Welcome to CoinDesk’s Yearly Review 2013 – a look at the five hottest, most controversial and thought-provoking events in the world of digital currency through the eyes of skepticism and wonder. Your host … John Law.
It is a legal requirement for journalists to write an end-of-year roundup, and John Law is nothing if not law-abiding. One valid set of stories would read along the lines of:
January – collapse of bitcoin predicted!
March – price goes up.
May – collapse of bitcoin predicted!
July – price shoots up!
October – collapse of bitcoin predicted!
December – bitcoin collapses … oh no, wait a moment, it’s still here!
Yet it’s true. The biggest single story in 2013, bitcoin’s most tumultuous year to date, is just that: it’s still here. And more than just ‘still here’. For those who think that the most important aspect of the cryptocurrency is its dollar price, it’s here with nearly sixty times its $13 valuation at the end of 2012.
Not that it’s all been good news: it’s at around half its peak price of around $1,100 at the end of November. So, how did that happen – and what fun did we have along the way? Here are bitcoin’s five biggest moments.
Bitcoin started 2013 as a four-year-old curiosity, albeit one that was starting to be taken seriously by the sane. It ended the year as a top-level item on the agenda of the world’s greatest economies: nowhere more dramatically than in China.
While it is too soon to write the definitive story of bitcoin’s annus mirabilis, the evidence is strong that a lot of its increasing heft was through widescale adoption by individuals and businesses in China.
There are plenty of possible drivers behind this, including the difficulty of trading yuan and that currency’s over-valuation, which makes it an unattractive vehicle for speculators and savers – especially those within the republic.
Other options are limited: China remains, lest we forget, the world’s largest authoritarian non-democratic state. It is not a free country. The introduction of the libertarian-scented, government-goosing bitcoin is thus a history-grade experiment in immovable objects and irresistible forces.
It’s an experiment that has been gratefully adopted by the Chinese, who became the majority traders in bitcoin mid-year – fuelled, interestingly, by state TV running short programmes explaining what it was and how it worked. Someone somewhere wanted that to happen.
While it’s hard to say just how much this movement pushed bitcoin up, it’s easy to find the cause of the end-of-year crash: the Chinese government told its banking systems not to support yuan-bitcoin trades. Someone somewhere wanted that to stop.
One cannot plumb the ‘who’ or ‘why’ of Chinese state fiscal policy, only – fitfully – the ‘what’. This remains one of the core paradoxes in the rise of the Chinese economy as a global force: dealing with someone who not only hides their cards but the rules by which they’re playing is not, in the long term, a good bet.
But the power of the bitcoin mosquito to sting the hide of the Communist elephant (and to survive the slap of the trunk) is not only the cryptocurrency’s best story of 2013, it’s one of the most intriguing developments this year by any measure.
Newport resident and hapless tech fiddler James Howells idly mined over 7000 btc in 2009, then forgot all about them until 2013 – sadly, a few weeks after he’d thrown away the most expensive hard drive in history.
At best, the storage device with millions of dollars hidden in its megabytes was probably still intact, just under six feet of Welsh household waste in his local tip. However, the council wouldn’t let him in to look.
This story caught the imagination of the general public more than any other, at least by the lopsided metric of how many people wanted to talk to John Law about it.
It had everything – incomprehensible tech matched to human fallibility, with the tantalising prospect of redemption still up for grabs. Had the hard drive gone into an incinerator, the tale wouldn’t have had nearly so much traction.
It’s a bit more than just an amusing tale of someone else’s misfortune, though. It raised the profile of bitcoin still further, slipping in the idea that it was something that ordinary people could be a part of and that it had a certain durability – the expectation that it would have survived the garbage of Gwent won’t have been lost on readers.
From the sublime reaches of geopolitical fiscal intrigue, to the corporation rubbish dumps of South Wales: bitcoin bestrides the globe.
Another small story – man installs ATM machine in Canadian coffee shop – is much, much bigger than it seems. The man is Robocoin CEO Jordan Kelley, and the machine is the world’s firstbidirectional bitcoin ATM (meaning it can sell you bitcoins for cash, or give you cash for bitcoins).
It went on to take more than $1,000,000 in its first month, not bad trade for a coffee shop, even in Vancouver. What makes this an October revolution, though, isn’t that it demonstrates a thirst for bitcoin that exceeds even that of hipsters for caffeine, but that it bypasses the only effective tool native states have for controlling cybercurrencies.
