, of course, the capacity of the on-board battery.

Even the latest and most powerful ARM-based application processors used in high-end Android smartphones and tablets, such as the Snapdragon 800, Tegra 4 or Exynos 5, don’t have a fraction of the computing power needed to mine digital currencies in any sensible amount of time.

In other words, there probably aren’t that many malware developers who are willing to waste time on Android mining. The fact that someone has tried it does not mean that others will follow suit, as the returns are simply too low.

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March 27, 2014, 01:19:37 PM
 #452

Robocoin Offers Bitcoin ATM Operators 0% Fees for Life
Pete Rizzo (@pete_rizzo_) | Published on March 27, 2014 at 01:30 GMT | Bitcoin ATM, News

Las Vegas-based bitcoin ATM manufacturer Robocoin has announced it is lowering its operator fees to 0% as part of a new offer aimed at making its machine owners more competitive on the global marketplace.

Robocoin had previously taken 34% of the transaction fees set by its operators on its bitcoin ATMs, meaning if an operator set fees at 3%, Robocoin would net 1% of those earnings.

As part of the new offering, operators can pay $10,000 for a lifetime license that allows them to bypass fees for life. The $10,000 cost is an introductory price that will run through 30th April.

Alternatively, operators can forego the added $10,000 cost and pay $20,000 for the BTC ATM and 1% of its fees going forward to the company.

Robocoin CEO Jordan Kelley spoke to CoinDesk about the announcement, saying that the measure is proof of its commitment to its customers and to the bitcoin ecosystem at large.

“Our goal of the company is to ensure that our operators are profitable, that they’re operating at the best prices and that we’re building our network around the world.”

Kelley indicated that in today’s fast-moving digital currency ecosystem, the fees being imposed on new consumers are proving to be an obstacle to adoption, one that his company is committed to doing its part to reduce.

The CEO added: “We’re just guys that like to push the envelope.”

Improving overall service

Kelley sees the new, lower fees as yet another reason operators should choose Robocoin over the available alternatives, saying that individual value propositions don’t matter when you consider the overall service a company provides.

Said Kelley:

“You want a machine that has longevity, a machine that doesn’t require you to stand next to it, a machine that can auto-enroll customers with full know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) compliance so that you’re protecting yourself from any regulatory scrutiny.”

Further, Kelley indicated that the move will also open up a new customer base for operators, hopefully enticing the large number of early bitcoin adopters who aren’t keen to pay 7% on a transaction.

Demonstrating commitment

Of course, Kelley also indicated that lowering fees is just another way Robocoin is demonstrating its desire to improve the overall ecosystem.

Said Kelley:

“I think our company takes a serious responsibility when it comes to bringing bitcoin to the world, and that this makes a big statement to anyone who wants to operate a Robocoin that our goal is to offer the best hardware and to ensure that our guys are the most profitable.”

Though operators could choose not to pass along reduced fees to their customers, Kelley suggested that this outcome is unlikely.

“You’re going to be getting a ton of pressure. [...] We’ve done the numbers, the numbers look wonderful when you drop fees low.”

Kelley indicated that Robocoin’s data shows a clear connection between lower fees and higher volume.

More in store

Kelley did not elaborate, but hinted that the new pricing model is part of a larger plan that the company plans to unveil later this year, hence the limited run.

Notably, he did return to the subject of remittances, noting that for Robocoin to truly compete in the global remittance market, the 5% to 7% fees imposed by operators on transactions needed to decline.

Further, he added that consumers who remit money through traditional means will typically pay just 3% to 5% on transactions of $400 to $500, potentially indicating that Robocoin has bigger plans beyond simply providing buying and selling services.

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March 27, 2014, 01:20:08 PM
 #453

Bitcoin ID Verification Streamlined With Jumio’s BISON
Jon Southurst (@southtopia) | Published on March 27, 2014 at 12:00 GMT | Companies, Exchanges, News, Technology

Credentials management company Jumio Inc. announced it has formed a network of bitcoin exchanges, wallets and ATM providers worldwide to smooth ID verification procedures and open easy transactions to a greater range of connected devices.

Its new Bitcoin Identity Security Open Network (BISON) includes BitAccess ATMs, SnapSwap, CoinMkt, Digital Currency Exchange of Texas, CoinRnr, Hashop.io, NoveltyLab and Bitnet Technologies as initial members.

Using Jumio’s ‘Netverify‘ technology, users in the BISON ecosystem can simply hold their ID in front of a camera on any connected device to get verified and validated at the point of transaction. It also extracts the personal information on the ID and auto-populates the transaction form, doing all this in real-time.

The system can verify driver licences, passports and some other documents issued by over 100 countries using a bundle of automated techniques to detect manipulation. Suspect IDs are then referred to human experts for further examination.

