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“Real Users”: In This Italian Mountain Town, Everyone Knows About Bitcoin

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 18:28

He's scribbling a series of 12 words on the blue paper handed to him by one of the two women at the other side of the desk. Marco is his name. Graying hair, blue jeans, and still wearing the fat, black winter coat that protected him against the cold Alpine air outside, he just drove 80 kilometers from his hometown and is now in the process of installing the Atlana Bitcoin wallet, as recommended.

“I had heard of Bitcoin but didn’t own any,” he explains, when asked why he didn’t just buy bitcoins on an online exchange. “I prefer the human contact if I’m going to purchase some.”

The other of the two women walks him to the white mailbox-sized machine in the corner. “Compro Euro,” it reads, the same words that are plastered across the wall and the window of the small shop. And “Bitcoin ATM.”

The woman explains how the machine works, pointing to the small black window that hides a camera and then to the QR code on Marco’s phone screen. Marco nods and gets out his brown leather wallet.

Buying bitcoin in Rovereto

As the woman retakes her seat at the desk in front of the bookshelf with copies of Mastering Bitcoin and Antifragile, Marco starts shoving orange 50 euro notes into the Bitcoin ATM. The machine responds with a buzzing and clicking sound for every slip inserted. This goes on for several minutes before Marco puts his wallet and phone back in his jean pockets and walks back to the desk to give a final handshake to both women.

“I’d like to get some of my money out of the bank, and bitcoin seemed like a good option,” he says, briefly explaining his investment decision before leaving the shop with a thankful smile.

Bitcoin Valley

In the same northern Italian town about four years ago, another Marco, Marco Amadori, was discussing Bitcoin with some fellow local enthusiasts. Working on tech projects for the province of Trento, Amadori pitched them a dream. Schooled as a developer, in his late thirties at the time, Amadori wanted to turn Rovereto — the name of his town — into a “Bitcoin Valley,” with Bitcoin companies, bitcoin-accepting merchants and, of course, Bitcoin users.

Marco Amadori overlooks the town of Rovereto in “Bitcoin Valley.”

Four years later, Amadori and his fellow enthusiasts own and run two Bitcoin businesses in Rovereto, with a nearby education center and a communication company coming up. Inbitcoin, Amadori’s first Bitcoin business, is a research and development company, working on various bitcoin-related software applications, including point-of-sale payment solutions for merchants and the Atlana wallet.

The second, Compro Euro (Italians will understand the pun), is a brick-and-mortar exchange, the first of its kind in Italy. Anyone can walk in to buy or sell up to 3,000 euro worth of bitcoin, on the spot. The service applies full Know-Your-Customer (KYC) identification and charges a 12 percent markup to boot. Italians in and around Rovereto don’t seem to mind.

“It has calmed down a bit now, but last December was crazy,” says Compro Euro cofounder Alessandro Olivo. “The shop was full, and we had people waiting in line to use the Bitcoin ATM.”

A bit younger than Amadori, Olivo quickly got involved with the Bitcoin Valley project when it was pitched to him. “A second Compro Euro brick-and-mortar exchange is about to open in Pordenone next month, and there are concrete plans for Bologna and Carpi as well. All together we’ve had hundreds of requests from cities across the country. Demand is huge.”

Inbitcoin and Compro Euro are now at the heart of Bitcoin Valley — very literally so, in the case of the exchange: it’s situated right in the center of town, where three streets meet. Hard to miss for anyone strolling around the old brick streets of Rovereto.

But they are also at the figurative heart of Bitcoin Valley: Inbitcoin and Compro Euro stand out as the flagship enterprises in the town that has come to be known as the Bitcoin capital of Italy. With about 30 bitcoin-accepting merchants and less than 40 thousand people, it is one of the most Bitcoin-dense cities in the world. (Arnhem, in The Netherlands, is probably still in the lead.)

Pizzeria Da Papi

Amadori, Olivo and other enthusiasts are trying to get a bitcoin economy going in Rovereto. The Inbitcoin and Compro Euro teams get paid in bitcoin and tend to visit the establishments that accept bitcoin more than most others. Their restaurant of choice is often Pizzeria Da Papi, owned by Ivan: a tall, slim man with friendly eyes.


Ivan is one of a growing number of Rovereto merchants who accept bitcoin.

Ivan started accepting bitcoin in early 2017 and has kept most of his coins, he says with a wide smile. The price has gone up significantly. But for Ivan, Bitcoin is not just a new payment method or even just a form of money. Having been introduced with the digital currency (and possibly inspired by a thieving former employee, Olivo suggests), Ivan imagines a world wherein the flow of money across supply chains can be traced and automated.

“I would like to set up a system where my suppliers — those that sell me cheese or vegetables — get paid their share automatically when I sell a pizza,” he explains. The last customers have left the restaurant, so he’s locked the doors and is lighting up a cigarette as he sits down to talk Bitcoin. “This solves a liquidity problem. I would no longer need to put investment up front, and instead, automatically forward a part of any payment I receive.”

Ivan admits he hasn’t worked out the details. He’s not yet sure how his system can prevent him from lying to his suppliers about the number of pizzas sold, or why his suppliers would want to take the risk that he might not sell any. But that’s not the point, he says. “It’s early days, Bitcoin is just starting. It’s about what will possible in the future.”

As a first step in the shorter term, the pizzeria and Inbitcoin are working on an accounting system. Even if the pizzeria accepts bitcoin for payment, Ivan needs to pay tax in euros. The Inbitcoin payment terminal — a software layer on top of BitPay — lets him convert a percentage of the bitcoins into euros automatically and keeps track of how much tax he needs to pay at the end of the day.

The Trust Factor

Ivan may be more interested in Bitcoin than most shop owners — but in Rovereto he’s no fluke. From the local extreme sports store (most bitcoin payments are for ski and snowboard gear) to the horse meat butchery, to the newspaper stand at the edge of the town square, the “Bitcoin accettatti” stickers pop up on store fronts across the intimate city center.

A cornerstone of the local scenery

And while the amount of commerce that takes place in the cryptocurrency is still relatively small, Rovereto has received lots of attention from Italian media. As such, everyone in town is aware of its status as the Bitcoin Valley — even those that don’t care about Bitcoin at all.

Merchants were open to Bitcoin in Roverato exactly because it is a relatively small town, suspects Claudio Gobber, the thirty-something chatty senior business development manager for Inbitcoin. It has proven to be such a fertile breeding ground, he thinks, because the small-town familiarity gave local merchants the confidence they needed; Amadori’s family in particular has been living there for generations.

“When people first hear about bitcoin they start asking questions — about the technology, about mining. But what they really want to know is if they can trust it. We were able to skip this step because people trust us. We have familiar faces,” Gobber explained. “This is how we grow Bitcoin: We start small and have it spread from there.”

And that’s what makes it special, he thinks.

“Bitcoin is a bottom-up revolution; that’s what gets me excited. It’s local pizza shop owners like Ivan that come up with ideas; they tell us what problem they encounter so we can solve it. Bitcoin is all about openness and permissionless innovation. The tax-accounting solution is only one example.”

Mani al Cielo

The very first establishment in Rovereto to accept bitcoin was the local bar, Mani al Cielo, back in 2015. It’s still the establishment that receives most the bitcoin payments in town today.

Mani al Cielo Bar

“I also pay my employees in bitcoin now,” Gianpaolo Rossi says, while he pours four spritzes for the girls that just walked in. He’s the owner of the bar, in his late thirties with a black crew cut. He chuckles a little when asked whether his employees are happy with that arrangement. “I’m not leaving them much choice.” He pays them through Bitwage, he says, which converts euros into bitcoin. “But if they don’t want to keep the bitcoin, I will offer to buy it back.”

Like Ivan, Gianpaolo doesn’t see bitcoin as just a payment method. He is an enthusiast, trading altcoins in his free time to try and increase his holdings. Bitcoin’s volatile nature doesn’t bother him — he enjoys it.

“If you don’t like the roller coaster, go with the Caterpillar,” he had told an Italian television crew two weeks prior, comparing the stability of the euro with a kiddy ride in a nearby theme park. “No one is forcing you.” It made him a local Bitcoin celebrity. He’s now having the sentence printed on a shirt like a catchphrase, he says.

If you don’t like the roller coaster, go with the Caterpillar.

Rovereto is probably getting closer to establishing a circular Bitcoin economy than anywhere else in the world — with Mani al Cielo at the center of the payment carousel. Not only does Gianpaolo take bitcoin from the Inbitcoin crew, who will often drop by after work, but the bar owner has also convinced a local beer producer to accept bitcoin from him.

“But I’m not paying them in bitcoin right now,” he says emphatically. “Not now — now is the time to hold!”

Gianpaolo acknowledges that, for bar owners like him, Bitcoin does have one problem: Fees can be high sometimes. “In November and December almost no one paid with bitcoin,” Gianpaolo says. “Even my mom complained about fees. If my mom starts to notice, that’s not good.”

Yet there was no way Gianpaolo would accept Bitcoin’s cheaper offshoot, Bitcoin Cash, he said.

“Nah, that’s Roger Ver’s coin, and that of a few Chinese miners. I’m not interested. And with Bitcoin — my team — it’s like a football derby. I would never switch sides.”

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Bitcoin Magazine's Week in Review: Lightning and Legislators

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 17:47

Bitcoin development took a major step forward this week when Lightning Labs announced the first beta release of the much anticipated “Lightning” protocol for Bitcoin, while also raising $2.5 million to fund continued development.

Meanwhile, cryptocurrency and ICO regulation stories have continued to dominate the headlines, as the U.S. Federal Government held hearings and the Dutch finance minister released a letter relating to how their respective legislators should approach cryptocurrencies and ICOs. On a positive note, a New York state assemblyman has introduced a bill to protect cryptocurrency investors and ease regulation on crypto-related businesses.

Featured stories by Shawn Gordon, Colin Harper, David Hollerith, Erik Kuebler and Aaron van Wirdum.

Lightning’s First Implementation Is Now in Beta; Developers Raise $2.5M

Lightning Labs announced lnd 0.4-beta, the first beta release of the Lightning software implementation spearheaded by the development company. This is the first beta release from Lightning, which means they believe the project is feature complete and safe enough to use on the Bitcoin mainnet. CTO Olaoluwa Osuntokun said, “We're calling this lnd release a beta as it has all the necessary safety, fault-tolerance and security features that we've deemed necessary.”

Significantly, the beta release is compatible with various Bitcoin implementations, where the alpha versions required btcd to interact with Bitcoin’s blockchain. The beta allows users the options to use their own preferred backend, such as bitcoind.

