In late August 2012, an operation titled Bitcoin Savings and Trust was shut down by the owner, leaving around US$5.6 million in bitcoin-based debts; this led to allegations that the operation was a Ponzi scheme. In September 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had reportedly started an investigation on the case.
In December 2013, Overstock.com announced plans to accept bitcoin in the second half of 2014. On 5 December 2013, the People's Bank of China prohibited Chinese financial institutions from using bitcoins. After the announcement, the value of bitcoins dropped, and Baidu no longer accepted bitcoins for certain services. Buying real-world goods with any virtual currency had been illegal in China since at least 2009.
Bitcoin’s popularity has undeniably been its number one advantage over the numerous other cryptocurrencies. By gaining a large number of adopters and users, Bitcoin has achieved a network effect that attracts even more users. Users who would otherwise be more apprehensive investing in a relatively unknown and unproven digital currency are reassured by Bitcoin’s performance over time, its growing community, and the fact that people they know are adopting cryptos.
Behind the scenes, the Bitcoin network is sharing a massive public ledger called the "block chain". This ledger contains every transaction ever processed which enables a user's computer to verify the validity of each transaction. The authenticity of each transaction is protected by digital signatures corresponding to the sending addresses therefore allowing all users to have full control over sending bitcoins.
The Bank for International Settlements summarized several criticisms of bitcoin in Chapter V of their 2018 annual report. The criticisms include the lack of stability in bitcoin's price, the high energy consumption, high and variable transactions costs, the poor security and fraud at cryptocurrency exchanges, vulnerability to debasement (from forking), and the influence of miners.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission has issued four "Customer Advisories" for bitcoin and related investments. A July 2018 warning emphasized that trading in any cryptocurrency is often speculative, and there is a risk of theft from hacking, and fraud. A February 2018 advisory warned against investing an IRA fund into virtual currencies. A December 2017 advisory warned that virtual currencies are risky because:
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Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that uses cryptography to control its creation and management, rather than relying on central authorities. The presumed pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto integrated many existing ideas from the cypherpunk community when creating bitcoin. Over the course of bitcoin's history, it has undergone rapid growth to become a significant currency both on and offline – from the mid 2010s, some businesses began accepting bitcoin in addition to traditional currencies.
Third-party internet services called online wallets offer similar functionality but may be easier to use. In this case, credentials to access funds are stored with the online wallet provider rather than on the user's hardware. As a result, the user must have complete trust in the wallet provider. A malicious provider or a breach in server security may cause entrusted bitcoins to be stolen. An example of such a security breach occurred with Mt. Gox in 2011. This has led to the often-repeated meme "Not your keys, not your bitcoin".
Venture capitalists, such as Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, which invested US$3 million in BitPay, do not purchase bitcoins themselves, but instead fund bitcoin infrastructure that provides payment systems to merchants, exchanges, wallet services, etc. In 2012, an incubator for bitcoin-focused start-ups was founded by Adam Draper, with financing help from his father, venture capitalist Tim Draper, one of the largest bitcoin holders after winning an auction of 30,000 bitcoins, at the time called "mystery buyer". The company's goal is to fund 100 bitcoin businesses within 2–3 years with $10,000 to $20,000 for a 6% stake. Investors also invest in bitcoin mining. According to a 2015 study by Paolo Tasca, bitcoin startups raised almost $1 billion in three years (Q1 2012 – Q1 2015).
In January 2015 Coinbase raised 75 million USD as part of a Series C funding round, smashing the previous record for a bitcoin company. Less than one year after the collapse of Mt. Gox, United Kingdom-based exchange Bitstamp announced that their exchange would be taken offline while they investigate a hack which resulted in about 19,000 bitcoins (equivalent to roughly US$5 million at that time) being stolen from their hot wallet. The exchange remained offline for several days amid speculation that customers had lost their funds. Bitstamp resumed trading on 9 January after increasing security measures and assuring customers that their account balances would not be impacted.
Investigations into the real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto were attempted by The New Yorker and Fast Company. The New Yorker's investigation brought up at least two possible candidates: Michael Clear and Vili Lehdonvirta. Fast Company's investigation brought up circumstantial evidence linking an encryption patent application filed by Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry on 15 August 2008, and the bitcoin.org domain name which was registered 72 hours later. The patent application (#20100042841) contained networking and encryption technologies similar to bitcoin's, and textual analysis revealed that the phrase "... computationally impractical to reverse" appeared in both the patent application and bitcoin's whitepaper. All three inventors explicitly denied being Satoshi Nakamoto.
Bitcoin's origin story sounds like something out of science fiction: It was launched in 2008 on the heels of a white paper published by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, whose real identity – and country of origin – are unknown. Nakamoto conceived of Bitcoin as a currency that was 1) encrypted; 2) decentralized, i.e. it was ungoverned and did not belong to any nation; and 3) a digital "distributed ledger," such that everyone can verify online the legitimacy of transactions.
On 6 August 2013, Federal Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas of the Fifth Circuit ruled that bitcoins are "a currency or a form of money" (specifically securities as defined by Federal Securities Laws), and as such were subject to the court's jurisdiction, and Germany's Finance Ministry subsumed bitcoins under the term "unit of account"—a financial instrument—though not as e-money or a functional currency, a classification nonetheless having legal and tax implications.