Netverify Jumio

Security for bitcoin businesses

Right now the buyer’s identify is used only in the relationship with the bitcoin business they’re using. Next summer, however, they will have the option to join a wider network whereby their ID details can be shared between different companies, obviating the need to complete separate identification and verification processes. Jumio gave bitcoin exchanges, with their often lengthy verification times, as the best example where this would be an advantage.

BISON client businesses will also have access to regularly updated data regarding success rates, failure rates, account openings, transaction failures and fraud attempts within the network, giving them a better idea who and what to watch out for. Jumio’s founder and CEO Daniel Mattes said:

“The vast majority of bitcoin users are honest and engaging in a range of legal transactions, but a small minority are not and that threatens the entire ecosystem especially during this formative period.”

“BISON is designed to minimize the problem by weeding out those who use false or manipulated IDs which is a strong indicator of intended fraud or other illegal activity.”

New world

Jumio is not a ‘bitcoin business’ per se, concerning itself mainly with verification procedures at all types of clients, including many in the online retail, government and traditional financial spheres. However it is also backed by venture capitalist firm Andreesen Horowitz, and many of Marc Andreesen’s recent bitcoin pronouncements have begun to catch on.

“There’s a bias against the new – we think nothing of handing over credit cards to a restaurant waiter, just because it’s established behaviour.”

It has also been working with a number of bitcoin businesses recently, and realized the need for an efficient and accurate way to verify identity in transactions using connected devices, like smartphones.

The new concept of ‘keystroke-free transactions’ seeks new ways that respect the form factor of mobile devices, Jumio says. Everything now is based on the desktop model, with keyboards and browser auto-fill.

Chief Marketing Officer Marc Barach echoed many of Andreesen’s bitcoin beliefs: that in its current form, bitcoin is like the internet in 1994.

That is, it’s still a mix of fringe players and experimental technology, which doesn’t always work nicely. The next phase, both have said, will demand new standards of professionalism and trust to reach the mainstream.

Barach added: ”We didn’t actually pursue this sector, it sort of came to us. We saw a need to establish trust between bitcoin customers, and the wallets and exchanges they work with.”

By weeding out fraud in the form of fake or manipulated IDs, Barach said, the network strengthens the entire ecosystem. The main use case for BISON is obviously KYC (know your customer) rules that protect businesses from fraud as much as identify wrongdoers to the authorities.

“If you set up a process that makes it difficult for criminals to do business, they’ll go elsewhere and leave the space to legitimate activities. Criminals will go to that second tier of company, that doesn’t care about that stuff,” he continued.

He said Jumio had learned a few things working with bitcoin businesses, which involved improving security without compromising digital currency’s advantages.

“We discovered a couple of things: (1) Self-regulation is the way to go; (2) These companies have developed good processes to eliminate criminal activity; (3) Bitcoin is a hyper-efficient way to transact, and it’s all about keeping that efficiency.”

Privacy issues

Barach says he understands the concerns of users who might at first be reluctant to hand over their personal information to another company to share. But on the whole, trusting it to a secure system like BISON is still preferably to leaving your personal details spread over different businesses of varying sizes and security standards around the internet.

“If you want to sign up anywhere, say Coinbase or itBit etc, you have to give ID. What’s new is you now have the option to keep that info on a central place.”

“You’re leaving your personal information everywhere around the internet anyway. it’s something we’ve become used to, and Jumio doesn’t think merchants should be in the storage of payment and personal info business.”

“A lot of people go back to a small store they’d forgotten about and are surprised to discover they’re already logged in and payment details are on file. They think it’s convenient. In many ways, there’s a bias against the new – we think nothing of handing over our credit cards to a waiter in a restaurant, just because it’s established behaviour.”

Jumio now has offices and clients across the US and Europe, with Europe representing 40% of its business. It hopes to expand into Latin American and Asian markets over the next few years.

Founded in 2010 by Daniel Mattes, the Palo Alto company is backed by investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Citi Ventures. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin has also been an investor since the early days and remains an active board member.

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March 27, 2014, 01:20:39 PM
 #454

Bitcoin Price Drops After New Chinese Bank Rumours
Jon Southurst (@southtopia) | Published on March 27, 2014 at 11:16 GMT | Asia, Companies, Exchanges, Regulation

Less than a week after a fake Chinese news report sent bitcoin and litecoin prices plummeting on some exchanges, another similar rumour hit the Internet today.

News that the Chinese government would penalize any bank transacting with bitcoin exchanges after 15th April started to break around mid-morning China time on Thursday 27th March. This time, it was reported as fact by a number of news services.

The bitcoin price, already on a downward trend, dropped to a low of $561.61 on CoinDesk’s BPI and below the $550 mark on Chinese exchanges.

The latest report gave all the usual reasons a government might want to restrict digital currencies: money laundering, crime, price volatility and investor risk. Given that the People’s Bank of China had previously warned banks to stay away from bitcoin transactions, the fake news seemed plausible, but this was the first report of an outright prohibition.