In conjunction with the software release, Lightning Labs announced a seed-funding round of $2.5 million to fund continued development of lnd. Investors include big names in the Bitcoin, blockchain and broader tech industry.

Congressional Hearings: We Must Distinguish Digital Commodities From ICOs

The U.S. government held a hearing in their House Financial committee entitled “Examining the Cryptocurrencies and ICO Markets.” This was the first hearing in which members of the U.S. Congress addressed cryptocurrencies and ICOs. Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from Coinbase, and Coin Center, as well as various law firms and others.

The hearing addressed the economic efficiencies and potential capital formation opportunities that cryptocurrencies and ICOs offer to businesses and investors. Notable points addressed included the need for security and investor compliance for U.S. cryptocurrency exchanges; the need for regulators to distinguish the difference between cryptocurrencies that are considered digitally scarce commodities and securities tokens; among other points, all in such a way that won’t stifle domestic innovation by forcing investors and businesses to leave the country.

New York Legislator Proposes BitLicense Alternative for Cryptocurrency Users

In New York, state Assemblyman Ron Kim introduced a bill to protect cryptocurrency investors and ease regulation on crypto-related businesses. Known as The New York Cryptocurrency Exchange Act (A9899), the bill relates to “the audit of cryptocurrency business activity by third party depositories and prohibits licensing fees to conduct such cryptocurrency business activity.”

The law would mandate that any cryptocurrency business or entity be subject to routine audits by a public or third-party depository service. Any entity in full compliance will receive a digital New York Seal of Approval to reassure consumers that the outlet is trustworthy and secure. This seal would ideally replace the BitLicenses currently issued by the New York State Department of Financial Services, doing away with this fee-based license in favor of one earned by audit.

Dutch Finance Minister Advises Government on Cryptocurrency

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra sent a six-page letter to the House and Senate that outlined his concerns over the rapid and dramatic growth in cryptocurrencies. He emphasized that there has been little time to understand and react to the changing landscape and that the current supervision and regulatory framework is ill equipped to deal with it. He said he will actively be working in a European context, but the entire process will take time and coordination between disparate governments and agencies.

“Real Users”: In This Italian Mountain Town, Everyone Knows About Bitcoin

Our reporter Aaron van Wirdum visited the town of Rovereto in the Italian Alps, where it’s easy — and encouraged — to buy pizza with bitcoin. He profiles the local business owners and Bitcoin advocates whose enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies is turning the close-knit community into a thriving “Bitcoin Valley.”

“When people first hear about bitcoin they start asking questions — about the technology, about mining. But what they really want to know is if they can trust it. We were able to skip this step because people trust us. We have familiar faces,” Claudio Gobber of Inbitcoin explains. “This is how we grow Bitcoin: We start small and have it spread from there.”

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

We Tested the New TREZOR Cryptocurrency Wallet: This Is What We Found

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 13:29

The new TREZOR model T, a hardware cryptocurrency wallet developed by SatoshiLabs, is the second generation of SatoshiLabs’ popular TREZOR hardware wallet family. The Model T was announced in November 2017, on the ninth anniversary of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin white paper and made available for pre-order. All pre-order devices were sold out, and regular sales are expected to start soon.

Bitcoin Magazine has tested a TREZOR Model T. The matchbox-sized device comes in a sleek package with a USB-C cable for connecting to a computer or phone; stickers and other accessories; and a minimalist Post-it-sized “Getting Started” guide. An online guide titled “Getting started with TREZOR Model T” provides more detailed instructions with pictures.

The device is only powered when plugged in and connects to the blockchain via a web interface through the host computer. Contrary to previous TREZOR models with buttons, the Model T has a touchscreen. Other differences include a new version of the firmware, TREZOR Core, which has been written from scratch. The source code for TREZOR Core is available on Github, with other TREZOR software.

The new device also comes with a magnetic dock that can be affixed to any firm surface. The Model T can then be attached to the dock by means of magnets embedded in the device.

We plugged the device into a computer and followed the instructions in the online guide, which direct the user to open a supported browser and go to the TREZOR web interface. Once the firmware was correctly installed, we went on to create a new wallet.

The web interface gives step-by-step instructions, synchronized with instructions that appear on the device’s screen.

After generating a new wallet, the user should immediately follow the instructions to create a backup in the format of a personal recovery seed. The Model T generates a unique, 12-word long recovery seed, which is displayed on the device screen. The user should write down the seed words on a recovery card (there are two recovery cards in the box, in case one is lost). Then the device randomly selects two words and asks the user to retype them on the screen for verification.

The 12-word seed permits recovering the content of the wallet in case, for example, the device is damaged or lost, and it is the only way for the user to do so. Of course, malicious parties could do the same. Therefore, it’s very important to follow the recommendation: “Remember to keep your card with the seed words in a safe location and never store it as a digital copy. We strongly discourage you from taking photos of your recovery seed or to make any digital copies. Please do not write down the words into a text file on your computer, even if your computer is encrypted.”

The next step is naming the device and choosing a numeric pin code by using the touchscreen on the device. An essential security feature of this step (that some might find annoying) is that the layout of the numeric keypad on the touchscreen changes at each input.

Now, the TREZOR T is ready to be used by simply plugging it into a computer (if the computer doesn’t have the TREZOR Bridge software and driver installed, those must be installed first), authenticating with the pin code, and using the web interface. The web interface and the on-screen interface on the TREZOR T work smoothly in tandem, and, often (for example, when sending funds), the information entered via the web interface must be confirmed on the device.

Besides Bitcoin, the TREZOR T supports Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Gold, Dash, Litecoin, Zcash, Ethereum and Ethereum Classic; both versions of Ethereum are supported through a partnership with MyEtherWallet.

We tested the TREZOR T as a bitcoin wallet. First, we sent bitcoin from external wallets, in multiple transactions, to a new bitcoin address generated by the TREZOR T. Then, we sent bitcoin from the TREZOR T to external wallets. All transactions went through without problems and appeared in the transaction list in the web interface.

When the TREZOR T is unplugged, it powers down and disconnects from the internet. Therefore, the user’s funds stored on the device are safe and beyond reach of thieves, making this hardware wallet a secure, matchbox-sized, cryptocurrency “bank.” Of course, it’s important to store the device (and in particular the cards with the seed words) in a safe place — or even better, in separate locations.

In summary, the TREZOR T is useful and usable. Perhaps the initial set-up procedure is a bit complicated for users without a minimum of computer expertise, but most users of hardware cryptocurrency wallets are likely to be able to, for example, install drivers manually if needed by following the clear instructions in the user guide. After the initial set-up, the TREZOR Model T seems very easy to use, with an appealing UI and cool new features.

Disclaimer: SatoshiLabs provided Bitcoin Magazine with a free TREZOR Model T to use for the purpose of testing their product for review.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Promoted: TrustedHealth Develops a Healthcare Ecosystem Based on Blockchain Technology, Presenting at the World Health Organization

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 13:48

Blockchain technology’s immense potential, while well-documented, continues to get lost in the hype surrounding the increasing value of cryptocurrencies and the oft-astronomical raises of initial coin offerings (ICOs). 

Though it has ushered in one the most disruptive technologies in decades, the distributed ledger movement remains in its infancy stage, relative to its potential application and scalability.

The healthcare sector, however, is one area where robust conversations about distributed technology applications are occurring at an accelerated pace. Now, a fast-moving startup firm known as TrustedHealth is blazing a new path toward securely digitizing and decentralizing the way patients seek treatment for specific conditions.

TrustedHealth is a blockchain-centric, patient-led and doctor-guided cooperative focused on combating life-threatening diseases. The goal of this project is to identify the best methods for ensuring improved health outcomes for patients throughout the world. 

Previously, the team behind TrustedHealth created Trustedoctor to assist patients and their families in their battles against life-threatening diseases. Now, TrustedHealth is bringing this successful model onto a blockchain to empower patients, helping them tap into expertise from across the globe in a decentralized way. The long-term goal is to unify and align healthcare experiences while supporting better medical record-sharing data security within the field.

Trustedoctor was presented to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 28, 2018, spawning discussions about how it could be utilized in furthering WHO’s mission. Since then, Trustedoctor and TrustedHealth have sought to encourage other organizations to use the virtual platform as the go-to, standardized portal for specialized medicine.

“The way we treat disease is much more specialized than it used to be,” said Philippe Schucht, the chief medical officer of TrustedHealth. “For instance, a patient isn’t diagnosed with general brain cancer, but with a specific subset of the disease that requires a specific treatment plan. The issue is that most people aren’t allowed easy access to the doctors specializing in this specific condition and it’s resulting in climbing misdiagnosis rates. Through TrustedHealth, we’re bringing the world’s expertise onto one network, making it highly accessible and secure.” 

Trustedoctor was formed after its founder, Greg Jarząbek, lost his mother to pancreatic cancer. He trekked throughout the world in an attempt to identify the best treatment for her. Through this experience, he realized the immensely scattered ecosystem that exists for the world’s leading physician specialists.  

The Trustedoctor network has already on boarded more than 80 world-leading doctor specialists, available to more than 250 patients from 35 countries around the world. Also, one of the Trustedoctor tools, Doctorlink, is being used in more than 50 hospitals around the world, according to TrustedHealth.

Today, the vision for connecting the entire health ecosystem is through TrustedHealth’s blockchain technology. Spanning beyond virtual consultations and second opinions, the holistic healthcare process of 

TrustedHealth is digital and decentralized, including initial consultation, medical records and insurance, lab orders, treatment assignments, travel options and payment. 

The company’s worldwide list of advisory board members includes technologists and medical experts from Japan, the U.K., the U.S., Switzerland, Slovenia and Russia.

TrustedHealth’s ICO commences on March 20, 2018, at 12:00 CET and its crowdsale begins on March 27, 2018 (if the hardcap is not reached in the presale). Whitelisting is now open. With a limited supply of the TrustedHealth tokens, contribution above 50 ETH will secure each investor a “HealthPass” — granting access to health insurance stored on an Ethereum-based wallet.

A HealthPass-registered Ethereum address allows a health consumer to access premium services within TrustedHealth’s network of service providers. From there, the company does the work to identify a proper physician match for each individual person.

Note: Trading and investing in digital assets is speculative and can be high-risk. Based on the shifting business and regulatory environment of such a new industry, this content should not be considered investment or legal advice.

