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Author Topic: Does Bitcoin really need an ATM?  (Read 2101 times)
ghgr
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July 22, 2012, 08:48:55 PM
 #1

I've seen in many posts that you are interested in something like a Bitcoin ATM, and there has even been someone who has built a Bitcoin ATM somewhere in the USA.

I believe that reprogramming an existing vending machine (specially condoms or parking meters for their size), or even taking an old motherboard or android phone, and attach a coin acceptor and a thermal printer is not exactly something revolutionary (technically speaking). But it hasn't been done yet (well, it has, but a big and mostly proof-of-concept project, diametrically different from the low cost, widely deployed EUR/USD/GBP2BTC machine everyone want).

So, my question is why. And thinking about the question I found that Bitcoin is not what people need. It will, when it  succeedes (I'm optimistic about Bitcoin) be an extraordinary medium of storing wealth, something like gold today, with the additional advantages that everybody in this forum knows. But I don't think that people need to change their salary to Bitcoin (price fluctuations aside), exactly, again, as they don't need to buy gold with their salary. It's just not worth it. Bitcoin is not useful for buying bread. You can argue, of course, that if the baker accepted Bitcoin, people could use them to buy bread. But why would the baker accept Bitcoin, if he must pay his taxes in euros? It just adds more headache to his accountant.

Another reason I think that people will not rush into the ATM to buy BTC is the responsibility. Who would want to be considered the only responsible of protecting its own wealth? If you are stolen/threatened/forgetful that's it, game over. With a bank, despite all the inconveniences, hidden fees etc, if your credit card is stolen, you can chargeback. And the Bitcoin community does not support the idea of trusting a Bitcoin bank (which, given the past experience, I understand).

So, when I enthusiastically tell my friends about the wonders about Bitcoin, they ask me, skeptically, "how can I use them?" And in the answer I realize that they don't really need them, as well as they don't need gold coins.
People don't mind paying 2 euros more in an item of 60 euros because of the fees of Paypal, if they know that they can recover their money if something goes bad. Bitcoin has primitive escrow services, but are they below the Paypal fees? If yes, for how long, when the Bitcoin economy expands?

In conclusion, when I was looking for a catch phrase to write in the ATM describing why everybody needs Bitcoin, I realized that Bitcoins are useful for wealthy individuals and from a macroeconomic point of view, but not for the people that would casually buy them in an ATM.
 
I hope with this post to get contrary opinions about this fact, since I want to be convinced that a Bitcoin ATM would be useful, since I find the project of building one really, really cool :-)
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July 22, 2012, 09:19:05 PM
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Does email need paper?

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July 22, 2012, 09:19:19 PM
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So, my question is why. And thinking about the question I found that Bitcoin is not what people need. It will, when it  succeedes (I'm optimistic about Bitcoin) be an extraordinary medium of storing wealth, something like gold today, with the additional advantages that everybody in this forum knows. But I don't think that people need to change their salary to Bitcoin (price fluctuations aside), exactly, again, as they don't need to buy gold with their salary. It's just not worth it. Bitcoin is not useful for buying bread. You can argue, of course, that if the baker accepted Bitcoin, people could use them to buy bread. But why would the baker accept Bitcoin, if he must pay his taxes in euros? It just adds more headache to his accountant.

For now on, of course merchants are not very willing to accept bitcoin. Actually Bitcoin needs people that know its potential and will invest by buying some. When enough people will have invested in bitcoin, the price will rise enough to give bitcoin a good purchasing power that will encourage merchant to accept it. Meanwhile, it's a good thing that some people are working on a bitcoin ATM because when the purchasing power will rise at that point, bitcoin will be ready to spread and be use by merchant.


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July 22, 2012, 09:25:30 PM
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Does email need paper?
Yes.

Bitcoin is less reliant on ATMs than classic money, but like email and paper, there are many people who need it. If there is a market, it will be done.
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July 22, 2012, 09:28:59 PM
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I think vending machine supplied bitcoins could be a great "entry point" to people, just to get some bitcoins and play with them, try out how they work etc. There already was this some days ago:

http://blog.maschinenraum.tk/2012/07/15/bitcoin-vending-machine-exchange-euro-coins-for-bitcoin-wallets/

After this I realized that you can actually use any kind of vending machine as a bitcoin machine, with a little tuning. Maybe condom vending machines are the most easy. They are also very cheap, you can get used ones from ebay.