Unfounded rumours

Cracks started to appear in the story when China’s exchanges claimed they hadn’t heard the news and tried to verify it with the PBOC itself, finding no information.

“We didn’t get any official announcement,” said Star Xu, CEO of major exchange OKCoin.

“We haven’t seen any concrete evidence of any of this yet,” said Bobby Lee, CEO of BTCChina, saying the story seemed to be just a rumour, but that he’d stay tuned for any updates.

OKCoin later posted on its Weibo account (a ‘human’ translation via Reddit):

“In order to prevent panic (and large volume of trading) like the last time false news came out on 21 March, we have already set up enough resources to deal with situations like this when they arise. There is no related press release on the website of People’s Bank of China. We condemn the use of false news news used to cause panic. OKcoin will pay close attention to news about regulation.”

The leaders of Huobi and BTCTrade also both reportedly denied receiving any official announcement from the People’s Bank.

Could it be true?

There is a twist in the tale, though: the reporter who wrote the story for Caixin, generally regarded as a reputable news magazine, said he is sticking by his story, and has posted on various social media sites about its verity.

Last week’s hoax not only saw bitcoin prices fall, it caused a ‘flash crash‘ that dropped the litecoin price to 1 RMB on Huobi, which had only begun trading the currency two days earlier.

Prices recovered soon after and Huobi compensated those who lost money, but the exchange was then hit by a day-long DDoS attack just two days later.

The poster of last week’s hoax remains unknown, and there was no named source in today’s news reports.

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March 27, 2014, 03:47:36 PM
 #455

Study: Mt. Gox May Have Lost Just 386 BTC Due to Transaction Malleability
Pete Rizzo (@pete_rizzo_) | Published on March 27, 2014 at 14:55 GMT | Exchanges, Mt. Gox, News

A new report by researchers at ETH Zurich University in Switzerland has concluded that the now-bankrupt Japan-based bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox may have lost only 386 bitcoins ($203,000) due to issues stemming from transaction malleability.

The finding provides new evidence that Mt. Gox’s continued claims that issues with the Bitcoin protocol were the primary reason for its insolvency are perhaps misleading or untrue.

Released on 26th March, the report was authored by Christian Decker and Professor Roger Wattenhofer, both of the university’s Distributed Computing Group (DCG).

Overall, the authors found that only 302,000 bitcoins could have ever been involved in malleability-related attacks, and that of this figure, only 1,811 were likely to be part of attacks that could have prevented Mt. Gox users from making withdrawals.

Concluded the report:

“Even if all of these attacks were targeted against Mt. Gox, Mt. Gox needs to explain the whereabouts of 849,600 bitcoin.”

The news comes roughly one week after Mt. Gox confirmed that it had discovered 200,000 bitcoins in an old-format wallet in early March, a claim lawyers representing former Mt. Gox customers say they are currently working to investigate.

Conducting measurements

The researchers provided a detailed overview in their 13-page report of the steps they took to reach this conclusion, first noting how they identified potential double spending attacks and the limitations they faced in doing so.

To trace and dump all transactions from the Bitcoin network, the researchers created specialized nodes, allowing them to detect any double-spending attacks observed by peer nodes. The first, and most prominent limitation, for example, was that the researchers were only able to extend their research as far back as January 2013.

Explained the report:

“The following observations therefore do not consider attacks that may have happened before our collection started.”

The limitation is significant as evidence suggests that Mt. Gox lost its bitcoins over a period stemming multiple years. The researches estimate their nodes were connected to 992 peers, or approximately 20% of reachable nodes.

The next task was identifying double-spend attacks.

While double spending attacks could be determined by associating transactions with the outputs they claim, researchers chose to remove signature script from the transactions, and looked instead at the unique keys produced by the malleability attacks.

Read the report: “The unique key is then used to group transactions together into conflict sets.”

Notable findings

The report indicates that approximately 29,139 conflict sets were identified over the course of the research and later confirmed by the block chain. More than 6,000 transactions were labeled as invalid due to incorrect signatures or because they were part of further double spending.

Researchers then detailed how they were able to reach the 302,700 BTC estimate.

“The conflict set value is defined as the number of bitcoins transferred by any one transaction in the conflict set. The outputs of the transactions in a conflict set are identical, since any change to them would require a new signature.

In particular, the value of outputs may not be changed. Each transaction in a conflict set therefore transfers an identical amount of bitcoins. Summing the value of all conflict sets results in a total of 302,700 bitcoins that were involved in malleability attacks.”

The most prominent type of malleability occurred when attackers replaced a single byte OP_0 with OP_PUSHDATA2, resulting in signature script that was 4 bytes longer. Roughly 28,500 of the 29,139 confirmed attacks had this type of modification.

The effectiveness of malleability attacks

The report also took a look at whether the transaction malleability attacks launched against the exchange were successful, meaning that they resulted in a modified transaction later confirmed.