This promoted article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Decred Sets Its Sights on Decentralization in 2018

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:51

In 2015, Bitcoin developers Jake Yocom-Piatt and David Collins were getting frustrated with Bitcoin. The way they saw it, although Bitcoin started off as a decentralized system, over time, miners and a select group of developers had gained too much control over the protocol. In an attempt to create a system with a more open governance structure, the two launched Decred (short for “decentralized credit”) on February 8, 2016.  

Decred is based on an alternative implementation of bitcoin called btcd, written in Google’s programming language Go. The project’s core ideas stem from a white paper titled “Memcoin2: A Hybrid Proof-of-Work, Proof-of-Stake Cryptocurrency.” Similar to Bitcoin, Decred has a 21 million supply cap. But unlike Bitcoin, 1.68 million (8 percent) of Decred’s coins were pre-mined. Of those, half went to pay developers who contributed to the project early on, while the other half was airdropped (given out for free) to ensure a wide distribution in the network.

In Decred’s consensus system, proof of stake works alongside proof of work to give coin holders more of a voice in the system. Anyone who owns decred can buy tickets to participate in the protocol. The price of tickets (currently around $8,000) fluctuates based on demand to ensure that around 41,000 tickets are active in the network at any given time. When you buy a ticket (a process known as “staking”) your coins are temporarily locked up for several months. When a new block is created, five tickets are chosen at random to verify the block and vote on outstanding issues. As an incentive to participate, voters get 6 percent of the block reward.

Now headed into its second year, Decred recently released its 12-month roadmap. Bitcoin Magazine spoke with project lead Yocom-Piatt to get a sense of the highlights of the roadmap.

Autonomous Treasury

Decred’s most important project, by far, is its treasury system. Last year, Decred applied voting to unactivated consensus changes in the daemon. Similar to how soft forks get activated in Bitcoin, stakeholders in Decred vote by flipping a version bit in a block header. Once a majority threshold is reached, the new code activates automatically.  

Now, Decred wants to completely decentralize the control of its development funds. (Other projects are working toward similar goals, but if Decred pulls this off, it could be among the first to fully disintermediate the handling of treasury funds.)

As it stands, 10 percent of Decred block rewards go into a development fund to create a consistent cash flow for the project. Right now, control of the funds (currently valued at $28 million) is in the hands of the Decred Holdings Group LLC. Plans are to pass control of those funds to the community via a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), a type of smart contract that requires stakeholders to approve all spending.  

How it works is, anyone in the community will be able to submit a development proposal for a small fee. Ticket holders can then vote on the proposals they want to fund. Once a proposal is approved, users can create their own decentralized autonomous entity (DAEs) to govern the release of those funds.

“For most practical purposes, you can consider a DAO and a DAE to be identical in function,” Yocom-Piatt explained. “For Decred, there will be the project-level Decred DAO, which is effectively a government entity whose actions are dictated by the stakeholders, and then individual users can form their own DAEs, similar to how you or I could form a C-corporation or LLC here in the U.S. to start a business.”

Both the DAO and DAEs will exist on-chain, but proposal submission and voting will take place off-chain in a version-control system dubbed “Politeia,” which is anchored to the blockchain via timestamps. This means nobody can surreptitiously modify a proposal.

“Every hour, there is an anchor dropped into the Decred blockchain that allows you to basically say [that] all the information that is in this Git repository existed on or before a given date,” said Yocom-Piatt. “It is like a time-ordered version of Github that you cannot fake.”

Work on Politeia is nearly done, says Yocom-Piatt. Decred just needs to add a voting element before deploying the platform on the mainnet. He thinks Decred could have the DAO up and running by the end of 2018, but DAEs may not happen until 2019.

Both types of smart contracts will be written in Bitcoin’s scripting language (remember, Decred is a fork of Bitcoin) but will require extensions in the form of new opcodes.

Decentralized Exchange

In another ambitious undertaking, Decred is looking to remove trusted third-parties from the process of moving funds in and out of Decred. This way, someone holding, say, bitcoin, can trade their bitcoin for decred directly, without going through an external exchange.

Key to this idea is the atomic swap, smart contracts that authorize cross-chain trades based on whether participants can publish a hash preimage. Decred completed the first on-chain atomic swap between Decred and Litecoin in October 2017. The next step is to create a decentralized exchange that is distinct from the majority of its peers.

“Everyone else who has used [atomic swaps] to date, has done so in an attempt to capture a fee on the swaps, either as an explicit fee or via an intermediate blockchain or a token that is used to coordinate the swap,” Yocom-Piatt said.

In contrast, Decred wants to implement atomic swaps in a way that captures no revenue, so that, eventually, other exchanges are no longer needed. “This isn't about finding a way to compete with other exchanges for trading fees; it is about eliminating them,” he said.  

Decred’s goal in 2018 is to come up with a formal proposal for a decentralized exchange and put the proposal on Politeia for stakeholder approval.  

Consumer-Oriented Approach

On-chain transactions on Decred take five minutes on average to settle (they take 10 minutes on Bitcoin), which is awkward at best when you want to pay for something on the spot. Decred is planning to implement the Lightning Network, a second-layer solution that allows transactions to be handled instantly off-chain and settled on-chain later, so that users can initiate transactions on the fly. (Lightning is also a central component in enabling atomic swaps.)

Specifically, Decred is implementing lnd, the open-source lightning daemon spearheaded by Lightning Labs. The bulk of the work in porting lnd from Bitcoin is nearly complete, says Yocom-Piatt. He adds that the work has been challenging. That is because Lightning was built with Segregated Witness, and, even though Decred is a fork of Bitcoin, Decred still lacks many of the changes that were bundled into Bitcoin’s Segregated Witness changeset. “There are some outstanding issues with transaction signatures that still need to be sorted out, at which point testing can begin,” he said.

Some instant transactions, like point-of-sale, are particularly useful if you make them with your mobile phone, similar to Apple Pay. To that end, Decred is looking to add simplified payment verification (SPV) support to its wallet, so that mobile clients only need to download a small part of the blockchain to verify transactions.

But Decred wants to implement SPV in a way that preserves privacy. Right now, many light wallets do not support SPV and instead rely on a central server for checking balance and transaction details.

To do this efficiently, the server needs access to your public key, meaning the service can see all of the addresses you use. Meanwhile, most existing SPV clients rely on bloom filters to receive only the transactions relevant to a user’s local wallet. The problem is bloom filters leak information about their users to all the nodes they connect with.

To step around this issue, Decred is using a new light-client protocol by Lightning Labs known as compact filters, which offer most of the benefits of a centralized light wallet, without the negative privacy aspects of bloom filters.  

“It drastically reduces the amount of data you need to download to have a functional client,” said Yocom-Piatt. “It is just the headers and some filters, basically 66 MB vs 2.1 GB for entire chain.” He said SPV support should be available to users in the spring.

Undisclosed Privacy Plans

In Bitcoin, transactions are traceable. In 2018, Decred wants to introduce a proposal for a unique privacy feature that will allow users to send untraceable payments. Decred remains tight-lipped on the matter, other than to say it will take a different approach than Monero and Zcash. Yocom-Piatt’s final comment on the matter: “We are going to deliver something working as opposed to just declaring what our plans are.”

Also on the to-do list, Decred plans to make several scaling improvements to its protocol and it will be updating the graphical user interface (GUI) on its Decrediton wallet to support SPV, mobile, Politeia voting and the Lightning Network.   

While many cryptocurrency projects are viewed mainly as a store of value, Decred is steering itself toward a future as a functional payment system, and it wants to be among the first to get there. “Our goal for 2018 is to cut the head off the snake, so nobody can cut the head off the snake later,” Yocom-Piatt concluded.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Promoted: A “Four-Wheel” Economy, Parked Right Up the Block

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:27

Like a car accelerating onto a highway on-ramp, the trajectory of blockchain technology continues to move at a rapid pace. Amid talk of crypto price volatility and initial coin offerings, a number of promising distributed applications continue to take shape, disrupting the landscape.

One novel initiative being curated in the nascent blockchain space involves the field of transportation and mobility, where owners of private vehicles can rent them out on a just-in-time basis without logistical concerns about keys or communication with users. 

Enter Helbiz, a global enterprise that has its sights set on a summer launch in Los Angeles. Its main premise: A shared transportation model at a time when the cost of car ownership is declining rapidly and cars decrease in value.

A Transportation-Fueled Project

According to the data-gathering service Statistica, there will be an estimated 36 million car-sharing users worldwide by 2025. Tied to this trend is the increasing number of people opting for short-term car rentals over ownership. Much of this is tied to the desire to avoid insurance, car maintenance and other encumbrances associated with having a car. This rings particularly true in big cities and dense urban areas where traffic gridlock and congestion abound.   

Another factor supporting Helbiz’s aim: According to parking expert Donald Shoup, a distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA, the average car is parked and sits idle 95 percent of the time.

It’s these emerging trends that are driving Helbiz’s efforts to build a global mobility community that provides access to vehicles and other transportation services on an hourly, daily or weekly basis to maximize possible usage of any type of private vehicle independent of the owner’s schedule. Situated on the Ethereum blockchain and powered by ERC20 standard tokens known as “HBZ,” Helbiz seeks to become the desired payment transaction hub for blockchain-based transportation services throughout the world.

The infrastructure used to facilitate this seamless peer-to-peer car sharing is tied to iOS and Android applications on a blockchain, which allow users to rent any car on the platform, instantly unlocking it and turning it on with their phone without the need for any direct interaction with the owner. 

The Helbiz app also serves as a connection point between car owners, insurance companies and other third parties that then, through smart contracts, pay these owners directly using HBZ. 

At 23, Palella sold his agricultural company with over 1,000 employees to outside investors. Then, in 2015, he founded Palella Investment LTD and became one of the youngest hedge fund owners in the world, managing $250 million out of its headquarters in London.

In 2017, Salvatore founded SP1 and received, as one of the first funds to do so in the world, the authorization to trade cryptocurrency.  

“Blockchain [technology] and smart contracts allow us to facilitate secure, real-time transacting tied to a single payment source,” said Palella. “This reduces transaction costs and greatly simplifies the renting process, reducing paper documentation and providing a great way to rent and share/send data.” 

Palella noted that the Helbiz utility token exists for the core purpose of constructing a more complex and secure payment system and, as a separate application, for decentralized payments through its own second-layer protocols, which increase convenience and trust between sellers, limits cancellations and also captures and curates valuable user data. Most importantly, the Ethereum-based network allows it to be scalable, fostering its global use to pay for transportation without foreign transaction fees.