Inspired by these, I developed a new feature to easywallet.org - coupons. These can be nominated in fiat currency, and they are converted to bitcoins at the time of redeem. This removes exchange rate risk from such machines.  

https://easywallet.org/coupons

This means, that an user with iPhone or android phone can buy the bitcoins from the machine, redeem the coupon using QR code, and start sending/using the bitcoins within minutes from his/her phone.

Currently only the basic functionality is there (you have to print the coupons yourself if you want to use them). Our designer is working for coupon desing.

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July 22, 2012, 09:36:07 PM
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I think vending machine supplied bitcoins could be a great "entry point" to people, just to get some bitcoins and play with them, try out how they work etc. There already was this some days ago:

http://blog.maschinenraum.tk/2012/07/15/bitcoin-vending-machine-exchange-euro-coins-for-bitcoin-wallets/

After this I realized that you can actually use any kind of vending machine as a bitcoin machine, with a little tuning. Maybe condom vending machines are the most easy. They are also very cheap, you can get used ones from ebay.

Inspired by these, I developed a new feature to easywallet.org - coupons. These can be nominated in fiat currency, and they are converted to bitcoins at the time of redeem. This removes exchange rate risk from such machines.  

https://easywallet.org/coupons

This means, that an user with iPhone or android phone can buy the bitcoins from the machine, redeem the coupon using QR code, and start sending/using the bitcoins within minutes from his/her phone.

Currently only the basic functionality is there (you have to print the coupons yourself if you want to use them). Our designer is working for coupon desing.
this is very great stuff! congrat!

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July 22, 2012, 09:51:44 PM
 #7

A lot of people need cash for various reasons. If they can get cash for bitcoin easily they'll hold more coin and be more likely to be willing to work or sell for it.

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July 22, 2012, 10:42:10 PM
 #8

I think the real ATM Bitcoin needs is the one every user already has, made by Hewlett-Packard / Epson / Canon / Brother / Lexmark / etc... the one where the user can Be Their Own Bank and print their own money.  I would sort of agree, an ATM as we know it is pointless.

USE CASES: If a user has X and needs Y, then he should Z

If a user has DIGITAL BITCOINS (e.g. on a smartphone) and he needs PAPER SCANNABLE bitcoins, and he is not somewhere where he can print some himself, he can get by with an app that shows a QR code on the screen.

If a user has DIGITAL BITCOINS and he needs FIAT CASH, he can get by with a regular banking ATM card funded by Bitcoins.

If a user has PAPER SCANNABLE bitcoins and he needs DIGITAL BITCOINS, he can scan or hand-type the private key somewhere.

If a user has FIAT CASH and needs to buy BITCOINS, what he needs is a vending machine.

I need to buy one of these and relabel it Casascius Coins.


Companies claiming they got hacked and lost your coins sounds like fraud so perfect it could be called fashionable.  I never believe them.  If I ever experience the misfortune of a real intrusion, I declare I have been honest about the way I have managed the keys in Casascius Coins.  I maintain no ability to recover or reproduce the keys, not even under limitless duress or total intrusion.  Remember that trusting strangers with your coins without any recourse is, as a matter of principle, not a best practice.  Don't keep coins online. Use paper wallets instead.
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July 23, 2012, 01:31:28 AM
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I think the real ATM Bitcoin needs is the one every user already has, made by Hewlett-Packard / Epson / Canon / Brother / Lexmark / etc... the one where the user can Be Their Own Bank and print their own money.  I would sort of agree, an ATM as we know it is pointless.

USE CASES: If a user has X and needs Y, then he should Z

If a user has DIGITAL BITCOINS (e.g. on a smartphone) and he needs PAPER SCANNABLE bitcoins, and he is not somewhere where he can print some himself, he can get by with an app that shows a QR code on the screen.

If a user has DIGITAL BITCOINS and he needs FIAT CASH, he can get by with a regular banking ATM card funded by Bitcoins.

If a user has PAPER SCANNABLE bitcoins and he needs DIGITAL BITCOINS, he can scan or hand-type the private key somewhere.

If a user has FIAT CASH and needs to buy BITCOINS, what he needs is a vending machine.

I need to buy one of these and relabel it Casascius Coins.



That would be so cool!

You would need to connect it to MtGox to determine the value.

The only issue i see with this is how do you deal with the flux?

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July 23, 2012, 06:05:13 AM
 #10

Thanks for your comments. But I see that you (and I included) are considering Bitcoin not as a medium of exchange, but as the goal itself. "If people need Bitcoin", "Merchants will starting accepting Bitcoin", etc. But the question is:

What are the advantages of Bitcoin compared to traditional banking?

One of the first results of googling "Bitcoin advantages" is this list, from http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu, and my comment in parenthesis.