Overall, the report estimates that of the 28,595 malleability attacks it detected, only 19.46%, or 5,670, were confirmed. It estimated that the total profit from successful attacks was 64,564 BTC (roughly $33.7m at press time).

However, the researchers noted that this conclusion was based on the assumption that conflict sets were the results of attacks directed at Mt. Gox. In order to find this correlation, the researchers set out to verify the claim by finding the transactions used for the attacks.

“The above mentioned total amount of 302,700 bitcoins involved in malleability attacks already disproves the existence of such a large-scale attack. However, it could well be that malleability attacks contributed considerably in the declared losses.”

Mt. Gox’s role in encouraging attacks

The report further analyzed the timeline of the attacks, using as a basis three periods in the exchange’s lifecycle.

Period 1, which stretched from January 2013 to February 2014, was the period before Mt. Gox halted withdrawals
Period 2 included 8th to 9th February, when withdrawals stopped but no attack details were public
Period 3, lasting from 10th to 28th February, included the time after Mt. Gox had blamed issues with the Bitcoin protocol for its substantial loss of customer funds.
During Period 1, the report found 421 conflict sets, equating to roughly 1,800 BTC. During Period 2, the number of conflict sets spiked to 1,062, affecting 5,470 BTC, with the number of attacks increasing from 0.15 per hour to 132 per hour.

The report, therefore, concluded that Mt. Gox’s announcements relating to the attack dramatically increased the frequency of attacks. Attack activity was also high on 10th and 11th February, when the researchers detected 25,732 individual attacks, totaling 286,000 bitcoins.

“The strong correlation between the press releases and the ensuing attacks attempting to exploit the same weakness is a strong indicator that the attacks were indeed triggered by the press releases.”

Though, the report notes that Mt. Gox had disabled withdrawals at this time, and as such, the attacks could not have been aimed at the exchange.

Report reception

At press time, discussion of the paper was limited to Bitcoin Talk forum, where the bitcoin community mostly greeted the research as a validation of previous assumptions.

Still, there were some critics who pointed to the limited period of study, the limited reach of the information the study collected and the inability of researchers to observe how Mt. Gox may have modified transactions.

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March 27, 2014, 03:48:50 PM
 #456

How OneName Makes Bitcoin Payments as Simple as Facebook Sharing
Pete Rizzo (@pete_rizzo_) | Published on March 27, 2014 at 13:30 GMT | Companies, News, Technology

Though the Bitcoin protocol has been described as an elegant solution to problems that have long plagued both digital currencies and the traditional monetary system, aspects of its construction violate one of the central tenets of tech design: ‘keep it simple, stupid’ (often abbreviated to KISS).

Arguably, nowhere is this more apparent than in the design of bitcoin addresses, strings of 27 to 34 alphanumeric characters that, while providing privacy and security, don’t easily allow users to exchange payment information, except via sometimes cumbersome QR code technology.

However, OneName is looking to remove this pain point, replacing lengthy bitcoin payment addresses with sleek, social handles. Once registered with OneName, asking for payment becomes as easy as adding a plus sign to your username (+pete_rizzo_, for example).

All users need to do is enter their email on the OneName website, and “claim their name”. Many already have. The OneName website boasts that notable digital currency figures, such as Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam and Dogecoin Foundation shibe Ben Doernberg, are already registered too.

However, while OneName’s pitch is simple, it’s more sophisticated than it may seem at first glance. OneName is not a bitcoin application or company, but rather an open-source protocol built on top of the Namecoin protocol that seeks to enable new, innovative applications of its own.

According to core developers Muneeb Ali and Ryan Shea, OneName’s goal is to allow the Internet community to take back control of its data from centralised institutions, like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which right now have a monopoly that they say is stifling innovation.

Explained Ali:

“If you’re using the bitcoin analogy, right now people keep their money in banks. With data, these banks or third parties are companies like Facebook and LinkedIn. App developers that want to use this data now have to deal with [these companies].”

OneName, it seems, does have one thing in common with most bitcoin startups: it’s looking to replace powerful and entrenched middlemen.

The big picture

With OneName, Shea indicates that users will be able to regain control of their personal information, sharing it with any app developers that they wish, without the approval of a third party.

Shea says OneName has already been contacted by developers that want to use the its technology to build open-source alternatives to payment solutions like Venmo and instant messaging services.

Added Ali:

“Any application that can built on an application like Facebook can be built on top of OneName, but it would be decentralized in nature. There really is no limit, it’s up to the imagination of the developers.”

Today, developers are restricted from easily building these apps, Shea said, as big conglomerates monopolize user data. Companies like Whatsapp and Snapchat, he argues, were able to grow more quickly by having unrestricted access to cellphone technology and its ability to generate picture data.

Shea indicates that this use case is the best example of what allowing unfettered access to user data can allow entrepreneurs to achieve. Whatsapp, it should be noted, was recently sold to Facebook for $19bn.