Currently, Helbiz is in the midst of an ambitious launch to include the following anticipated milestones, per its token website:

  • Q1 2018: Initial coin offering (ICO) and listing on a top exchange
  • Q2 2018: MVP of Helbiz marketplace and launch of operations in Los Angeles; integrating blockchain system for payments
  • Q3 2018: Private Alpha allowing owners to share and sell data; Helbiz app expansion to a second city in the U.S.
  • Q1 2019: Beta version of wallet, exchange and reward system; Helbiz app expansion in four additional cities in the U.S.
  • Q2 2019: Version 1.0 of the Helbiz platform online

“Our grand vision is to give personal control back to the user through our blockchain-sharing economy model,” concluded Palella. “In five years, we hope to have a platform/app on millions of smart devices and digital locks in thousands of cars in every major city in the world. We see this as a major step in helping millions of people get around quickly and with ease.” 

Note: Trading and investing in digital assets is speculative and can be high-risk. Based on the shifting business and regulatory environment of such a new industry, this content should not be considered investment or legal advice.

This promoted article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Lightning’s First Implementation Is Now in Beta; Developers Raise $2.5M

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 11:48

Today, March 15,Lightning Labs announced lnd 0.4-beta, the first beta release of the Lightning software implementation spearheaded by the development company. This makes lnd the first ever Lightning implementation to be marked as beta, meaning that the development team deems it to be feature complete and safe enough for use on Bitcoin’s mainnet — though the software could still contain bugs. In conjunction, Lightning Labs has also announced a $2.5 million seed investment round, which will fund further development of lnd.

“We're calling this lnd release a beta as it has all the necessary safety, fault-tolerance and security features that we've deemed necessary to feel comfortable with early users to start experimenting with small amounts of real bitcoin and litecoin,” Lightning Labs CTO Olaoluwa Osuntokun told Bitcoin Magazine.

As an open and permissionless project, the Lightning Network was already being rolled out by users eager to test the highly anticipated scaling layer — even before any Lightning implementation was released in beta. Lightning Labs, in particular, favored a more cautious approach, as the development team was still working on “breaking changes,” Osuntokun explained. He noted that users who have opened payment channels with previous lnd releases will now have to close these channels before upgrading to the latest version.

A significant step compared to previous lnd releases is that the new software is compatible with various Bitcoin implementations. Where the alpha versions of lnd relied on btcd to interact with Bitcoin’s blockchain (both lnd and btcd are written in Google’s Go programming language), the beta release gives users the option to use their own preferred backend, including bitcoind (part of Bitcoin Core, in C++), Bcoin (JavaScript) and others.

Other new features implemented in the lnd beta include a new private key seed format specifically designed for Lightning; improved fault-tolerance in case something goes wrong; and smarter pathfinding for routing payments, as well as bug fixes and other improvements.

In conjunction with the software release, Lightning Labs announced a seed-funding round of $2.5 million to fund continued development of lnd. Investors include big names in the Bitcoin, blockchain and broader tech industry, such as Litecoin creator Charlie Lee; BitGo CTO Ben Davenport; Square and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey; PayPal COO and Yammer founder David Sacks; Tesla and SpaceX angel investor Bill Lee; head of Square Capital and Square’s People Lead Jacqueline Reses; Eventbrite co-founder Kevin Hartz; Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev; and The Hive, Digital Currency Group and others.

Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark hopes that, with the release of the lnd beta and the seed-funding round, development of Lightning Network technology will move to its next phase.

“Lightning is not just about scalability, it’s also an app development platform. I think a lot of people don't get that yet,” she told Bitcoin Magazine.

Building on lnd, developers can write apps that connect to the Lightning Network. Lightning Lab’s Lightning App Directory already features several dozen such apps, not limited to apps developed by Lightning Labs itself. Examples include Lightning wallets for desktop and mobile, a blogging platform with micropayments, a gambling site and more. Although most of these apps are only available on Bitcoin’s testnet so far, this is likely to change with the release of lnd 0.4-beta.

Moving forward, Lightning Labs plans to implement a range of new features in lnd, including “watchtowers” to outsource security (channel monitoring) to third parties, atomic multipath payments to increase payment channel liquidity, routing tools for Lightning node operators and more. And while lnd is already compatible with both Bitcoin and Litecoin, the two networks are not yet interoperable; a fix for this is also planned for a future release.

It should be noted that although the lnd 0.4-beta release marks a milestone in the development of the Lightning Network, it is still in beta — so it is still somewhat risky to use.

“This is still an early beta version aimed at developers and advanced users,” Stark said. “As with any early software there will still be bugs. Users shouldn't be putting more money on Lightning right now than they are willing to lose.”

For full details of the release, see the lnd 0.4-beta release notes.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Congressional Hearings: We Must Distinguish Digital Commodities From ICOs

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 21:40

On March 14, 2018, the House Financial Committee held a hearing entitled “Examining the Cryptocurrencies and ICO Markets.” This was the first hearing in which members of the U.S. Congress, specifically a subcommittee on capital markets, securities and ICO markets, addressed cryptocurrencies and ICOs. Witnesses at the hearing included Dr. Chris Brummer, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center; Mike Lempres, chief legal and risk officer at Coinbase; Robert Rosenblum, a partner at the Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonseni Goodrich & Rosati; and Peter Van Valkenburgh, the director of research at Coin Center.

The hearing addressed the economic efficiencies and potential capital formation opportunities that cryptocurrencies and ICOs offer to businesses and investors. It also reviewed the current approach by the SEC, CFTC and state regulators to administer laws which adequately protect investors. Because regulatory clarity so far has been difficult for businesses and investors, members of Congress also expressed interest in how to best monitor and oversee blockchain technology as it moves into the future.

Notable points asked of and addressed by the witnesses included the need for security and investor compliance for U.S. cryptocurrency exchanges; the need (or in Rosenblum’s case, lack thereof) for regulators to distinguish the difference between cryptocurrencies that are considered digitally scarce commodities and securities tokens; the need to establish a harmonization among the “patchwork” of regulatory agencies dictating how to move forward; and the policing of cryptocurrencies, all in such a way that won’t stifle domestic innovation by forcing investors and businesses to leave the country.

Digitally Scarce Commodities and Security Tokens

Distinguishing major cryptocurrencies from the majority of ICO tokens was the biggest topic of conversation during the hearing.

Van Valkenburgh noted that digital scarcity is a fundamental difference between ICOs and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and Filecoin.

“The fundamental innovation of Bitcoin is digital scarcity. That digital scarcity can then be employed by innovative people for a variety of innovative purposes. A token that is scarce and transferable from person to person can be used just like money, just as any good throughout history from gold to seashells. A scarce token can also be automatically redeemable for a digital good or computing service provided by the same network of computing participants who verify the blockchain. These are projects like Ethereum, Filecoin and Blockstack and they are beginning to compete with competitors like Amazon, Facebook and Google. A scarce token can also represent a legal agreement.”

Van Valkenburgh went on to distinguish scarce tokens already put into practice from others that are merely theoretical, supported only by blockchain software that has yet to be built. Recently, new blockchain projects have raised money by selling the promise of future tokens to willing investors in ICOs.

From a regulatory standpoint there is a fundamental distinction that must be made between scarce tokens that exist on a blockchain and are used for payment or to obtain computing services and, on the other hand, promises of future tokens representing the hopefully profitable efforts of a developer.

He went on to state that the former scarce tokens are like digital commodities while the latter (ICOs) are securities, both having distinct risks that must be addressed by investors in different ways.

Rosenblum suggested a short– and long-term approach for the SEC and other agencies to modify the regulation rules around cryptocurrencies so that the industry does not get locked into a concrete regulatory system too early. He used the combination of blockchain technology with artificial intelligence to convey why imposing regulations at this time would not be a good idea: 

It could potentially lead to new marketing, business opportunities, scientific and sociological advances. However, the opportunity to use that same technology for manipulative conduct, data breach and other nefarious conduct is really hard to predict right now.

On the subject of regulating ICOs, Brummer emphasized the need for standardized and precise promoter disclosures for investor protection. Speaking primarily about cryptocurrency white papers, essentially the business and technological plan behind each cryptocurrency, Brummer gave a list of recommended standardized disclosures:

  • Location: Brummer cited one particular study which indicated that in 32 percent of ICOs it is not possible to identify the identity or origin of the ICO issuer or promoter. Without having this information it is very difficult for investors to understand the protection rights or authorities they can contact in case of fraud. Therefore, ICO promoters or issuers should establish a clear statement of where an issuer is located.
  • Problem and proposed technology solution: The most important information for assessing the success of an ICO is understanding its proposed solution for how the technology will solve a problem: a plain-English explanation of the technology solution. More technical aspects of the white paper would be subject to the validation of a third-party technology audit. All code would be subject to a public repository such as GitHub.
  • Token proposal: An ICO’s white paper should disclose legal rights of token holders as well as how the tokens will be traded and on what platforms.

Brummer concluded by saying that white papers should also disclose the basic principles of blockchain governance and risk factors, not only for the token itself, but also for the industry as a whole.

Brummer stated that one major point of contention for government regulators on cryptocurrencies might be the fact that “because digital things tend to be more abstract and they therefore tend to be harder to understand,” there is more tension and difficulty in defining them as commodities, unlike gold which is “shiny and universally identified as something that has value.”

Huizenga, in turn, acknowledged that “governmental bureaucracies tend not to view the world through those lenses. And I think that there is a certain governmental responsibility to protect investors.”

A Patchwork of Regulatory Agencies

While distinguishing between a digitally scarce commodity and a security appeared to be the most fundamental and pressing issue, all testifying witnesses acknowledged the need for clear lines in which regulatory agencies operate and monitor the industry. This confusing and often contradictory relationship between the SEC vetting cryptocurrencies, the CFTC policing cryptocurrencies on the spot market, and state regulators has already indicated a level of disorder that could potentially stymie further development within the domestic cryptocurrency and blockchain technology industry.

Again, Van Valkenburgh reiterated that if policymakers get the distinction between digitally scarce commodity tokens and security tokens wrong, they will cede leadership of the technology development to the rest of the world.

Rosenblum suggested that, moving forward, “regulation by enforcement, in an area that is as complicated and dynamic as this, is not the appropriate way to regulate. Enforcement is clearly necessary; however, we need clearer guidelines on the SEC’s registration, market trading and how investment rules should apply and do apply, and that is something that you cannot do through regulation and enforcement.”