The Canadian government (or the Chinese, or the Global Illuminati Conspiracy) can tell banks to refuse to accept payments that are connected to bitcoin. However, they can’t ask them not to take cash.
So, if you want your bitcoin, you can pop into your local espressery and get some: the ATM owner gets a bunch of cash. Job done.
Can ATMs be controlled? They can, if they’re connected to the global banking system. These aren’t.
Can they be banned? Sure, but since they’re very easy to build and install without telling anyone, and can be made extremely portable, and don’t of themselves break any laws, that’s not a simple process to put in place without banning bitcoin itself – and near-impossible to enforce.
What makes John Law particularly keen on this approach is that it doesn’t scale to speculator level. It’s great for bitcoin as an insanely low-cost, personal way of buying stuff over the Internet or across borders, which is where its future lies once the shouting dies down, but not if you want to manage a multimillion bitcoin fund.
Not that there was a lack of big stories that looked just as important as they really were.
There is a technical term for markets, capitulation, which means what it sounds like: after fighting a certain result for a while, the market gives in, lets it happen and takes its lumps.
Capitulation is the best way to describe what happened in New York in November, when a Senate hearing into this whole darn bitcoin thing was preceded by the head of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, saying that it (bitcoin, not the Senate) had legitimate uses.
There were warnings aplenty about the dark side of the bitcoin force, and much discussion about what regulation will look like: there’s every chance that bitcoin will be larded about with as much statutory baggage as the regulators think it can carry without encouraging normal people to become scofflaws.
But the message from the world’s most important people when it comes to money: “Yeah, it’s here. It won’t go away, it works, and we’ll have to make the best of it.”
Which, for a young invention implicated in blackmail, drug running and people who read Ayn Rand, is as good as it gets.
This was the biggest regulatory news of the year for bitcoin, whose practical future will be all about the regulations – poor thing. But John Law recommends you take a few minutes to read the same sort of news coming in from across the globe. China might be big, and America may be bigger, but the world is bigger – and for a stateless currency, that’s its true home.
Lest you think all is bright and shiny in bitcoinland, now that the Silk Road has been rendered impassable and you can buy a nice wine to go along with your steak instead of some LSD, the last of John Law’s top stories is an ongoing report from the front line of cybercrime.
In October, a new piece of Internet-carried malware named CryptoLocker was discovered. By November it had hit the radars of top crime fighters. By the end of 2013, it had infected an estimated quarter of a million PCs and bilked its victims for millions, possibly hundreds of millions, of dollars.
It works by surreptitiously encrypting your computer files, then popping up and demanding a ransom paid in bitcoin. Three months after it began, it’s still going strong and nobody seems much closer to catching those responsible.
If there is some good news, it’s that the bitcoin transfer system has shown that the evildoers are most likely operating from Russia. Unlike the Dread Pirate Roberts, they’re good at covering their tracks.
Indeed, with the chutzpah of true gangsters, they even offer customer support, and have been interacting with victims through public bitcoin forums, Early rumours that files wouldn’t be decrypted proved false – these chaps care about customer satisfaction.
Bitcoin’s role in this isn’t vital: the villains offer an alternative way to pay, and similar bits of bad software have been produced well before the advent of the cryptocurrency. What it does offer is a rapid, efficient route to payment – and thus multiplied their take. It made the effort much more worthwhile. This won’t have gone unnoticed by their pals.
Still, the loot hasn’t been disposed of yet – and that will expose the gang to more scrutiny. The feds didn’t need to break bitcoin to squelch the Silk Road: they used good old-fashioned gumshoe work, with a bit of help from their spook friends.
That’s the overall picture from 2013: bitcoin can change the rules but doesn’t have to break them – and it’s not going away anytime soon. Here’s to 2014. Just don’t expect another 55x jump in value.
Another ETF, filed with the SEC earlier this year, was the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, started by the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame, who have been large investors in bitcoin to the point of appearing boisterous. Yet the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust has been stuck in regulatory limbo since its initial filing.
Institutional interest in bitcoin has been heating up. Wedbush Securities recently released a report that was very bullish about bitcoin’s prospects. The firm proclaimed that the price of one bitcoin could reach $98,500.
And Bank of America released its own report about bitcoin not long ago, saying that the distributed virtual currency has “clear potential for growth”.
Fortress, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), is reportedly planning to announce the fund at the Bitcoin New Years Eve Bash being held tonight at 40 Broad Street in New York City.