How OneName works

Unlike with centralized applications, where data is stored by a single entity, Muneeb says that OneName profile data goes directly into the namecoin block chain, meaning OneName does not directly store any data.

Usernames are sent to account holders on the blockchain, and they can in turn put their private keys in cold storage or share them as desired. In this way, profiles are like coins on the system, allowing users to transfer them from one account to another.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 1.54.06 PM

 

Since OneName is using the Namecoin protocol, it also fronts a cost to register users (about 7 US cents for the purchase of the namecoin). Users must then issue a name update within 250 days.

Said Ali:

“We do the first update and transfer the profile to the user. This expires in approximately eight months. The user would then have to fire up the Namecoin client and issue a name update, the cost could be zero or just a transaction fee.”

To avoid this potentially cumbersome task, OneName has since added a feature that allows users to update their accounts on its site, as it was heavily requested in initial feedback.

Further, OneName keeps a backup system that uses Shamir’s secret sharing. The developers explained via reddit that this means OneName keeps no information about users’ private keys, but should users lose this information, it can be recovered.

For now, the emphasis is on showing how this innovation can be applied to a simple use case: payments. However, in the long term, Muneeb said OneName will emphasize the non-financial implications of its protocol.

Said Shea:

“Right now, our goal is to help people. If you’ve ever seen people put bitcoin addresses on their website or twitter profiles, it’s kind of cumbersome, and we want to make this easier.”

Results so far

The initial launch was not without challenges. Interest was high on reddit, as were critiques of the OneName service, which the developers stressed was still a work in progress.

For example, one user quickly took the username +gavin, which prompted a question about verification from bitcoin core developer Gavin Andresen himself. The team later reserved +gavinandresen for Andresen’s use.

OneName notes it is working on a system that would seek to confirm whether OneName users are who they claim to be using Twitter accounts, Github accounts and more, thereby reducing username squatting.

Ali said:

“Basically, users would tweet out a message that links back to their profile to verify that they are the same person.”

Profile updating was also limited at the time of launch, though there is a workaround for tech-savvy people who are able to download the Namecoin-Qt to perform a name update.

Despite all this, the future is looking bright for OneName, given its easy-to-understand value proposition.

The developers revealed via reddit that a few wallets are working on implementing OneName features. Details, they say, are still forthcoming.

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March 27, 2014, 10:15:46 PM
 #457

‘Stripe’ Lead Engineer: Bitcoin is a Long-Term Investment
Pete Rizzo (@pete_rizzo_) | Published on March 27, 2014 at 21:10 GMT | Analysis, Companies, Merchants, News

Earlier today (27th March), San Francisco-based online payments provider Stripe made a game-changing announcement, revealing that it is now testing bitcoin support with online data backup service Tarsnap.

The big picture implication of the move – that online bitcoin merchants would have yet another potential processing partner to choose from – was clear. However, many questions about the specifics of exactly how Stripe – which has traditionally focused on making online credit card acceptance easier – would adapt its service remained unanswered.

Now, Stripe has provided new details.

In a Q&A with CoinDesk, Christian Anderson, Stripe’s lead bitcoin engineer, provided more information about the program, which he said will find Stripe taking bitcoin on behalf of merchants, then exchanging the digital currency for whatever fiat currency customers prefer.

Most notably, Anderson indicated that Stripe’s beta test has a long-term focus.

“This is a long-term investment for us. People selling online aren’t going to shift all their sales to bitcoin overnight, or even in the next few months. There’s some education needed on what accepting bitcoin means and what the advantages are.

We also need to make the consumer buying experience better. That’ll take time.”

Speaking to CoinDesk, Anderson addressed a number of subjects, including the most recent IRS ruling that bitcoin would be treated as property, how Apple might react to the mobile payments implications of its decision and whether Stripe sees itself as a competitor of companies like Coinbase.

Said Andreson on the latter subject:

“We would like interoperability to be the winning path, and we want to support the ecosystem. Think about a South African consumer using their Coinbase wallet to buy services from a German Stripe merchant. That’s a very cool world to live in.”

Read excerpts from our Q&A with Andreson below:

_________________________________________________________________

CoinDesk: How will Stripe set the exchange rate on bitcoin transactions?

Christian Anderson: We peer directly with several existing companies, and they in turn peer with many markets. The exchange rate for a given transaction is set by one [of] the partners who exchanges that transaction. In the implementation, Stripe does not make money off of spread. Our goal is to find the best exchange rate for our merchants.

How will Stripe hedge its risk to cope with bitcoin’s volatility?

Anderson: Stripe users will not handle Bitcoin directly and Stripe will not hold Bitcoin on behalf of its merchants.

We have partnerships with multiple entities that convert Bitcoin to currencies immediately. This mitigates volatility for Stripe and its merchants.

Will you be building bitcoin support into the mobile app, and if so for which platforms?