Security and Compliance

Congressman Hultgren expressed concern over cybersecurity standards within cryptocurrency. Addressing these concerns, Lempres stated, “Approximately 99 percent of Coinbase cryptocurrency holdings are held in cold storage.” Furthermore, 20 percent of Coinbase’s employees are dedicated to compliance. Lempres also pointed out that the blockchain’s transparent ledger allows for Coinbase to glean insight into bad activity occurring within their system. Lempres also referred to the cybersecurity standards of the state of New York’s “BitLicenses.” So far these BitLicenses have only been administered to four cryptocurrency companies — including Coinbase — and that is the strongest evidence for the security standardization, according to Lempres.

Voices For and Against

Voicing disapproval of cryptocurrency, no one was more direct than Congressman Brad Sherman. “Cryptocurrencies are popular with guys who like to sit in their pajamas and tell their wives they are going to be millionaires. They help terrorists and criminals move money around the world. Tax evaders. They help startup companies commit fraud, take money, and one percent of the time they actually create a useful business.”

Sherman went on to suggest that cryptocurrency hurts the U.S. dollar, prevents the federal government from preventing tax evasion, and takes away from investment that could otherwise be used to develop the American economy. Chairman Huizenga noted that, despite Sherman’s comments, the hearing was to focus on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology and not Dodd Frank reform.

On the other hand, Rep. Tom Emmer, a member of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, suggested that the potential for innovation from blockchain technology in American society is something both Republicans and Democrats should welcome.

I tend to trust people and believe that they’re in these things for good, and that they’re trying to improve their own lives and hopefully the lives of people around them — that old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats. And yet I hear elected officials who don’t have any concept of what we’re dealing with here and how exciting it is, talking about how we got to regulate and create more government infrastructure. I respectfully disagree that that won’t act as a wet blanket on this amazing new technology. I realize there has to be some regulation, but there’s got to be balance.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Washington Post Adds Support for Brave Browser, Basic Attention Token

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 16:58

The Brave browser and its Basic Attention Token (BAT) just added another verified mainstream publisher to its list of partners.

According to original posts on Reddit, the Washington Post recently integrated with Brave to accept contributions in BAT on its website. As such, the Post’s readers can now donate BAT to the publication via the Brave platform.

Users trumpeted the news as a major adoption milestone and with good reason. Owned by Amazon, the Washington Post is one of the largest media outlets in the United States, and this is just the latest publisher to adopt Basic Attention’s model in recent months. Other mainstream publishers that Brave and BAT have on board include Vice and the Guardian (U.K.).

The Washington Post, Vice and the Guardian are all impressive bedfellows, but the Brave browser gets around with more than just media outlets. Popular YouTube channels, such as PewDiePie, Casey Neistat and Philip DeFranco started accepting BAT back in November of 2017, and, this February, the project announced that popular streaming service also adopted the payment system.

Founded by Mozilla Firefox creator Brendan Eich, Brave offers a cryptocurrency payment solution for the digital advertising space. Eich created Brave to fix the problems that plague digital advertising, such as bot views, inequitable share of advertising revenue and fraud. Brave attempts to streamline the process by connecting advertisers and publishers directly, cutting out middlemen and third party partners.

As the first working iteration of BAT’s model, the Brave browser works with publishers and users to deliver a less intrusive and more equitable advertising model. With Brave, users can hide ads from any website they visit on the browser. However, they can also disable this ad-blocking feature and earn a portion of advertising revenue for every ad they interact with. Users can then spend these tokens for services, promotions and the like on participating sites, or they can donate them directly to publishers they especially appreciate if they’re feeling generous.

The platform also anonymously gauges user attention to ensure that publishers get no more or no less than their allotted share of ad revenue. Additionally, it keeps tabs on what ads consumers favor so that advertisers can know which products they should direct at which audiences. Thus, Basic Attention Tokens monetize user engagement so as to reward consumers for their attention; cut publishers a fairer piece of the advert pie; and give advertisers more reliable data on user interests.

Currently, only the Brave Browser supports BAT, but the team has it in its sights to expand the token to other browsers in the future. If the project can onboard more browsers, BAT may become more attractive to online publishers as its proof of concept morphs into adoption.

Image attribution: By Michael Fleischhacker - Own work, Public Domain.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Op Ed: FinCEN Policy Positions Offer Murky Guidance for ICOs

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 14:29

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) appears to be taking steps to eliminate some of the ambiguity surrounding the status of ICOs as money services businesses (MSBs). On March 6, 2018, FinCEN released a letter it sent in February to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (the “Wyden Letter”). The letter stakes out a policy position that could be seen as somewhat inconsistent with prior FinCEN guidance and could foreshadow potential avenues of enforcement. ICOs would be wise to monitor FinCEN’s public statements and, if they haven’t already, should consider developing Bank Secrecy Act compliance programs to protect themselves from substantial fines and criminal liability associated with FinCEN actions.

In the Wyden Letter, FinCEN ostensibly reiterates its position that that virtual currency developers and other businesses that sell virtual currency are Money Services Businesses (specifically money transmitters) under the Bank Secrecy Act and that they “must comply with AML/CFT requirements that apply to this type of MSB.”

Ambiguities and Contradictions

While FinCEN frames the Wyden letter as a reiteration of its previous position, the application of the Bank Secrecy Act to ICO activities has been less clear than FinCEN claims in the Wyden Letter due to its own previously issued interpretive rulings.

In its 2013 Guidance (FIN-2013-G001 “Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Persons Administering, Exchanging, or Using Virtual Currencies”), FinCEN stated that “a person that creates units of convertible virtual currency and sells those units to another person for real currency or its equivalent is engaged in transmission to another location and is a money transmitter.” However, in a later interpretive ruling, FIN-2014-R001 (referred to as the “Mining Ruling”), FinCEN appeared to partially contravene that statement from the 2013 Guidance.

In the Mining Ruling, FinCEN addressed questions regarding a virtual currency miner’s use of mined virtual currency and seemed to indicate in its analysis that a business’s use of a token was the primary factor in determining the application of the Bank Secrecy Act as opposed to the origin of the token.

The Mining Ruling suggested that so long as a token was sold for a person or business’s own uses, such as for the payment of debts or to make distributions to shareholders, the person or business would be deemed a “user” of virtual currency rather than an “exchanger” or “administrator” of virtual currency.

“Users” of virtual currency are not MSBs, but “exchangers” and “administrators” are MSBs under the 2013 Guidance. This interpretation of the Mining Ruling was somewhat undercut by the Ripple Labs enforcement action (which was settled via an agreement with Ripple), but there has been no additional formal guidance or interpretative rulings by FinCEN to limit or reject an extension of the reasoning in the Mining Ruling to ICO activities.

FinCEN does not address the discrepancies between the 2013 Guidance and the Mining Ruling in the Wyden Letter, but the letter does cite the Mining Ruling in a footnote. Confusingly, FinCEN’s footnote summary of the Mining Ruling seems inconsistent with the conclusions drawn in its full analysis. It may be that FinCEN is attempting to square the circle and is choosing to categorize developers as “administrators” of a virtual currency anytime they conduct a sale of their tokens regardless of the use of the proceeds.

Considerations for ICOs

While the Wyden Letter is not a formal interpretative ruling or formal guidance, this letter should be seen as a warning to all current ICOs and prospective ICOs that FinCEN is paying attention and expects full compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act.

If FinCEN acts according to the interpretation set forth in the Wyden Letter, ICOs that choose or have chosen not to fully comply with the substantive requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act (including registration as an MSB), could face serious consequences including criminal liability and extensive fines.

Token developers should consult with legal counsel or other consultants to develop a Bank Secrecy Act compliance plan as part of their ICO offering. Some of the requirements of a well-designed compliance plan are

(i) conducting a risk assessment;

(ii) developing an effective anti-money laundering program;

(iii) appointing a compliance officer;

(iv) engaging in know-your-customer activities;

(v) complying with recordkeeping and reporting requirements;  

(vi) registering with FinCEN as a money transmitter.

These activities represent a significant, but important, additional investment by developers to ready their tokens and applications for their prospective users.

On a final note, the Wyden Letter does not address the application of limitations or exemptions to the Bank Secrecy Act. ICOs may wish to consult with legal counsel to analyze their plans for raising capital associated with tokens to determine which options are best for them.

This is a guest post by Patrick Burnett and John Wagster of Frost Brown Todd, LLC. Views expressed are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Media or Bitcoin Magazine. This article is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Promoted: Unibright Unlocks New Possibilities for Blockchain Integration

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 11:43

The exponential growth of blockchain technology worldwide has been well documented. 

According to the data-gathering site Statistica, the global market for blockchain technology is expected to continue its growth, expanding to an estimated $2.3 billion by 2021.

On the heels of this rapid growth trajectory come concerns of a massive blockchain expertise shortage. Blockchain developers, amid this uptick in activity, are already rapidly becoming a rare and expensive breed, a trend that could have a chilling effect on overall industry progress.

Other major considerations in terms of the evolution of this space include the following: 

  • Smart contracts are complex, and any bug can have an adverse impact on the advancement of a project. 
  • It is difficult to update and deploy smart contracts to different blockchains.
  • There is a lack of understanding on the part of companies in how to translate data from a blockchain into something useful for employees and customers.

Solving the Issues

Unibright is a German-based company that has shown promise in bringing targeted solutions to the resources planning space. As system integration specialists, Unibright’s staff brings a compelling value proposition to all genres of business that need to connect different systems, data formats and other elements of blockchain solutions. Through Unibright, blockchain technology can become the solution to a myriad of pain points felt by a range of companies.

Unibright has built a framework enabling business process specialists to integrate blockchain technology workflows into the current IT landscape without the need for blockchain domain specialists.

"We want to make business integration faster, more reliable and future-proof by bringing our expertise into the blockchain world,” said Marten Jung, CEO, founder and head of blockchain development. “Our goal is to be the most reliable provider for a complete and unified framework for blockchain-based business integration, a safe harbor for our clients in disruptive times.”

Launched in 2017 from SPO consulting, Unibright is taking its more than 15 years of business integration, enterprise resource planning consultancy and software development experience to the blockchain domain. It has created a unified framework for blockchain-based business integration where business workflows can be presented visually and smart contracts can be generated automatically.

Unibright’s team of developers possess over 20-plus years of experience in business integration. Recognizing that many enterprises have a strong interest in blockchain technology but are uncertain in how to effectively employ it, Unibright wants to help.

The advancements taking place through Unibright highlight the enormous utility of blockchain technology, especially for B2B use cases. Companies generally prefer not to have to employ technical specialists for every different blockchain that exists. These enterprises recognize that their time, energy and attention should be focused on strategic business demands and not on technical details.

