In 2014, researchers at the University of Kentucky found "robust evidence that computer programming enthusiasts and illegal activity drive interest in bitcoin, and find limited or no support for political and investment motives".[127] Australian researchers have estimated that 25% of all bitcoin users and 44% of all bitcoin transactions are associated with illegal activity as of April 2017. There were an estimated 24 million bitcoin users primarily using bitcoin for illegal activity. They held $8 billion worth of bitcoin, and made 36 million transactions valued at $72 billion.[227][228] A group of researches analyzed bitcoin transactions in 2016 and came to a conclusion that "some recent concerns regarding the use of bitcoin for illegal transactions at the present time might be overstated".[229]
Bitcoin is a digital currency created in 2009. It follows the ideas set out in a white paper by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, whose true identity has yet to be verified. Bitcoin offers the promise of lower transaction fees than traditional online payment mechanisms and is operated by a decentralized authority, unlike government-issued currencies.
If fewer people begin to accept Bitcoin as a currency, these digital units may lose value and could become worthless. There is already plenty of competition, and though Bitcoin has a huge lead over the other 100-odd digital currencies that have sprung up, thanks to its brand recognition and venture capital money, a technological break-through in the form of a better virtual coin is always a threat.
Because of bitcoin's decentralized nature and its trading on online exchanges located in many countries, regulation of bitcoin has been difficult. However, the use of bitcoin can be criminalized, and shutting down exchanges and the peer-to-peer economy in a given country would constitute a de facto ban.[164] The legal status of bitcoin varies substantially from country to country and is still undefined or changing in many of them. Regulations and bans that apply to bitcoin probably extend to similar cryptocurrency systems.[165]
According to The New York Times, libertarians and anarchists were attracted to the idea. Early bitcoin supporter Roger Ver said: "At first, almost everyone who got involved did so for philosophical reasons. We saw bitcoin as a great idea, as a way to separate money from the state."[119] The Economist describes bitcoin as "a techno-anarchist project to create an online version of cash, a way for people to transact without the possibility of interference from malicious governments or banks".[122]
On 12 March 2013, a bitcoin miner running version 0.8.0 of the bitcoin software created a large block that was considered invalid in version 0.7 (due to an undiscovered inconsistency between the two versions). This created a split or "fork" in the blockchain since computers with the recent version of the software accepted the invalid block and continued to build on the diverging chain, whereas older versions of the software rejected it and continued extending the blockchain without the offending block. This split resulted in two separate transaction logs being formed without clear consensus, which allowed for the same funds to be spent differently on each chain. In response, the Mt. Gox exchange temporarily halted bitcoin deposits.[172] The exchange rate fell 23% to $37 on the Mt. Gox exchange but rose most of the way back to its prior level of $48.[56][57]
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?
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