Anderson: Stripe has SDKs for web, mobile web, iOS and Android. These SDKs give merchants a range of flexibility over how they take payments: they can drop in Stripe Checkout, or they can build their own payment form from scratch. Bitcoin will be available across all these SDKs.

Do you anticipate any pushback from Apple, which has been traditionally censorious when it comes to bitcoin apps?

Anderson: Fundamentally, we have to wait and see what rules shake out in iOS
apps. Plenty of Stripe merchants – like Lyft, Postmates and Grindr – accept credit card payments from within mobile apps, so we hope that bitcoin won’t be treated too much differently.

Much of the furor has been over *wallet* apps rather than apps that accept Bitcoin payments.

Will Stripe’s app support the new payment mechanism released in Bitcoin Core 0.9.0?

Anderson: If this refers to the Payment Protocol (BIP 70) [then] yes. Stripe is very enthusiastic about the Payment Protocol and will support it and encourage its adoption.

How will you cope with the inability to revoke (charge back) transactions with bitcoin? Will this be a problem for merchants or customers?

Anderson: As we do today, Stripe will monitor all of its merchants for fraud and other malicious behavior.

Have you any reaction to this week’s IRS announcement regarding bitcoin? Does it change your operations materially?

Anderson: First off, the ruling doesn’t affect merchants using Stripe to accept BTC. Merchants never take possession of any Bitcoin and are paid out in dollars, so they should not be affected by the IRS’s decision to treat Bitcoin as property.

It’s too early to say how the ruling will affect Bitcoin adoption overall, but our general feeling is that it contributes to its legitimacy.

Will there be an option to deliver bitcoin directly into a merchant’s account, rather than handling the conversion immediately and sending them fiat?

Anderson: We haven’t seen as much demand for this, so it’s not on our roadmap yet. That said, our mission is to build better payment infrastructure for the Internet, so we would find Bitcoin payouts exciting inasmuch as they help us achieve that.

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March 28, 2014, 11:54:57 AM
 #458

PocketPOS Launches to Remove Bitcoin Pain Points for Canadian Merchants
Stan Higgins | Published on March 28, 2014 at 03:45 GMT | Merchants, Startups, US & Canada

Merchants in Canada can now tap into a newly launched tool that allows them to accept payments in bitcoin at the point of sale – a browser app called PocketPOS.

Businesses can use PocketPOS to conduct transactions through a streamlined point-of-sale interface that does not require hardware installation or management.

PocketPOS developer Mitchell Callahan told CoinDesk that the tool is designed to appeal to merchants who aren’t tech-savvy, and that it serves as a means for them to not only accept bitcoin, but manage their accounts and interact with an exchange.

Callahan framed PocketPOS as a low-cost point-of-sale solution that would lead to wider bitcoin adoption by Canadian merchants, who he believes want to accept bitcoin but have been discouraged by existing methods.

Explained Callahan:

“I wanted an easy way to sign up merchants [to accept bitcoin], and I found most people were using kind of a mish-mash of software, and it wasn’t as simple as it could be.”

PocketPOS officially launched on 26th March.

How PocketPOS works

PocketPOS is free, but interested merchants need to first sign up for a merchant account with Calgary-based bitcoin exchange provider VirtEx.

From there, using PocketPOS only requires an Internet connection, according to Callahan:

“We wanted to get away from the traditional model of, you know, having to buy hardware [or] having any high set-up costs. It’s all browser-based so you only need an internet-connected device.”

He added: “So, if you have an old iPhone kicking around, tablet or an even a desktop computer with a screen – that’s all you need.”

Once enrolled, merchants receive a special URL that allows them to conduct transactions. Merchants then enter the transaction amount (including tip if applicable) and, once configured, the tool creates a QR code.

PocketPOS can also be used to generate and send receipts to customers.

Unlike its competitors, Callahan says PocketPOS boasts a device-agnostic platform that doesn’t require users to be logged into any service, which in turn bolsters security.

Available alternatives

Currently, Callahan indicated that most stores that accept bitcoin, do so using a combination of Blockchain.info and a desktop wallet. Alternatively, merchants can use BitPay or VirtEx’s merchant tools.

PocketPOS adds additional top layer functionality to this latter option. The company uses VirtEx as a processor, harnessing the power of the same API it uses to allow online merchants to accept BTC.

The difference, Callahan notes, is that with PocketPOS, merchants can manage security and fiat conversions.

Said Callahan:

“Currently, without PocketPOS, if you’re a VirtEx merchant, all you can do is email invoices. This isn’t a great solution for a retail location.”

Room for growth

Looking to the future, Callahan said that the PocketPOS team is considering several different funding models as they expand the scope of project. Callahan also indicated he is open to adding support for additional digital currencies.

However, he said that for now the focus will remain on offering merchants the ability to accept bitcoin without having to pay high processing fees.

He pointed to broad support among merchants in Canada, as well as existing demand for software that they can easily integrate.

