THE father has been found in time for his child’s funeral. That would appear to be the sorry state of affairs in the land of Bitcoin, a crypto-currency, if recent press coverage is to be believed. On March 6th Newsweek reported that it had tracked down Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s elusive creator. And on March 11th Mt Gox, the Japanese online exchange that had long dominated the trade in the currency before losing $490m of customers’ Bitcoins at today’s prices, once more filed for bankruptcy protection, this time in America.
In reality, things are rather different. Evidence is mounting that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, whom Newsweek identified as Bitcoin’s father, is not the relevant Satoshi. More importantly, Bitcoin’s best days may still be ahead of it—if not as a fully fledged currency (see article), then as a platform for financial innovation. Much as the internet is a foundation for digital services, the technology behind Bitcoin could support a revolution in the way people own and pay for things. Geeks of all sorts are getting excited—including a growing number of venture capitalists, who know a new platform when they see one.
All continues to not be well in the world of Bitcoin and related cryptocurrencies. Another exchange has been hacked, with the perpetrators making off with 76.69 bitcoins (a little under $50,000 at current trading rates).
On Tuesday, the owner of the Poloniex exchange admitted on the Bitcoin Talk forum that around “12.3 percent of the BTC on Poloniex” was stolen. Poloniex did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
Poloniex owner Busoni explained that the hacker found a flaw in his site’s code that processes withdrawals. The hacker discovered that multiple simultaneous withdrawals are processed essentially at the same time and that the system’s software doesn’t check quickly enough for a negative balance, so they are still processed.
The site’s owner went on to add that the “major problem here is that the auditing and security features were not explicitly looking for negative balances.”
So what’s next? The company can’t cover the losses, so its users will.
As Mt. Gox was imploding, a website sprang up, bitcoinbuilder.com, which let steel-stomached speculators buy the rights to assets locked inside the troubled exchange. And now, there’s a new effort to turn the whole sordid mess of IOUs into a brand new digital currency.
See, because when the big banks goosed the market with AAA-rated derivatives of BBB-rated mortgages, and failed, it was because of all the gubmint regulation. It’s not like they weren’t also professionals who were too smart for their own good.
Flexcoin, which proclaimed itself to be the “world’s first bitcoin bank” and the solver of “nearly every problem that exists with the Bitcoin currency today,” says it has shut down after a robbery. An attacker made off with 896 bitcoins, the equivalent of about $620,000 at today’s exchange rates.
A statement on Flexcoin’s website read as follows:
On March 2nd 2014 Flexcoin was attacked and robbed of all coins in the hot wallet. The attacker made off with 896 BTC, dividing them into these two addresses:
As Flexcoin does not have the resources, assets, or otherwise to come back from this loss, we are closing our doors immediately.
The “hot wallet” is what exchanges use to pay out withdrawals instantly. Bitcoins deposited by users are put into “cold storage.” Flexcoin said it will help these users get their coins back. “Users who put their coins into cold storage will be contacted by Flexcoin and asked to verify their identity,” the bank said. “Once identified, cold storage coins will be transferred out free of charge. Cold storage coins were held offline and not within reach of the attacker.”
Just before the bankruptcy of the Mt. Gox bitcoin digital-money (or virtual-currency) exchange, Japanese finance minister Taro Aso predicted the inevitable failure. “No one recognizes them as a real currency,” he told reporters. “I expected such a thing to collapse.”
I totally agree with Mr. Aso. For weeks and weeks I have been tweeting and broadcasting that bitcoin is not real money. It is not a reliable medium of exchange, nor is it a reliable store of value. It has no central-bank regulation, network operations, or even centralized issuance. And because of its wild price fluctuations, bitcoin can never be a reliable payment system.
The virtual currency originally offered a way to make transactions across borders without third parties like banks. But the collapse of Mt. Gox — with 850,000 bitcoins unaccounted for, summing to $425 million of losses, according to many reports — illustrates the grand failure of this digital experiment.