1) No Third-Party Seizure (How many times in average Joe's life has his money been seized?)

2) No Taxes (that's not a feature, hidden cash can do it. Besides, that's not legal and definitely not desirable to be related to Bitcoin)

3) No Tracking (again, why would average Joe want his money not to be tracked in case of investigation? Of course if he's not out of the law)

4) No Transaction Costs (most consumers would consider a 3% fee is not too much, specially if they have advantages as chragebacks). And if escrow services are used with with Bitcoin, then there would be transaction costs.

5) No Risk of “Charge-backs” (what's the advantage for a consumer? That's only useful for some specific merchants... and scammers).

6) Bitcoins Cannot be Stolen (yes the can! if your keys are stolen. In addition, they are not recoverable, unlike traditional banking).
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July 23, 2012, 07:11:47 AM
 #11

Thanks for your comments. But I see that you (and I included) are considering Bitcoin not as a medium of exchange, but as the goal itself. "It people needs Bitcoin", "Merchants will starting accepting Bitcoin", etc. But the question is:

What are the advantages of Bitcoin compared to traditional banking?

One of the first results of googling "Bitcoin advantages" is this list, from http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu, and my comment in parenthesis.

1) No Third-Party Seizure (How many times in average Joe's life has his money been seized?)

2) No Taxes (that's not a feature, hidden cash can do it. Besides, that's not legal and definitely not desirable to be related to Bitcoin)

3) No Tracking (again, why would average Joe want his money not to be tracked in case of investigation? Of course if he's not out of the law)

4) No Transaction Costs (most consumers would consider a 3% fee is not too much, specially if they have advantages as chragebacks). And if escrow services are used with with Bitcoin, then there would be transaction costs.

5) No Risk of “Charge-backs” (what's the advantage for a consumer? That's only useful for some specific merchants... and scammers).

6) Bitcoins Cannot be Stolen (yes the can! if your keys are stolen. In addition, they are not recoverable, unlike traditional banking).

I'm going to assume you're serious.

1. If Joe plays poker, it's likely. It's happened to many players twice. NetTeller and FTP (complicated by Ponziness, but related to government for sure)

2. Six billion people live too far from me for me to hand them cash. Mail is not so good. Plus I don't likely have the brand of cash they want.

3. Millions if not billions of people break laws because laws are terrible around the world.

4. Obviously 3% doesn't stop much trade, but 3% is worth 3%.

5. Merchants and their consumers are on the same team. If merchants get hit with fraud they either pass it on to the legit consumers or they go out of business.

6. Of course they can be stolen.

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July 23, 2012, 07:44:16 AM
 #12

1) No Third-Party Seizure (How many times in average Joe's life has his money been seized?)
I've had my bank account frozen once (for completely arbitrary reasons), and let me tell you, it is not a fun situation to be in if you need a large amount of cash in a hurry.

2) No Taxes (that's not a feature, hidden cash can do it. Besides, that's not legal and definitely not desirable to be related to Bitcoin)
This is completely false. Bitcoins are taxable, and while it may be easy to hide your bitcoins from the taxman, hiding the things you're spending them on is less easy. That's how tax evaders are usually caught: people spending lots of money that (according to their tax return) they don't have.

3) No Tracking (again, why would average Joe want his money not to be tracked in case of investigation? Of course if he's not out of the law)
But would he want his money to be tracked if there is not an investigation? Many stores already do this every time you use a credit/debit card to try to build a profile on you that they can sell to advertisers and who knows who else. Some people don't like that.

4) No Transaction Costs (most consumers would consider a 3% fee is not too much, specially if they have advantages as chragebacks). And if escrow services are used with with Bitcoin, then there would be transaction costs.
I consider a 3% fee too much, especially if I can get the same or better service with a reduced fee, and I think most consumers would agree.

5) No Risk of “Charge-backs” (what's the advantage for a consumer? That's only useful for some specific merchants... and scammers).
It's also useful for in-person transactions or transactions with trusted merchants where you know you're not getting scammed, and where paying an extra fee for the ability to reverse a transaction that you know you're never going to reverse is a waste of money.

6) Bitcoins Cannot be Stolen (yes the can! if your keys are stolen. In addition, they are not recoverable, unlike traditional banking).
When traditional banking "recovers" your stolen money, where do you think the money comes from? It isn't usually recovered from the thief, instead it comes from all those extra fees you pay, that you wouldn't be paying with Bitcoin.