“Being a business owner, I know that transactions are big, [as are] bookkeeping and reporting, so we might just have an option to pay five bucks a month and [and allow users to] export to Quickbooks or another system.”

Bitcoin in Canada

Earlier this year, recently resigned Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that he would move to regulate bitcoin and other digital currencies, an announcement that many believed indicated harsh measures might soon be imposed on the technology.

However, more recently, that narrative seems to have changed.

This week, Canada-based bitcoin exchange Vault of Satoshi announced that it had been granted a full Money Services Business license from the Canadian government, and revealed plans to obtain further licensure in its bid for legal legitimacy.

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March 28, 2014, 12:43:37 PM
 #459

New Active Trading Bitcoin Fund Seeks UK Investors
Kadhim Shubber (@kadhimshubber) | Published on March 28, 2014 at 12:23 GMT | Companies, Europe, Investors, News, Regulation

A new bitcoin investment fund, which will actively trade the bitcoin markets, will soon launch in London.

The Bitcoin Superfund will to use a combination of algorithmic and human trading to achieve a higher rate of return than a simple ‘buy and hold’ strategy, its founders claim.

There is no specific launch date at present, but the Superfund is in the process of identifying institutional and high-net-worth investors to reach a target of £5m ($8.3m) under management at launch.

Don’t just hold, trade

Rival bitcoin investment funds already exist, notably the Exante Bitcoin Fund and SecondMarket, but Bitcoin Superfund CEO Greg Jarrett is dismissive of the challenge that they pose, saying, “I don’t really think either of them are competitive.”

Over the past year the value of bitcoin has skyrocketed, even taking into account its relative decline since last December. Many people have bought into bitcoin in the hope that another similar rise will come in future. But if the price remains relatively flat, active trading is needed, says Jarrett:

“If bitcoin becomes a sideways market, which it seems to have done, something that we’re doing becomes very attractive, trading the volatility.”

The Superfund’s figures suggest that their trading strategies would result in a 70% higher rate of return than simply relying on bitcoin appreciation.

However, their figures are drawn from applying their trading strategies retroactively for the period December 2012 to February 2014 (4,068% vs. 6,818% for BTC appreciation vs. Superfund appreciation + alpha, respectively).

Jarrett says they are now trading live with a test fund, into which he has invested $30,000 of his own money.

The Superfund team

Unlike the Winklevoss twins, whose announcement of their as-yet unlaunched bitcoin fund was just another quirky twist in their very public lives, Jarrett and his co-founder are relative unknowns.

Jarrett’s background is in mobile product design, and the slick Bitcoin Superfund website is evidence of that.

His co-founder is hedge fund manager at a firm that currently manages over £1.3bn ($2.16bn). For now he wished to remain anonymous, however, as he is yet to leave the firm.

The Superfund intends to be based offshore, says Jarrett:

“We’ve been looking at places like Malta. It’s unlikely to be specifically a UK-regulated fund.”

However, the fund is seeking Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) approval to operate in the UK, but with the FCA yet to issue any definitive statement on bitcoin, it is unclear how long this will take or if it will be possible.

Jarrett is optimistic that the FCA will engage positively with bitcoin when it does finally make a public statement:

“I think it will be unlikely that a massively negative view is taken on [bitcoin]. I’d be surprised if they came out with regulation that would shut down a massive potential industry that’s steaming ahead very quickly.”

The Bitcoin Superfund also says it has “fully insured cold-wallet storage”, but Jarrett declined to name the insurer and said “our compliance advisors are assisting us with the set-up of this agreement”, suggesting that the insurance may not be currently be in place.

UK-based Elliptic Vault is currently the only confirmed insured business providing cold storage.

Big ambitions

The Superfund is aiming to have £5m under management when it launches. Within three years, it’s aiming to increase that ten-fold to £50m, says Jarrett:

“We want to go big, pretty fast.”

His vision of a bitcoin investment fund is one where investors can move money in and out in any currency they like; where any exchanges used by the fund are fully audited; and where special agreements with exchanges ring-fence the fund’s money in case an exchange experiences problems.

Whether all of this is achievable remains to be seen, but Bitcoin Superfund’s ambitions reflect not only the growing institutional interest in bitcoin, but also the recognition of the need for better exchange security.

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March 28, 2014, 04:07:57 PM
 #460

UBS: Banks Could ‘Absorb the Benefits’ of Bitcoin
Pete Rizzo (@pete_rizzo_) | Published on March 28, 2014 at 14:46 GMT | Bitcoin protocol, News, Technology

Global financial services firm UBS, a leading provider of retail and commercial banking services, released an extensive report on 28th March that weighed in on bitcoin’s potential to disrupt the existing financial system.

Entitled ‘Bitcoins and Banks’, the report concluded that bitcoin is not just a ‘problematic currency’ – though this garnered a mention in the headline, but more interestingly, a technology that could bring widespread benefits if co-opted by the traditional banking system.