Venture capitalist Ezra Galston writes in the Wall Street Journal, “without a regulatory framework, credible payment processors — such as PayPal, Dwolla or Square — cannot service bitcoin exchanges. And because payment processors are vital for converting fiat currencies into virtual deposits, bitcoin operators will be forced to move downstream into the black market.” Mr. Galston concludes by asserting that “the bitcoin community must embrace external regulation to ensure that credible vendors may participate in payment processing.”
Hundreds of bitcoin supporters have tweeted attacks at me for arguing that bitcoin is not real money. But historically, money must be a reliable medium of exchange, and a reliable store of value. Bitcoin meets neither of these definitions.
I already posted this on a main thread but its important enough to merit a page of its own. For its not just liberal economists like Paul Krugman who see through Bitcoin, conservative economists do as well. Kudlow also explains the need for regulation in order to have a stable currency, putting paid to some wingnut myths as well.
Sorry dudebros, but when both Kudlow and Krugman say you’re backing a loser, then the only question is “How much more money are you going to lose before you admit the ship has sunk?”.
Every once in a while — most recently with the collapse of online exchange site Mt Gox — the world starts paying attention to Bitcoin, the hacker-project-cum-digital-currency that has garnered the love of a certain subset of people on the internet. Who are those people? According to an online poll from Simulacrum, the average user is a 32.1-year-old libertarian male. By users’ accounts, those men are mostly white.
Breaking that down, about 95 percent of Bitcoin users are men, about 61 percent say they’re not religious, and about 44 percent describe themselves as “libertarian / anarcho-capitalist.” On the last point, the political ideology of Bitcoin users is evident from the fact that the whole idea behind Bitcoin is that it segregates economic markets and currency from a country’s government. Bitcoin aims to be a universal currency, connecting people “peer-to-peer” instead of through set institutions. It wants to replace our current economic system and practices in their entirety — changing the way we buy goods and distribute money. The libertarians, or anarcho-capitalists as the case may be, don’t trust the government to handle their money.
They’re the same people who want to “end the fed.”
Those libertarian tendencies are generally held by white men. “Compared to the general population,” an American Values survey reported last year, “libertarians are significantly more likely to be non-Hispanic white, male, and young.” Specifically, 94 percent are white, and 68 percent are men.
Why does Bitcoin specifically have this demographic makeup? Well, there’s a fair amount of privilege built directly into the currency: In order to buy the sometimes wildly expensive currency, Bitcoin users need to be wealthy. And they can afford to put their wealth into a currency that isn’t widely accepted or even recognized. Plus, they move easily through the financial and digital space — the process of “mining” BitCoins demands it; it is all about knowing coding and decryption and how to use an exchange. The sum total of these things — advanced knowledge of computer science, wealth — are also markings of the young, white male.
Bitstamp, one of the largest bitcoin exchanges in the world—if not the largest—today became the second major firm to suspend customer withdrawals of bitcoins from their accounts, or “wallets.”
The firm’s action follows a similar freeze last week by Mt. Gox, another major exchange firm. In both cases the firms attributed the suspensions to the need to address a technicality in the bitcoin system known as “transaction malleability.” Neither firm has said when transactions will resume.
In simple terms, transaction malleability could allow someone to spend bitcoins twice, which is tantamount to counterfeiting the virtual currency. That’s an eventuality that bitcoin aficionados always have suggested is impossible in the algorithm-driven bitcoin system, because every transfer ostensibly has to be validated before it’s completed.
If House Republicans don’t agree to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and a default ensues, the economic effects would be “catastrophic,” in the words of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The nation’s borrowing costs would spike, as would interest rates for average Americans, and the stock market would plummet. But not everyone will lose if a default causes an economic catastrophe. Here’s who could profit from a financial calamity:
1. Short sellers: Most folks invest in stocks and bonds hoping the value of their investments will increase. But there’s also money to be made by short selling—betting that the value of a stock or bond will drop. Short selling is an investment strategy that’s typically employed by sophisticated investors and financial firms, but technically anyone can do it. Investors who bet that the value of US Treasury securities will dip would likely profit. Because a default could cause the US stock market to crash, shorting almost any US stock could make you money. In fact, you can even invest in specific mutual funds that specialize in short selling. “It’s a very powerful and disillusioning feeling to know that smart rich people can make money even when America goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel,” says Jeff Connaughton, a former investment banker and White House lawyer during the Clinton administration.