In January 2009, the bitcoin network was created when Nakamoto mined the first block of the chain, known as the genesis block. Embedded in the coinbase of this block was the following text: "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks." This note has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.:18
After Bitcoin nearly reached $20,000, it was not able to maintain those figures. January did see a high of over $17,500 around the 7th, but this was short-lived and followed by a steady drop. By the end of January 2018, Bitcoin was at just over $10,000. By Feb. 5, it was under $7,000. It rallied again, getting over $11,000 in early March, but this was followed by a drop back below $7,000. The largest recent high for Bitcoin was in early May, when it was above $9,500. By late June, it was under $6,000. Following a rise to more than $8,000 in late July, Bitcoin has remained around $6,000 to $6,500, other than a brief spike up over $7,300 in September.
Legal Gray Area. Major governments have largely remained on the sidelines, and this has created both a sense of potential and apprehension for Bitcoin proponents and critics respectively. Bitcoin isn’t backed by a regulatory agency and a government would technically be ceding power by supporting a decentralized currency. This has been largely officially unaddressed. Bitcoin’s price, however, tends to be very sensitive to any news concerning the US government’s opinion of cryptocurrencies. For example, when the SEC denied the approval of bitcoin-based exchange-traded-products—essentially bitcoin-backed assets on the stock market—in 2017, Bitcoin’s price dropped 18%. Yet while the price and adoption of Bitcoin would be affected by government action, governments are unable to criminalize Bitcoin. In fact, governments such as the United States and China have invested in it at some capacity.
Bitcoin's journey continued slowly at first, but it hit the mainstream in 2013 after the first of several hyperinflation incidents occurred in the currency. In late 2013, the cryptocurrency spike in value from around $100 per coin to $1,000 in just over a month, before halving in value over the next three or four months. Bitcoin would not hit $1,000 again until 2017.
Josiah is an assistant editor at CCN. A former ancient and medieval literature teacher, he has been reporting on cryptocurrency since 2014. He lives in rural North Carolina with his wife and children. He holds investment positions in bitcoin and other large-cap cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter @Y3llowb1ackbird or email him directly at josiah.wilmoth(at)ccn.com.
Numerous people have been suggested as possible Satoshi Nakamotos by major media outlets. On Oct. 10, 2011, The New Yorker published an article speculating that Nakamoto might be Irish cryptography student Michael Clear, or economic sociologist Vili Lehdonvirta. A day later, Fast Company suggested that Nakamoto could be a group of three people – Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry – who together appear on a patent related to secure communications that was filed two months before bitcoin.org was registered. A Vice article published in May 2013 added more suspects to the list, including Gavin Andresen, the Bitcoin project’s lead developer; Jed McCaleb, co-founder of now-defunct Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox; and famed Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki.
Bitcoin is the world’s first open-source, decentralized proof-of-work digital currency and platform powered by blockchain technology. Transactions on the network are peer-to-peer, cryptographically secure, and do not require an intermediary. Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to introduce the concept of non-tangible, programmable money that is stored on a public blockchain. The now-famous Satoshi Nakamoto released the Bitcoin whitepaper in 2008, referencing the financial crisis of that year. It discussed the implementation of a cashless, digital payment system to counter fallible fiat currency systems. By January 2009, the first Bitcoin was mined. Nakamoto publicly released his research to the cryptocurrency community soon thereafter. It remains the largest digital currency by market cap.
Researchers have pointed out at a "trend towards centralization". Although bitcoin can be sent directly to the bitcoin network, in practice intermediaries are widely used.:220–222 Bitcoin miners join large mining pools to minimize the variance of their income.:215, 219–222:3 Because transactions on the network are confirmed by miners, decentralization of the network requires that no single miner or mining pool obtains 51% of the hashing power, which would allow them to double-spend coins, prevent certain transactions from being verified and prevent other miners from earning income. As of 2013 just six mining pools controlled 75% of overall bitcoin hashing power. In 2014 mining pool Ghash.io obtained 51% hashing power which raised significant controversies about the safety of the network. The pool has voluntarily capped their hashing power at 39.99% and requested other pools to act responsibly for the benefit of the whole network.
Speculation drives numbers. Many Bitcoin users are holding onto their bitcoins in hopes of selling them off for an enormous profit one day. With news articles portraying Bitcoin millionaires as lucky kids who got in early, you can’t really blame them. For example, if you had spent your $5 latte money on 2,000 bitcoins one morning in 2010, they would be worth about $5.4 million today. Makes you really wish you’d managed your Starbucks budget better, doesn’t it?
In 2012, the Cryptocurrency Legal Advocacy Group (CLAG) stressed the importance for taxpayers to determine whether taxes are due on a bitcoin-related transaction based on whether one has experienced a "realization event": when a taxpayer has provided a service in exchange for bitcoins, a realization event has probably occurred and any gain or loss would likely be calculated using fair market values for the service provided."
This is particularly problematic once you remember that all Bitcoin transactions are permanent and irreversible. It's like dealing with cash: Any transaction carried out with bitcoins can only be reversed if the person who has received them refunds them. There is no third party or a payment processor, as in the case of a debit or credit card – hence, no source of protection or appeal if there is a problem.
It's impossible to say how much bitcoin has increased in price single its earliest incarnation, because its value back then was in the fractions of cents. A conservative estimate, based on bitcoin's current price being around $6,300 per coin, and its early price being less than $0.01, would see bitcoin's value increasing more than 1 million fold in the last decade.
More recently, at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, global economist and New York University professor Nouriel Roubini said, "Crypto is the mother or father of all scams and bubbles." He called out "swindlers" who tapped into investors' fear of missing out and took them for a ride with "crappy assets that went into a bust and crash — in a matter of months — like you have not seen in any history of financial bubbles."