Will pretend to do unverifiable things (while actually eating an enchilada-style burrito) for bitcoins: 1K6d1EviQKX3SVKjPYmJGyWBb1avbmCFM4
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July 23, 2012, 08:07:35 AM
 #13

Again, I don't see how it solves the main problem (that Bitcoin is a solution begging for a problem*). I copy your post to comment inline each point:


1) If Joe plays poker, it's likely. It's happened to many players twice. NetTeller and FTP (complicated by Ponziness, but related to government for sure)

Well, so you are implying that Bitcoin is like a poker chip? Do we have to market poker players? And maybe casino players too? It is not something I can write in my ATM project: "Play poker with unregulated money", or "Visit X sites without embarrasing charges in your VISA" (though it might be a good marketing)

2. Six billion people live too far from me for me to hand them cash. Mail is not so good. Plus I don't likely have the brand of cash they want.

I don't think average Joe needs to send cash to people in the antipodes. Maybe once in his life, and he won't mind paying some fees. And people who do these transactions often are (again) not the people who would casually buy BTC in an ATM.

3. Millions if not billions of people break laws because laws are terrible around the world.

I completely agree. So I modify my question adding that "people in developed, democratic countries".

4. Obviously 3% doesn't stop much trade, but 3% is worth 3%.

My point is that when Bitcoin has good (developed) escrow services, transactions will also have a cost.

5. Merchants and their consumers are on the same team. If merchants get hit with fraud they either pass it on to the legit consumers or they go out of business.

Surely merchants prefer to pay a fee and "forget" fraud rather than deploying their own anti-fraud measures. And if a third party deploys this anti-fraud measures, merchant will need the pay them, thus charging more to their consumers.

6. Of course they can be stolen.

I agree.


P.S.: Concernign the answer from Foxpup, Bitcoin has some advantages in particular (rare) events. I cannot write in the ATM machine "Use Bitcoin and your bank account will not be frozen for completely arbitrary reasons". I don't know anyone (well, now _you_, but I cannot say I really know you ;-) ) whose bank account has been frozen and, while it's very inconvenient, detractors would argue that with Bitcoin people would say "All  my wealth has been stolen by a malware/antivirus_bug/moths/whathever and I can do *nothing* to recover it".
And why do you think that you can get the same (or better) service that the existing ones for less than a 3% fee?
You talk about __trust__ merchants... Isn't the whole point of Bitcoin not to trust anybody?


* Really, I'm not trolling at all. I am enthusiastic about the Bitcoin project, and I believe that it would be as revolutionary to the economy as the Internet has been to the information (I have carried out some projects involving Bitcoin). My point is that it won't solve everyday, common people in developed countries actual problems (or at least, _prioritary_ problems).
It sure has its market, but it's narrower that we'd like to think (myself included, since all this thoughts came when I was looking for reasons to convince people that Bitcoin would be useful for them, and thus deploying a network of low cost of Bitcoin ATMs).
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July 23, 2012, 08:16:17 AM
 #14

I think the real ATM Bitcoin needs is the one every user already has, made by Hewlett-Packard / Epson / Canon / Brother / Lexmark / etc... the one where the user can Be Their Own Bank and print their own money.  I would sort of agree, an ATM as we know it is pointless.

USE CASES: If a user has X and needs Y, then he should Z

If a user has DIGITAL BITCOINS (e.g. on a smartphone) and he needs PAPER SCANNABLE bitcoins, and he is not somewhere where he can print some himself, he can get by with an app that shows a QR code on the screen.

If a user has DIGITAL BITCOINS and he needs FIAT CASH, he can get by with a regular banking ATM card funded by Bitcoins.

If a user has PAPER SCANNABLE bitcoins and he needs DIGITAL BITCOINS, he can scan or hand-type the private key somewhere.

If a user has FIAT CASH and needs to buy BITCOINS, what he needs is a vending machine.

I need to buy one of these and relabel it Casascius Coins.



Who is going to protect it ? 24/7 ?
Who is going to fill it up ?
WHo is going to pay for all that ?

Most vending machines get attacked and vanadalised regularly ,and they only have
candy and drinks in them 

if there is going to be one that contains virtual and fiat money its going to be a target for theives ,this goes double if/when bitcoins are more valuable in the future
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July 23, 2012, 08:47:07 AM
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I don't know anyone (well, now _you_, but I cannot say I really know you ;-) ) whose bank account has been frozen...
Really? I guarantee that if you ask everyone you know if they've ever had some kind of serious problem with a bank or payment processor, you will hear some sad stories. If not, you obviously don't know very many people.