2. Investors in gold and silver: Gold and silver typically rise in value when when the stock market is volatile, because they hold their value better than paper money or other assets. The price of both metals rose this week as default fears heightened.
3. Bitcoin investors (maybe): The value of this untraceable virtual currency has tracked closely with gold over the past year, suggesting that it could serve as a more stable investment during a financial crisis.
4. Currency traders: Traders who bet that the US dollar will decrease in value relative to foreign currencies stand to profit off of a US government default.
5. Pawn shops: If the effects of a default are catastrophic, stocks will plummet, pension funds could dry up, credit card interest rates will rise, and jobs will be lost. Though credit markets may freeze up, as they did in the wake of the 2008 meltdown, pawn shops ought to do well, as they did following the last crisis.
Bitcoin. Everybody’s talking about it. What’s true, and what’s hype? Perhaps the only thing that’s clear about Bitcoin is that it’s not going away anytime soon. Who am I to say? I’m not an economist; I’m a hacker, who has spent his career exploring and repairing large networks. And networks may very well be how the world works — financial, social, electronic, even physical.
I’m on neither “Team Bitcoin” nor “Team Global Financial System.” I’m on “Team Lets Fix This Thing.”
We do need another currency.
I’ll be blunt: Money’s gotten buggy. People who don’t realize this might be in high finance — indeed, we’ve gotten very good at moving the revenues of entire generations within a precise number of femtoseconds — but what if you’re just trying to buy a smoothie?
Bitcoin is the Internet, applied to Money.
I walked into a Jamba Juice recently, and was informed in no uncertain terms that if I attempted to use anything larger than a $20 bill, or if my credit card was demagnetized, no smoothie for me. (I can’t even imagine the blank look I’d have gotten if I’d tried to pay with a personal check.)
We do have credit cards. But credit cards change money from something anyone can give anyone (peer to peer) to something with a consumer class (client) and a merchant class (server). There are innovative startups that attempt to reverse that, and every time one of these systems pops up — Square, Stripe, Venmo — billions of dollars starts flowing through them.
We wouldn’t get this sort of growth without pent-up demand. But even the new systems find themselves failing — I love Paypal, but is there anyone who hasn’t either had their account suspended, or knows someone who has? I’ve certainly never had a $20 in my pocket go dark for 48 hours.
Bitcoin’s got its issues. But it is not competing with perfection.
The same people who brought you Wikileaks are back, and this time, they’ve created a virtual currency called Bitcoin that could destabilize the entire global financial system. Bitcoin is an open-source virtual currency generated by a computer algorithm that is completely beyond the reach of financial intermediaries, central banks and national tax collectors. Bitcoins could be used to purchase anything, at any time, from anyone in the world, in a transaction process that it is almost completely frictionless. Yes, that’s right, the hacktivists now have a virtual currency that’s untraceable, unhackable, and completely Anonymous.
And that’s where things start to get interesting. Veteran tech guru Jason Calacanis recently called Bitcoin the most dangerous open source project he’s ever seen. TIME suggested that Bitcoin might be able to bring national governments and global financial institutions to their knees. You see, Bitcoin is as much a political statement as it is a virtual currency. If you think there’s a shadow banking system now, wait a few more months. The political part is that, unlike other virtual currencies like Facebook Credits (used to buy virtual sock puppets for your friends), Bitcoins are globally transferrable across borders, making them the perfect instrument to finance any cause or any activity — even if it’s banned by a sovereign government.
You don’t need a banking or trading account to buy and trade Bitcoins - all you need is a laptop. They’re like bearer bonds combined with the uber-privacy of a Swiss bank account, mixed together with a hacker secret sauce that stores them as 1’s and 0’s on your computer. They’re “regulated” (to use the term lightly) by distributed computers around the world. Most significantly, Bitcoins can not be frozen or blocked or taxed or seized.