That location is next to the NYSE. In fact, it houses something called the NYC Bitcoin Center, an effort that has been launched to educate investors about BTC.
It is that time of year again. The short burst of merriment, present-giving and guiltless drinking and eating at Christmas and new year, followed quickly by the solemn vows to be a better person in the new year.
From quitting smoking to doing more exercise and just spending less money, we make the same old new year’s resolutions.
But in the age of bitcoin, perhaps it’s time we thought of some new resolutions. Perhaps it’s time that we as bitcoiners made some pledges. Here are five suggestions:
But there are more and more businesses out there who are willing to test the cryptocurrency water and if all they find are wannabe investors sipping lemonade on their lilos, unwilling to get wet, they’re going to wonder what the point was.
In 2014, help show the power and relevancy of bitcoin as a payment platform and go support your local bitcoin business.
2) Learn what a cold wallet is and use it
Resolution #1 may have fallen on deaf ears. You may shrug and say: “I’m doing pretty good sipping lemonade on my lilo actually.” Furthermore, you might have decided to plough some serious money into bitcoin and aren’t interested in frittering it away on beer and Subway sandwiches.
Fair enough, but if you haven’t done so already, put your coins in a cold wallet and keep them there. That way they’ll be safe (obligatory “they’ll be as safe as your practices allow them to be”) from hacker and ne’er do wells. You can find out how here.
But in 2014 you can do your bit to help continue its growth into the mainstream. You will be a bitcoin missionary, evangelizing and even televangelizing to recruit more people into the cryptocurrency fold.
Depending on how ambitious you’re feeling, you can set a low target like your non-bitcoining friends. If you’re really up for a challenge, try converting your parents (I speak from a despairing pit of experience).
But if you’re going to make #3 your New Year’s Resolution, you’ll probably need to combine it with #4.
4) Learn how to explain bitcoin in a minute or less
“Well, it’s a crypto currency and you mine it using computers and …” then the eyes of the person you’re speaking to glaze over and you may as well be explaining Austrian economics to a dog.
If you have ever tried to explain bitcoin to someone who has never heard about it before, you’ll know that if you aren’t careful, it’s really easy to lose them in a forest of strange jargon that no-one really comes across in their day-to-day lives.
So this year, make it your mission to train yourself in the art of explaining what bitcoin is and why it matters. Find explanations that make it intuitive (seeCoinDesk’s introduction to bitcoin to get you started). When you’re done, resolution #3 will seem like a total doddle.
5) Reveal yourself
This one isn’t really for your average bitcoiner. It’s aimed at one person (or group of people) in particular. Come on, Satoshi, 2014’s the year, right?
The Financial Supervisory Commission of the Republic of China and the Central Bank of the ROC have issued a joint statement warning against the use of bitcoin in Taiwan. The regulators said bitcoin remains volatile, that it does not have any legal protection, and that it is not issued by a monetary authority.
The regulators noted that bitcoin trading is highly speculative and that investors should be wary of volatility, cyber attacks, malicious defaults, theft and other risks. Apart from the now more-or-less standard list of warnings and concerns, the regulators also announced that they may take “necessary steps” if financial institutions engage in bitcoin operations, reported Taipei Times.
The reference starts to make sense when we consider that SinoPac Financial Holding Co. was an early supporter of bitcoin, allowing investments in bitcoins and trying to increase its popularity and use in e-commerce.
The regulators also warned that there is no guarantee of conversion:
“Bitcoin holders are on their own, as the currency is not issued by any monetary authority and is therefore not entitled to legal claims or guarantee of conversion.”
The warning comes as no surprise, as similar warnings have already been issued by regulators across the world. Last month Central Bank Governor Perng Fai-nanhinted at possible regulatory moves, saying that the bank is keeping a close eye on bitcoin development. At the time he compared bitcoin transactions to deals in precious metals.
Another interesting trend emerged over the last couple of weeks and it could have motivated Taiwanese regulators to react. After the Chinese central bank clamped down on local exchanges, one Taiwanese e-tailer decided to cash in, pledging to support bitcoin transactions as of early 2014. Wayi International Digital Entertainment hoped the China ban would simply drive shoppers to its new e-commerce site. This may be a shot across the bow to other merchants who were hoping to make some quick money following the ban in mainland China.
Last week the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued a public notice warning users to stay away from digital currencies.
It made it clear that Indian bitcoin exchanges lack the regulatory approval needed to exchange digital currencies for rupees and other national currencies. Local exchanges were quick to suspend operations, but that was not enough.