The 31-page write-up suggested that bitcoin, as a currency or an alternative to traditional banking, poses little threat to traditional institutions, but that the underlying technology could be used to improve global payment systems provided the right business incentives could be identified.

Wrote UBS:

“Setting aside its political agenda, we see Bitcoin as having some potential as a new transaction technology, where a bitcoin-like technology could provide a basis for a new shared payments and transfer system using existing currencies and securities. Such a system could reduce systemic costs, and provide faster, secure, transfers – particularly in the international arena.”

Though it was careful to describe such hypotheticals as “blue-sky ideas”, the bank noted that the distributed block chain “offers a robust and secure way of storing consumer funds”, and that current issues such as the computational intensity bitcoin requires are merely “quirks” inherent in the first implementations that could later be improved.

Further, it suggested that banks could benefit from realizing the technological implications of bitcoin:

“Rather than trying to develop a completely new financial system as Bitcoin is trying to do, it makes more sense that banks, as existing money managers, absorb the benefits of the technological innovation.”

Bitcoin technology has bright future

UBS noted that the block chain could just as easily use existing fiat currencies, and that such a system “offers a radical opportunity to drastically reduce duplication in the existing system”.

It even went so far as to offer an example of what this reimagined financial system would look like, describing a system whereby banks across the world maintained a ledger that kept track of public addresses and balances.

Wrote UBS:

“Customers have control of their private keys, possibly with the option of authorizing their banks to handle their keys for them as well, while keeping the customer front-end broadly similar (i.e. with bank account numbers, etc).”

Derivatives and swaps could be attractive for banks

The report found bitcoin most appeal for banks when used as an investment service, similar to an ETF, mentioning specifically the model suggested by the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust.

In these instances, the authors noted that banks would not have to expose themselves to market risk, money laundering or other potential negatives.

Bitcoin derivatives, it said, could prove attractive, provided banks were allowed to legally participate in this sector. Further, the report stated that this could help reduce bitcoin’s volatility, while providing banks a source of fee revenue.

It seemed to suggested that this avenue would likely be one of the next ways the traditional financial system could look to safely explore alternative currencies and their market implications.

Credit card fees are more at risk

UBS suggested that the bigger risk was that a third party set up a “bitcoin-like payment system” that threatens to bring down credit card and money wire fees.

The report noted that cross-border transfers take days, whereas with the bitcoin block chain, they can take minutes. Further, it noted that bitcoin the technology has implemented security improvements that traditional service providers would need to adjust to.

“On a national level, a bitcoin-like system could enhance security and reduce fraud on an everyday level. In the US in particular, credit cards are regularly used for everyday transactions for convenience – but this leaves both the merchant and the banks open to risks of chargebacks.”

Banks, it noted, could adapt these advantages of the bitcoin system, but that they may be hesitant to do so as it would cannibalize current revenue.

“A possible incentive for banks to develop such a system would be increased money transfer volumes sufficient to offset decreased fees, or if costs are lowered enough to still boost profits, but any such projection would be highly speculative at this stage.”

Merchant acceptance has little appeal

UBS also took on the question of whether bitcoin the currency represents any cost savings for merchants. To tackle this question, it looked at the daily fees paid out to miners as a percentage of transaction volume, noting it has fluctuated over the last 15 months.

During this study period, it indicated that the 30-day moving average for these costs was 4%, though this excludes the added 1% fee merchants would need to pay to convert money to fiat.

“While these figures are more or less in line with credit card fees (which range from 1% to 3%), since the beginning of 2014, the rate has trended upwards and been significantly more volatile – peaking at 8.3% at the beginning of February.”

Notably, the report, as many other recent attempts on the subject, doesn’t take into account the services of companies like BitPay and Coinbase which handle such transactions directly; nor did it mention the success being enjoyed by early adopters such as Overstock and TigerDirect.

Disintermediation risk is low

Still, while UBS believes bitcoin the technology is promising, bitcoin the currency was given a thorough critique. In particular, UBS indicated that bitcoin “exists in a regulatory vacuum”, which is damaging to its global trust.

UBS indicated that smaller, local banks, particularly in emerging markets and countries with high economic turmoil faced the biggest threat from bitcoin the currency, but that economic turmoil is already a threat to traditional banking services, even without bitcoin.

Said UBS:

“Without these stress factors, we see little threat from bitcoin.”

UBS noted that even those who used bitcoin the currency for transactions would likely require banking services such as deposits and lending from traditional outlets. It predicted that in the face of this pressure, either bitcoin would fail, or a bitcoin bank would emerge, which it suggested may be counterintuitive to its goal.

Still, the report noted that among certain groups, such as China (with its strict capital controls) and among libertarian thinkers, the bitcoin’s pros could outweigh the cons. Such examples were noted as part of a larger, three-part section that analyzed bitcoin as a store of value, means of exchange and unit of account.

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