Unibright makes it easy to integrate blockchain technology into an existing business. Users can select a template for their specific case and visually customize the business integration workflow. Unibright will then automatically generate all of the elements needed for full blockchain-based business integration involving smart contracts, smart adapters and smart queries.

Championing Blockchain’s Enormous Utility

With the predicted advancements in blockchain technology and the new possibilities it promises, the most disruptive use cases for it are yet to come. Unibright believes that this nascent technology can be used in various fields including fintech, healthcare and supply chain management, just to name a few. Below are a few Unibright-driven use cases to date: 

  • A design company establishing its own approval process for each newly designed piece of jewelry 
  • A worldwide nongovernmental operation raising private funding with an integration solution allowing all funds raised to be digitally captured in its central IT system
  • A batch-tracing system for a beer manufacturer in which all raw materials, production stages and the sale to supermarkets can now be traced and integrated into the central system

Future Development

The Unibright Token (UBT) is an ERC20-compatible utility token that will fuel the Unibright platform.

“Our objective is to accelerate the development of our framework and our road to total product readiness,” said Jung. “We need to add support for more blockchains and off-chain systems by creating the needed adapter for the platform. In addition, we wish to audit more templates that empower blockchain usage in business processes. Raising funds with the token launch helps us to ensure that we are the first and fastest mover in the field of blockchain-based business integration and are keeping pace with the growing markets.”

Note: Trading and investing in digital assets is speculative and can be high-risk. Based on the shifting business and regulatory environment of such a new industry, this content should not be considered investment or legal advice.

This promoted article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

New York Legislator Proposes BitLicense Alternative for Cryptocurrency Users

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 15:26

New York State Assembly legislator Ron Kim (D-40) has unveiled a bill that intends to protect cryptocurrency investors and ease the bureaucratic burden on crypto-related businesses. It’s the first comprehensive cryptocurrency bill in New York to make it past studies and commissions and into the hands of the legislative branch. Kim introduced the legislation on March 13, 2018, after he met with blockchain industry leaders on the subject.

Known as The New York Cryptocurrency Exchange Act (A9899), the bill relates to “the audit of cryptocurrency business activity by third party depositories and prohibits licensing fees to conduct such cryptocurrency business activity.”

If it were to take effect, the legislation would make amendments to Section 9 of New York’s Banking Law. With the addition of section 9-x, the law would mandate that any cryptocurrency business or entity be subject to routine audits by a public or third-party depository service. These audits would require that individuals and businesses alike safeguard assets with proper security measures, provide adequate insurance for account holder assets and produce proof-of-asset ownership.

Any entity in full compliance will receive a digital New York Seal of Approval to reassure consumers that the outlet is trustworthy and secure. This seal would ideally replace the BitLicenses currently issued by the New York State Department of Financial Services, doing away with this fee-based license in favor of one earned by audit.

Kim believes that earlier efforts to regulate the space have put enormous burdens on businesses trying to grow and operate in the cryptocurrency space. “What New York needs now,” he told Bitcoin Magazine, “are common-sense laws and security procedures to provide a degree of clarity for both businesses and the public. This legislation will give consumers and companies the confidence needed for widespread adoption of cryptocurrency in New York.”

While the bill is the first of its kind for New York legislators, this isn’t Kim’s first foray into cryptocurrency. As a precursor to the landmark legislation, Kim recently published a brief report titled “The Future of Bitcoin in NY.” His research identifies unregulated exchanges as “the weak point” in the blockchain ecosystem. This vulnerability, coupled with the cost of a BitLicense, has left New York lacking in legitimate crypto-companies and consumer confidence.

According to a statement from Kim’s office, there are currently fewer than 10 BitLicense holders in the entire state of New York, even though there are some 1,000 active job postings in New York for the blockchain industry. It’s Kim’s hope that the new legislation will foster a friendlier environment for companies in the space; one that will attract more business and generate increased revenue by connecting consumers with reliable, state-vetted entities.

Throughout 2017, the United States government remained relatively quiet on the subject of cryptocurrencies and blockchain. While other countries are beginning to outline clear regulations and legislative guidelines, U.S. investors have had their ears filled with conflicting talk from the SEC, the CFTC and various state legislatures.

So far, however, it’s been a busy year for the United State’s regulatory efforts, both on federal and state levels, and The New York Cryptocurrency Exchange Act is yet another installment in a growing series of litigation that finally broaches the topic of cryptocurrency regulations. If anything, the legislation may set a precedent for consumer protections in the industry, as well as a more lenient regulatory approach that might encourage job growth in the industry.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Bitmain Explores More Sites for Bitcoin Mining Expansion

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 12:26

Having already expanded its China-based ASIC chip manufacturing into Switzerland and Canada, Bitmain is looking to add a facility to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

According to, the co-founder of Bitmain, Jihan Wu, is the sole governing person behind Ant Creek LLC, a company in the Port of Walla Walla, Washington, that was registered in June 2017.

In a news article published on March 8, 2018, by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, the city is considering a land-use agreement with Ant Creek that would allow the company to lease land starting in 2019 with an option to purchase up to 40 acres.

The report further indicates that the use would be to develop and operate a cryptocurrency mining facility. “Port Executive Director Patrick Reay said his agency has been working with Ant Creek LLC for about six months on the development of a blockchain facility.”

“Our purpose is to generate assessed value and create jobs,” Reay stated. The Ant Creek proposal looks to bring up to 20 jobs and $10 million in private investment to the city.

Some areas are concerned about the power consumption of crypto mining, such as Plattsburgh, New York, where they are considering banning mining, while other areas such as Quebec, Canada, are welcoming it.

Reay said the Port of Walla Walla doesn’t share Plattsburgh’s concern over electricity. “The Port of Walla Walla, as a municipal entity, is not in the electrical business, as we do not sell electrical service,” he told Bitcoin Magazine. “We have two electrical providers in Walla Walla County, Columbia REA and Pacific Power.”

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Cryptocurrency Mining at Home Heats Up With Eco-Friendly Miner

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 11:33

Proof of Work (PoW) mining operations, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, use a tremendous amount of energy and generate a tremendous amount of waste heat. Qarnot is one of a number of growing companies that has found a way to turn that waste heat into controlled heating for the home or office.

The new Qarnot QC-1 "crypto heater" takes advantage of an obvious synergy: It makes use of the waste heat generated by mining crypto in the guise of an attractive space heater. 

Spec wise, the QC-1 contains two GPUs: NITRO+ RADEON RX 580 8G 60 MH/s at 650W. Local electrical costs and climate are key determining factors with regard to recouping costs and making a profit; for example, if you are in a cold northern environment with cheap electricity like Quebec, then your costs to run it should be low enough (about $0.03 KWh USD) that the mining revenue should pay for the device in a few years.

The device mines Ethereum by default but can be configured to mine various other PoW-based cryptocurrencies such as Litecoin. A mobile app is available to monitor your account and configure the unit. The lack of fans or hard drives leads Qarnot to claim the system is “perfectly noiseless.”

Over the years, there has been increasing concern over centralized mining and the diminishing ability of individuals to be able to mine successfully. While they are certainly efficient, centralized PoW mining centers compromise key features such as censorship resistance.

Small-scale home miners may find this sort of mining unit appealing, even if they don’t necessarily need or want to turn a profit. Some hobbyists or idealists may simply want to support the network and contribute to its decentralization at break-even rates or even at a small cost, while enjoying the side benefit of some extra warmth.

Notably, Qarnot recently won the CES Eureka Park Climate Change Innovator Award, a new award designed to spotlight exhibitors in Eureka Park who are making bold attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions with their technology. The award was presented during “CES 2018 Sustainability Day” on January 11, 2018.

“Data centers already use 3 percent of worldwide electricity. It is urgent to start tackling the environmental impact of IT," said Qarnot CEO Paul Benoit in a statement at the time. "When Qarnot uses computations’ wasted heat in buildings, it reduces, by more than 75 percent, their carbon footprint. This award is a strong acknowledgement of Qarnot technology’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Dutch Finance Minister Advises Government on Cryptocurrency

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 16:07

In a six-page letter to the Dutch senate and house, Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra has outlined his concerns over the rapid and dramatic growth in cryptocurrencies.

Hoekstra emphasized that there has been little time to understand and react to the changing landscape and that the current supervision and regulatory framework is ill equipped to deal with it. Because of the cross-border nature of the technology and markets, closing those gaps requires a unified approach across governments and borders. The minister will actively be working in a European context, but the entire process will take time and coordination between disparate governments and agencies.

Like most other policy makers, Hoekstra sees the value in promoting and developing the technology behind cryptocurrency, such as cryptography and distributed ledger technology. However, in addition to the concern over fraud and hacking, the minister also expressed concern over the immature and unregulated nature of the market and how to better inform consumers of the potential risks.

Hoekstra described the following as starting points in his assessment of possible policies and regulations to control the risks associated with cryptocurrencies:

  • Gaps in consumer and investor protection must be true need to be closed, but measures must be proportionate.
  • The integrity of the financial system must be guaranteed.
  • The innovative technique behind cryptocurrency must be preserved, such as cryptography and distributed ledger technology (DLT).
  • The cross-border nature of cryptocurrencies requires one approach at the international level. National rules can simply be circumvented or difficult to maintain.

The minister further said that given the decentralized and cross-border nature of cryptocurrencies, a ban is not feasible, so it was more important to bring cryptocurrencies under the appropriate regulatory framework and the Dutch join with the French and German finance ministers to discuss cryptocurrency in the G20 context. The Netherlands wants to play a leading role in the European and international approach to cryptocurrency.

In further comments, Hoekstra stated, “I hope the usual process for the realization of legislation and regulations that these new rules can enter into force at the end of 2019. I foresee the changes to the [European Union] Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive will also contribute to the prevention of tax evasion.” This directive, which took effect in June 2017, lays out the most recent parameters and standards adopted by the EU to prevent money-laundering and terrorist funding.

He sees the change as helping to prevent the use of cryptocurrency for the purposes of tax evasion as well. While this letter is not policy, it does reflect the direction that The Netherlands, Europe and much of the world appear to be headed in.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Week in Review: “Defining” Moments in Cryptocurrencies

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 11:01

While Japan has been cracking down more on cryptocurrency exchanges recently, we see the state of Wyoming opening things up to make the state more attractive to the technology. At the same time, the SEC defined ICOs as money transmitters and crypto exchanges as money exchange businesses. It is rapidly becoming easier to run afoul of these quickly changing clarifications and find yourself in hot water.