Within 48 hours of the RBI notice, India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided at least two bitcoin exchanges, buysellbitco.in and rbi.rbit.co.in, owned by Nilam Doctor. Investigators questioned the owners of both sites in an effort to ascertain whether any transactions carried out on their platforms violated the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Foreign Exchange Management Act.
For the time being, the owners of the platforms are not in custody and they do not appear to be facing any criminal charges. This may be indicative of another problem – even Indian regulators do not know what to do and even if they do, they lack a clear regulatory framework for digital currencies.
According to the Times of India, the RBI does not even plan to develop a regulatory framework for digital currencies. Therefore, at this moment in time, bitcoin platforms based in India simply cannot get regulatory approval. Additionally, it seems that this situation is not set to change anytime soon.
“Regulation comes only when people are doing certain business and we come to understand that something wrong is happening,” RBI deputy governor KC Chakrabarty told a gathering of Indian entrepreneurs on Saturday.
“First of all, we don’t understand this subject.”
The limits of the legal system
Chakrabarty stressed that the RBI does not regulate nor support digital currencies. He was keen to point out that bitcoin regulation has not been enacted anywhere else in the world, and that people who understand the risks are free to do whatever they like with their money.
“Whether it is … legal or illegal, we don’t know,” he said bluntly. “If it crosses the limit of legality then people may face a problem. So people should be cautious.”
Chakrabarty’s statements are unusually candid, and illustrate a wider problem for financial authorities. Regulators simply cannot deal with digital currencies as they have to operate within the existing legal framework, which does not contain the provisions needed to regulate such currencies.
Furthermore, he seems to imply that regulating digital currencies is not RBI’s job to begin with. Hence, it is understandable why the RBI does not plan to assist in the development of a new regulatory framework for digital currencies.
In essence, the executive branch and national regulators have their hands tied, they cannot take any meaningful, constructive action without new legislation and there is simply no political will to deal with the issue.
They can, however, try to apply existing foreign currency legislation to bitcoin operators, which effectively renders their activities illegal.
Manufacturer Lamassu is ending 2013 on a high. The company has just announced the sale of its 100thbitcoin ATM, and more than 120 orders.
To mark the occasion, Lamassu has set up an online map of bitcoin ATM locations that will be updated as new units go live across the globe.
More than a dozen ATMs have been delivered so far, and the rest of the orders will be fulfilled by Spring 2014. Zach Harvey, Lamassu’s CEO, said:
“We’ve had orders from all over the world. We will be shipping to 25 different countries, ranging from Canada to Kyrgyzstan. We’ve translated our user interface into more than a dozen languages including Russian, Chinese and Friulian. To me it’s a testament to the global reach of bitcoin.”
Lamassu started taking pre-orders for its first bitcoin ATM in August at a price of $5,000 per unit. The ATM has a relatively small footprint, it can process fiat to bitcoin transactions in under fifteen seconds and it accepts notes from more than 200 countries. More importantly, it is one of just a few practical bitcoin ATMs available today.
Earlier this month, Finnish company Bittiraha.fi installed the first permanent Lamassu ATM inside a Helsinki record store. Although bitcoin ATMs have popped up in several European cities before the Finns got their first unit, none of these were permanent installations.
Harvey said it is always exciting for a young startup to watch its sales ramp up, but the really thrilling part of the story is that these ATMs should provide millions of people with effortless access to bitcoin every day.
But with just a hundred units out there, it might take a while before you see a Lamassu bitcoin ATM in your neighbourhood.
Lamassu will demonstrate its ATM at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next Sunday. The company expects additional machines to be set up throughout Europe and the Americas over the next few weeks at some major cities, including: San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle.
After failing to provide sufficient resistance against the advancement of Bitcoin via legislative measures, the United States have today commenced a large scale military operation against the payment network.
A platoon of U.S. soliders chasing Bitcoin data packets. (source)
According to documents provided by Coinleaks, President Obama has designated the Bitcoin Headquarters as the primary target. In the early morning, the U.S. Navy has dispatched an aircraft carrier in each cardinal direction.
In various cities around the world, U.S. soldiers were spotted running up and down the street in an effort to chase the signal traveling through the underground internet cables.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Satoshi Nakamoto, which led to the arrest of several hundred thousand Asian-looking males across Japan.