...and, while it's very inconvenient, detractors would argue that with Bitcoin people would say "All  my wealth has been stolen by a malware/antivirus_bug/moths/whathever and I can do *nothing* to recover it".
Not everybody has to store their bitcoins on their computer. Secure hardware wallets are under development to address precisely this concern. Or people can trust a third party service such as an e-wallet to handle their bitcoins, preferably with someone to sue if things go wrong.

And why do you think that you can get the same (or better) service that the existing ones for less than a 3% fee?
Because I can, if the service is simply "I give you the money and you give me the goods". Many stores will actually offer a discount on big-ticket items if you pay in cash, simply because it avoids them having to pass the payment processing costs onto you, the consumer.

You talk about __trust__ merchants... Isn't the whole point of Bitcoin not to trust anybody?
No, the point is that you don't have to trust anyone other than the person you're doing business with. You don't have to trust the bank not to freeze your account, you don't have to trust the payment processor not to reverse the transaction, you only have to trust that the person you're giving your money to will hold up their end of the bargain, exactly as if you had used cash. And really, isn't that the way it should be?

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July 23, 2012, 09:11:17 AM
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3. Millions if not billions of people break laws because laws are terrible around the world.

I completely agree. So I modify my question adding that "people in developed, democratic countries".


I'm in a so called 'developed democratic country' and often find myself needing to violate laws. Beyond conscious violation I couldn't tell you how many laws and regulations there are (federal, state, or the county/city I happen to be in) let alone what they are and what the penalties are for violating them or which ones are actually enforced and which are forgotten (or which of the forgotten will be remembered again when convenient). On top of that I can't control or predict when the laws and enforcement will change.

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July 23, 2012, 09:13:27 AM
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You talk about __trust__ merchants... Isn't the whole point of Bitcoin not to trust anybody?


No. Bitcoin solves one (very general) trust related problem. You don't have to trust or even know who is paying you. That's all.

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July 23, 2012, 09:17:57 AM
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2. Six billion people live too far from me for me to hand them cash. Mail is not so good. Plus I don't likely have the brand of cash they want.

I don't think average Joe needs to send cash to people in the antipodes. Maybe once in his life, and he won't mind paying some fees. And people who do these transactions often are (again) not the people who would casually buy BTC in an ATM.


Average Joe doesn't do it because it's been stupidly hard until Bitcoin. I recently paid a guy in AUS for a consult. It was only incidental that I even knew where he was.

This is like saying "Airplanes. pffft, how many people actually need to cross the ocean?". Uh, a lot more once there is a reasonable way to do it.

Bitcoin opens so so many possibilities.

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July 23, 2012, 09:30:43 AM
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4. Obviously 3% doesn't stop much trade, but 3% is worth 3%.

My point is that when Bitcoin has good (developed) escrow services, transactions will also have a cost.

Paying 3% still leaves the merchant with the risk of chargeback. No one else is even selling riskless payment to merchants online.

It's very likely that when both ways are widely available different situations will use different methods. Right now everything is being crammed into one setup - customer can yank back money and merchant has to collect info and still take risk.

Doesn't it seem a little bit odd that the best on offer for online payments is to hand over the exact info that someone would need to charge your card? It's a really bad system, but paying online is so valuable that we do it even though it costs billions paid to thieves.

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July 23, 2012, 09:33:46 AM
 #20

Thanks for your replies. I find your comments very insightful, but I fear I have accidentally changed the original subject (the usefulness of building an ATM Bitcoin dispenser).

So, I agree with you that there are inconvenients (more or less frequent, depending on the person, I accept that) with traditional banking that Bitcoin aims to address (and I really hope it will). But I am still not sure of the answer to the following question:

- Will people use a Bitcoin ATM, other than tech-savvy people? (if placed properly?)

- What will be the reasons that will lead a 'common' person, not particularly tech-savvy (the so called "average Joe") to change some EUR into BTC, _today_? Maybe publish a list of sites accepting Bitcoin in the ATM? And what would be the different than paying with euros in another site?

- What would be the slogan for those people, and not empthy retoric as "Freedom for the people", or "Forget the banks" etc. Something like "Your money more secure", "Easier to use money", "More powerful money", "More stable money", but true (at this time).

- I think that the deployment of ATMs should be complemented by some physical merchants (affiliates) accepting it in the neighbourhood. In this way people will see the sign "Accepting Bitcoins", and when find the ATM for the first time, they will wonder what's all this about. But, how to convince merchants to use Bitcoin, if they need to pay taxes in euros? Their reaction would be the same as if I proposed to accept Swiss francs (and I think they would probably accept Swiss francs rather than Bitcoins).
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