On the lighter side, words such as “cryptocurrency,” “blockchain” and “ICO” are joining “Bitcoin” in the dictionary as officially recognized and defined words.

Featured stories by Amy Castor, Michael Scott, Jay Derenthal and Aaron van Wirdum

Japan Toughens Oversight, Penalizes Cryptocurrency Exchanges

Japan is cracking down hard on cryptocurrency exchanges, having just recently penalized seven of them and requiring two to halt operations for one month. Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) announced on March 8, 2018, that it came down on the exchanges due to their failure to provide proper internal control systems. All of the exchanges were ordered to step up efforts to improve security and prevent money laundering.

Of the seven, Coincheck was served with its second business improvement order since the $530 million breach of NEM (XEM) were stolen from it earlier this year. All of the 260,000 users impacted by the theft will be paid back in Japanese yen, based on NEM rates at the time of the theft, the Tokyo-based company said.

FinCEN Deals Major Regulatory Blow to ICOs and Exchanges

In the latest regulatory backlash against ICOs, the SEC has decided that, effectively, anyone who sells tokens is an unregistered money transfer business and anyone issuing an ICO is a money transmitter that is subject to the Bank Secrecy Act. Exchanges also qualify as money services businesses (MSBs) according to FinCEN.

An ICO registered as a security, however, would not be considered a money transmitter. Anyone failing to register with FinCEN and failing to perform KYC AML compliance obligations could face prison under a felony conviction. Employees and investors of ICO companies could be held criminally liable as well.

Wyoming Blockchain Bill Rockets Ahead for Signing

Wyoming has followed through on HB 70 by a vote of 23–7 and the bill is being sent to the state’s governor for signature. Through this legislation, lawmakers hope to carve out space for tech developers involved in the creation of what are known as “utility tokens.” The exemption would be directed at those utility tokens which are not marketed or promoted as investments and are able to be exchanged for goods and services. The bitcoin-friendly HB 19 is also currently working its way through the Wyoming legislature in an effort to exempt cryptocurrencies from the state’s money transmission laws.

Halong Mining Is the First Bitcoin Mining Hardware Producer to Implement Overt AsicBoost

AsicBoost was invented by former CoinTerra CTO Timo Hanke in 2016. The technology takes advantage of a quirk in Bitcoin’s proof-of-work algorithm, which lets miners take a sort of “shortcut” to find a new block. This can be done both overtly as well as covertly.

“Unlike covert forms of merkle grinding, [overt AsicBoost] has no incentives to create smaller blocks, nor does it interfere with upgrades to the Bitcoin protocol,” Halong Mining writes.

While a patent controversy swirled around AsicBoost in the past, the open sourcing of it to BDPL members negates much of that. The feature should allow for a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency in the DragonMint hardware.

"Cryptocurrency," "Blockchain" and "ICO" Make Their Merriam-Webster Dictionary Debut

In further signs of the mainstreaming of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, those terms as well as “initial coin offering” have been added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The March 5, 2018, announcement included 850 new words, which included these three.  

Emily Brewster, associate editor at Merriam-Webster, stated, “In order for a word to be added to the dictionary it must have widespread, sustained and meaningful use. These new words have been added to the dictionary because they have become established members of the English language and are terms people are likely to encounter.” The addition to the Merriam-Webster dictionary of the words cryptocurrency, blockchain and ICO seem to fit those criteria well.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Op Ed: Could an Amazon Token Become a Viable Worldwide Cryptocurrency?

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 17:28

Combining the benefits of a utility-based cryptocurrency and a company that exhibits the characteristics of a power law network creates the perfect opportunity for a globally adopted cryptocurrency –– the Amazon Token.

Amazon’s Full-Circle Economy

In this hypothetical futuristic scenario, Amazon extends on the suite of products and services it provides customers in 2018 including: online shopping, physical grocery, web services, artificial intelligence, internet of things, video and music streaming, healthcare (in development) and banking (small business loans).

For reference, Amazon ships to 100 countries and has separate retail websites for 15 countries. In the United States alone, 55 percent of online shoppers begin their searches on Amazon and over 80 million shoppers subscribe to Amazon Prime.

In the future, the customer-obsessed, low-priced “Amazon economy” could expand into all industries and become self-sufficient. In other words, Amazon will be selling everything to everybody in the “best” and cheapest way possible.

In this hypothetical scenario, instead of 15 individual Amazon marketplaces scattered across the world operating in country-specific currencies, imagine a global Amazon e-commerce store with a single sign-on, billions of unique ASINs, and the Amazon Token as a single payment method.

In a recent study by LendEDU, 52 percent of 1,000 Amazon customers surveyed responded that they would use an Amazon-created cryptocurrency to make purchases on the Amazon website. So, what might the Amazon token look like?

Amazon’s Past Attempt at Tokenization: Amazon Coin

In 2013, Amazon released the Amazon Coin, a virtual currency designed for U.S. customers to “purchase apps, games and in-app items on Kindle Fire” on the Amazon Appstore.

Each never-expiring Amazon Coin is worth a cent, meaning that 100 Amazon Coins are worth one dollar. Users are enticed to use Amazon Coins in the Amazon Appstore because they can earn up to a 24 percent discount on their purchases. For the curious reader, Amazon Coin can be purchased here.

Ultimately, the Amazon Coin hasn't been a smashing success for a variety of reasons:

  1. Amazon Coin is exclusively useful for the niche market of the Amazon Appstore. The Amazon Coin is not an option to purchase any other goods or services offered by Amazon.
  2. There is no secondary market for users to resell unused Amazon Coins to one another.
  3. Many users feel that the Amazon Coin creates an unnecessary layer of friction in the payment process, asking questions such as, “Why would I need to convert my fiat currency into a virtual currency to purchase an item on the Amazon Appstore that can already be purchased with my fiat currency?”

Interestingly enough, Amazon is not the only company that has previously attempted (and failed) to create a long-lasting virtual currency for a niche in their ecosystem. In 2005, Microsoft created the Microsoft Points currency for content on the Xbox marketplace. In 2009, Facebook created Facebook Credits for game purchases and virtual gifts. Neither currency is widely used.

The Amazon Token (AMZN)

By focusing on their entire ecosystem instead of a niche, Amazon could create a cryptocurrency that creates a single portal for global commerce and delights customers. If implemented correctly, it’s possible to imagine that an Amazon Token (let’s call it AMZN) could become the world’s first global currency and trillion-dollar protocol.


There are many ways that Amazon could implement the AMZN token and varying degrees by which that token could become embedded in the Amazon economy. In this example, keeping in mind that Amazon’s vision is to be accessible for everyone, let’s assume that all products and services offered by Amazon will be available to everyone in the world, but that they must be paid for in the AMZN token. In other words, the AMZN token unlocks the door to the Amazon platform.

Users will not be forced to use any of Amazon’s services, but rather, they will choose to use AMZN Tokens because Amazon offers the cheapest and “best” products and services.

For this example to work, we’ll also assume: Amazon will create a mobile application and web-version of their AMZN Token wallet, allowing users to store their AMZN token securely and send/receive it efficiently, and that Amazon will facilitate and maintain an underlying exchange so that users can purchase AMZN tokens on a secondary market.

Type of Token

Depending on Amazon’s interests (and on the way that the various regulatory issues with cryptocurrencies and utility tokens get resolved), there are various types of token that they could consider when architecting the AMZN Token.

A Utility-Based Token

The AMZN Token will serve as a medium of exchange on any Amazon platform, while also unlocking additional utility (benefits) that fiat currency cannot.

In this case, Amazon would set a date after which it would no longer accept fiat currency on any of their platforms. The company could leverage its behemoth network effect and immediately onboard their 80 million plus Prime users. Small quantities of AMZN tokens could be “air dropped” or placed in Prime users’ wallets for free, to speed up the onboarding process.

Once the change to the AMZN cryptocurrency is made, the only difference to Amazon platforms is that all transactions on all Amazon platforms are occurring in AMZN tokens, rather than in local fiat currencies. Amazon stock will continue to operate as usual.

A Hybrid Token

The AMZN Token will be a hybrid between a security and utility-based token, unlocking additional benefits that fiat currency cannot and entitling token holders to Amazon’s future cash flows, similar to a stock.

The hybrid token model requires a larger tolerance for risk but could potentially obviate the need for reliance on financial intermediaries in the future.

Using the AMZN Token to consume goods and services within the Amazon ecosystem is an audacious thought, but what about using the AMZN Token to replace the existing concept of shareholder value? If backed by Amazon’s Free Cash Flow, the Token begins to resemble the characteristics of a traditional equity security, enabling fractional ownership in the company.

Now, token holders are not just speculators, but actual consumers and owners of the Amazon ecosystem. Hoarding tokens and hoping to benefit from speculators driving up the price is no longer a viable strategy. Instead, spending the tokens actually drives tangible value to all participants — more sales should ultimately lead to more free cash flow.

Taken to its extreme, the usefulness of the traditional public market becomes questionable as Amazon has the ability to raise capital through token sales, manage the Amazon Token exchange, and directly link beneficial outcomes for both consumers and shareholders. Amazon could even pay employees –– anyone from a warehouse worker to CFO –– in their Amazon Token. Should other companies decide to follow suit, there will be major implications for financial markets.

Life With the AMZN Token in 2050

Now consider the case of Oscar, a 25-year-old Seattle resident who represents a regular first-world citizen in 2050.

His healthcare is covered by Amazon Health; he shops at Whole Foods; he streams Nicolas Cage on Amazon Video; he shops on; his personal savings are managed by the robo-advisors at Amazon Bank; he stores his data on Amazon Web Services; and Amazon Alexa manages his apartment while he’s at work.

Last week, Oscar travelled to Japan for work using tickets he purchased with AMZN tokens. While he was in Japan, he didn’t have to worry about any annoying foreign transaction fees or hassles with currency conversion –– his hotel, local merchants and restaurants all accepted AMZN tokens. Even the last-minute Prime delivery of snacks he ordered to his hotel were paid for in AMZN tokens.

Oscar rarely spends fiat currency –– he doesn’t have to. Even his favorite local shops and farmers’ markets accept Amazon tokens. Thankfully, the Amazon Bank program also helps him earn 3 percent interest on his savings every year by “staking” his unused tokens and paying back interest after projects are complete. For example, the robo-advisor algorithm allocated some of Oscar’s tokens to finance a 6-month process to build an Amazon warehouse in Jakarta, Indonesia. Once the warehouse was finished, Oscar’s “staked” tokens were returned to him with 3 percent interest. He is happy that his AMZN tokens helped contribute to the global marketplace and indirectly provided jobs for employees in Jakarta.