Possible Satoshi Nakamotos after mass arrest in Toyko. (source)
Dubbed “Operation Motherboard Waterboard”, one of the leaked memos instructs generals to utilize infra-red heat detectors to pinpoint cold storage locations, and to use metal detectors to track illicit bitcoin movements. Troops have also been trained in the indigenous bitcoiner language, learning such phrases as “empty your wallet.dat file onto the table”, “where is the next block going to happen”, and “don’t think you’re above moore’s law”.
source: Google Maps.
According to eyewitnesses, the Bitcoin Embassy, allegedly involved in the sale of Bitcoin T-shirts, is currently surrounded by local law enforcement.
The mining hardware company Butterfly Labs was raided as well, but no functional hardware was found.
HADES – Crossing into the Underworld just got a little easier today, as Charon, the ferryman who transports newly deceased souls across the River Styx, announced that he has begun accepting bitcoin.
In the past, loved ones have had to place coins on the mouth or under the tongue of their departed loved ones in order to pay the toll for crossing, however it now appears that those days may be numbered.
“Souls are using cell phones now, brain wallets, some paper wallets,” Charon said. “I even had a guy this morning who tattooed his QR code on his bicep. Dead simple, forgive the pun. And for me it’s much easier than lugging a giant satchel of obols and danake everwhere I go.”
A 19th-century painting by Alexander Litovchenko – the first documented use of the “bitcoin accepted” logo.
Those who cannot pay the fee, or are perhaps unaware of the revolutionary new currency, will be given a Pentium 4 computer, made to join the Lost Soulz mining pool, and be forced to hash until they are awarded enough btc to cross.
Dying soon? Pre-register for a seat on Charon’s boat by sending btc to1MpHqSrpFYsdyzv2YJjwdk9GVUnyueeuRS
Keanu Reeves, the highly successful, mediocre actor, revealed himself to be the enigmatic Satoshi Nakamoto yesterday at a press conference. “I am the one,” said Keanu, “who will save us all,” he continued, “from reckless monetary policies.”
Bitcoiners were at first stunned, then skeptical. “At first I did not believe,” said one doubter. “But then he touched my forehead and whispered my private key into my ear. Now I see. He is the one.” Some have started calling him “Keanu Nakamoto” or simply “New Jesus”. An entourage of hooded worshippers follow him everywhere, chanting hash in unison, “34ifSiCrHgiCP8njT, M2REBccq13uWPNHB8rYJXJvLaD, 3riXP66uXP!” On that final note Keanu Nakamoto lifted his index finger and the crowd fell silent. For several minutes he stared at them blankly. “Woh…..that was uh …. pretty sweet.”
Later on this journalist was given a tour of the blockchain by Keanu himself. “I don’t even see the hash anymore.” he said. “All I see is redhead, blonde, brunette.” The Prophet later offered this journalist a red pill which, when tried, turned out to be a Hot Tamale.
“Keanu, how does any of this make sense?” I asked. Suddenly, wearing a black trench coat, he said, “The answer is out there, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.”
Others have been less thrilled by the news. The price of Bitcoin tanked immediately after the announcement to $3/BTC. “I thought some smart Japanese guy was behind all this,” said one disillusioned investor. “I mean, it sounded smart. Right?”
Meanwhile the Bitcoin economy has gone into freefall and with it, the overweening smugness of many, previously rich Bitcoin investors. “It’s like I’ve woken up,” said one recently impoverished investor, “and realized what a smug douche I was; I wasn’t living in the real world. I’m not a rich, successful guy in a sleek urban environment; I’m plugged into to this fake network like everybody else, eating slurry and barely getting any exercise.”
Bitcoin businesses around the world have closed their doors. The founder of Bitpay prostrated himself before Congress, apologizing for succumbing to what was obviously, after all, “totally not a currency.” “It took Keanu Reeves for me to see that.” he added. “Just let it be a lesson for all of us. The next time you jump into something awesome, just fucking make sure Keanu Reeves wasn’t involved.”
A postcard found in circulation after the Revelation.
Still, his followers grow daily, propagating his insane cultic message of monetary stability and low transactional costs. His teachings to central bankers of “Hey, woh, just be cool” continue to win converts. When one follower failed to add a transaction fee, he said to the miners, “Let ye who have always Reddit Tipped at a Lulz cast the first stone.” And they were shamed and included her transaction in the next block. “I can do everything through him who gives me mining capacity.” Keanu said vacantly. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in Bitcoin; trust also in me.”
“Send to 13tHJ7tvtJ8htSAuJ53sRoSs9rG6tqX71E for eternal salvation” – Keanu Nakamoto