Nobody is forcing Oscar to use Amazon services, he chooses to utilize Amazon for everything because he loves it –– it is the “best” and cheapest option for every product and service he needs.

FAQ & Implications

This idealized vision for the AMZN Token is great, but there are many questions the company would have to answer before the AMZN Token can become a universal cryptocurrency and medium of exchange.

  • Token Velocity: How will Amazon make sure that users are actively spending the token? Otherwise, as price of the AMZN token appreciates, users might hoard the token, which will continue driving price upwards. If customers don’t spend the AMZN token, it will become a store of value, rather than a medium of exchange. However, this problem should be alleviated if all AMZN services are priced in AMZN tokens, as it would be the only way to access the network.
  • Dynamic Pricing: How will Amazon price their services across the world? One way could be to dynamically peg the price of AMZN services to local fiat prices. For example, a baguette from a Whole Foods in the United States could be priced at $1. If one AMZN token is worth $1, then the baguette would cost 1 AMZN token. If one AMZN token is worth $10, then the baguette would cost 0.1 AMZN Token.
  • Fiduciary Duty: Is the Amazon corporation responsible for ensuring that their token holder’s AMZN tokens appreciate in value? Does Amazon properly align incentives between consumers and the corporation?
  • Outside Speculation: If the AMZN token is tradeable on secondary markets, will the price become too volatile for consumers?
  • Token Economics: How many AMZN tokens should Amazon issue? Should they issue a fixed amount of tokens? How will Amazon enact monetary policy?
  • Macroeconomic Implications: The AMZN Token could cause inflation rates in local fiat currencies to rise. U.S Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recently shared that he believes Amazon and e-commerce have helped keep prices and inflation lower in the past decade. Should Amazon decide to take its 44 percent share of all U.S. e-commerce, the dollar’s inflation rate could be affected.
Since its inception in 1994, Amazon has pioneered e-commerce, web services, digital content and artificial intelligence. In doing so, it has created one of the world’s most valuable networks. With the recent development of cryptocurrencies, Amazon has a unique opportunity to leverage its network to create a truly globally accepted currency –– as this hypothetical AMZN Token demonstrates. Perhaps Amazon’s pre-existing network, products and services could even give the company’s token a competitive advantage over Bitcoin to become a widespread, globally-accepted medium of exchange.

This is a guest post by Erik Kuebler. The opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Media or Bitcoin Magazine. The author does not have a relationship with

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

MetaMask Lets You Visit Tomorrow’s Distributed Web in Today’s Browser

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 12:36

One of the most promising concepts of second-generation blockchains is that of dApps (or “decentralised applications”). These are apps built on top of a blockchain. To date, few have made the headlines (with the exception, perhaps, of CryptoKitties), but there is a an increasingly large amount being pushed to the Ethereum mainnet, and even more in the works — State of the Dapps lists a range of projects in various stages of development. MetaMask will let users interact with these dApps using only their browser. 

Bitcoin Magazine spoke with James Moreau from the MetaMask team to get a grasp of how their platform grants access to the growing ecosystem of games and applications on the Ethereum blockchain.

“MetaMask reduces one of the major headaches of using dApps,” Moreau said. “That is, running a full Ethereum node. Before MetaMask’s arrival on the scene in 2016, users would need to use a client such as Mist to interface with the blockchain. Now, with a few clicks, anyone using Firefox, Brave, Opera or Chrome can install MetaMask and interact directly with the blockchain from inside their browser, by injecting the web3 API, the JavaScript framework for Ethereum which allows dApps to scan the network.”

On top of facilitating access to decentralized applications, MetaMask also functions as an encrypted storage vault for Ethereum addresses. Users are able to generate multiple accounts, in which they can store Ether and ERC20-compliant tokens. It further supports various testnets (Ropsten, Kovan and Rinkeby), for experimentation with projects in beta. If users are already running a full node, they can tether the software to it.

The protocol has been praised for the simplicity in which it grants access to the infrastructure built atop the Ethereum blockchain. Evidently, it has been a popular extension, having reached its millionth download in early February 2018. It has clearly appealed to users who may have otherwise been dissuaded by the prospect of setting up a full node and dedicating disk space to storing the blockchain in full. Its integration with both Truffle and Ganache has further cemented MetaMask’s place in dApp development toolkits.

The devs seek to facilitate cohesion with projects in the crypto space and recognize the integral role MetaMask plays across the board: DEXs (or decentralised exchanges) are of critical importance in the shift to a fully-decentralised iteration of the web, and applications such as MetaMask are invaluable to safeguarding private keys when interacting with potentially vulnerable sites — take the recent EtherDelta hijacking where, despite the compromise of the site itself, data stored in MetaMask was kept safe (operating much like a hardware wallet).

In terms of competition, there are very few with similar offerings, said Moreau:

“When it comes to lightweight clients, the only other platform that springs to mind is Cipher, a mobile dApp browser working on iOS and Android. To call it competition, though, would be somewhat misleading — the two projects are complementary, with Cipher focusing on catering to the mobile market while MetaMask seeks to optimize the desktop side of things.”

At present, the MetaMask team hasn’t made it a priority to port the project to a mobile medium — the developers’ short-term focus is to improve the overall user experience (offering more versatility when it comes to transferring tokens) and to revamp the current UI.

“Security is one of the team’s primary concerns. In and of itself, the extension has no known attack vectors — user data is stored locally and vaults encrypted with passwords. The biggest outside threats are those rampant across the crypto space — phishing and malware. MetaMask has a built-in detection system for filtering phishing attempts and will warn users of potentially risky transactions before executing them,” Moreau explained.

So far, there have been issues with security breaches pertaining to MetaMask’s support (it should be noted that it is a third-party provider, the extension was unaffected), and a recent bug resulted in users being locked out of their accounts. Being an open-source project, though, anyone is free to vet the code and take on bounties set by the team.

MetaMask received capital from Ethereum’s DEVgrants and Consensys Labs, which backs a diverse range of projects including the aforementioned Truffle, Pangea and Infura.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Russian IT Giant Mail.Ru Enables Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash Payments

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 12:11

One of the biggest Russian IT holdings, Mail.Ru Group, is allowing advertisers and the owners of advertising sites to pay and be paid with cryptocurrencies on the advertisement platform myTarget.

Mail.Ru Group is the worldwide technology company which unites three big social networks Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki and My World; ICQ messenger; mobile ads service Youla; popular online games Warface, Allods Online, Armored Warfare and Skyforge; food delivery platform Delivery Club; and ridesharing service Beepcar.

The myTarget platform helps advertising parties purchase and place ads on Mail.Ru properties. It also allows owners of sites to earn money by having ads displayed on their pages.

Using BitPay, bitcoin and bitcoin cash can be used to pay on Mail.Ru as well as on social networks Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte. Odnoklassniki is one of the oldest social networks in Eastern Europe with more than 45 million users. It is especially popular among 30 to 55 year olds. Vkontakte, “The Russian Facebook,” is the most popular social network in Europe with more than 80 million active users and about 460 million registered users. It’s translated into 90 languages but is most popular among Russian-speaking users.

Dmitry Sergeev, the first deputy chief director of Mail.Ru Group said in a statement: “We tend to give our clients maximum opportunities for their business development. The myTarget platform will become a starting point for the ecosystem, which will develop in the future and include other products of Mail.Ru Group, including gaming projects.”

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Japan Toughens Oversight, Penalizes Cryptocurrency Exchanges

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 15:47

In its most sweeping crackdown yet, a Japanese regulator has penalized seven cryptocurrency exchanges, requiring two to halt operations for one month.

Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) announced today, March 8, 2018, that it came down on the exchanges due to their failure to provide proper internal-control systems. All of the exchanges were ordered to step up efforts to improve security and prevent money laundering.

Business suspension orders were issued for FSHO and Bit Station, effective today. The FSA said FSHO was not properly monitoring trades and employees at the exchange had not undergone proper training. The FSA also alleged that a senior employee at Bit Station had used customers’ bitcoin for personal use.

The five other exchanges punished were GMO Coin, Tech Bureau, Mister Exchange, Increments and Coincheck. Coincheck was served with its second business improvement order since its security breach earlier this year, when $530 million worth of NEM (XEM) tokens were stolen.

Coincheck to Repay Victims

In a news conference today, Coincheck also announced that it will begin compensating users who had their cryptocurrency stolen, beginning as soon as next week. The exchange was hacked on January 26, 2018, after a hacker used malware to gain access to an employee’s computer.

All of the 260,000 users impacted by the theft will be paid back in Japanese yen, based on NEM rates at the time of the theft, the Tokyo-based company said.

At the root of the problem, the cryptocurrency exchange had been keeping all its NEM in a hot wallet connected to the internet. In contrast, at any one time, U.S.-based exchange Coinbase keeps 98 percent of its funds in a more secure cold wallet. The vice president of the NEM Foundation, Jeff McDonald, also told Bitcoin Magazine that if Coincheck had been using a multisignature wallet, the problem would not have occurred.  

It is still not clear who was behind the Coincheck hack.

Tough Measures

The Coincheck hack was one of the largest thefts of cryptocurrency in the world since Mt. Gox, another Tokyo exchange, was brought to its knees by hackers in 2014. What happened at Coincheck highlighted the risks of storing funds in cryptocurrency exchanges, and since then, Japan’s FSA has taken strong measures to protect its citizens and ensure the security of cryptocurrency exchanges across the country.

Following the Coincheck breach, Japanese authorities announced on January 29, 2018, that they would investigate all cryptocurrency exchanges in the country for security gaps, and ordered Coincheck to, essentially, get its act together.

The FSA gave Coincheck until February 13, 2018, to submit a report summarizing the actions it would take to improve security and customer support.

Last year, Japan became one of the first countries to regulate cryptocurrency exchanges when it set up a licensing system. Some 16 exchanges in the country are currently registered, while another 16, including Coincheck, have been allowed to continue operating unregistered while they apply for licences. Five of the seven exchanges punished by the FSA are unregistered, including the two forced to suspend business. Subsequent to its business suspension, Bit Station withdrew its application for a license.

Japan’s crackdown on exchanges follows a series of efforts by U.S. regulators to tighten reins on the industry. Yesterday, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) proclaimed that anyone selling initial coin offering (ICO) tokens are unregistered money transmitters, while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) warned that any exchange selling tokens deemed as securities must register with the agency.    

Overall, Japan remains one of the more cryptocurrency-friendly countries, distinguishing itself from crackdowns in South Korea and China.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.