MONEY Bitcoin

Uber, Airbnb, and Others May Soon Accept Bitcoin

Bitcoin
Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

Customers may soon be able to use bitcoin for a variety of web services if a new deal involving an Ebay-owned payment processor goes through.

Bitcoin fans, rejoice. A new deal between a Paypal subsidiary and digital currency companies may soon allow customers to pay for Uber, Airbnb, Opentable, and other services with digital currency.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Braintree, a payment processor Ebay acquired last year, is in negotiations with businesses like Coinbase that allow consumers to store, buy, and send bitcoin, a digital currency that can be either “mined” using computing power or purchased with dollars. Braintree is currently part of Ebay’s Paypal unit. If these negotiations are successful, Braintree’s clients would be able to accept bitcoin payments.

If Braintree does enable clients to start taking bitcoin, they would not be the first to do so. Overstock.com was the first large company to accept bitocoin payments; and Dell, technology retailer Newegg, and satellite TV provider Dish Network, have all followed suit. Most of these services have also partnered with Coinbase.

While the currency has seen increased adoption, not all developments have been positive. In July, New York’s Department of Financial Services proposed new rules for virtual currency businesses that sought to reduce illegal activity—which bitcoin has previously facilitated—and increase consumer protections for the currency’s users. While some have lauded the rules as an important first step toward making bitcoin a viable currency, other bitcoin advocates slammed the regulations for eliminating bitcoin’s anonymity and their arduous requirements on certain businesses.

Bitcoin has also not fared well in terms of price. After the value of one bitcoin (BTC) peaked at over $1,100 in late 2013, its price has come crashing back to earth. As of today, one BTC is worth $512; down from $747 at the beginning of this year.

TIME Virtual Currency

How Bitcoins Could Put Your Finances at Risk

Virtual currencies could cause you to lose "real" money, according to a new report

+ READ ARTICLE

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau released a report Monday concluding that virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, offer less protection than regular currencies and can be vulnerable to outrageous mark-ups, online scams and hackers.

In addition to publishing the report, the bureau has also added a virtual currency section to their complaint page where people who have run into problems with Bitcoin or other similar currencies can register their issues.

According to Bitcoin.com, there are more than 13 million units of virtual currency around the world.

TIME digital currency

You Can Now Donate to Wikipedia in Bitcoin

Bitcoin
Thomas Trutschel—Photothek/Getty Images

"We accept 13 different payment methods enabling donations from nearly every country in the world, and today, we’re adding one more."

The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit responsible for Wikipedia, said Wednesday that it will accept donations of the digital currency Bitcoin.

“It has always been important to the Foundation to make sure donating is as simple and inclusive as possible,” Lisa Seitz Gruwell, the chief revenue officer, said in a statement. “Currently, we accept 13 different payment methods enabling donations from nearly every country in the world, and today, we’re adding one more: Bitcoin.”

The foundation, which runs one of the most visited websites on the Internet, depends almost exclusively on user donations to cover its annual budget of roughly $50 million. Its decision to accept the digital currency comes as a growing list of corporations, including satellite television operator Dish Network, add Bitcoin as a payment method.

Seitz Gruwell said the foundation will use the Bitcoin exchange Coinbase to accept Bitcoin and will convert the currency into U.S. dollars.

“Since we now also have guidance on how to account for Bitcoin, there is a clear understanding of how to legally manage it,” she said.

 

MONEY alternative assets

New York Proposes Bitcoin Regulations

Bitcoin (virtual currency) coins
Benoit Tessier—Reuters

New regulations may make Bitcoin safer. But some people think they will also ruin what made virtual currencies attractive.

Bitcoin may have just taken a huge step toward entering the financial mainstream.

On Thursday, Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent for New York’s Department of Financial Services, proposed new rules for virtual currency businesses. The “BitLicense” plan, which if approved would apply to all companies that store, control, buy, sell, transfer, or exchange Bitcoins (or other cryptocurrency), makes New York the first state to attempt virtual currency regulation.

“In developing this regulatory framework, we have sought to strike an appropriate balance that helps protect consumers and root out illegal activity—without stifling beneficial innovation,” wrote Lawsky in a post on Reddit.com’s Bitcoin discussion board, a popular gathering places for the currency’s advocates.

“These regulations include provisions to help safeguard customer assets, protect against cyber hacking, and prevent the abuse of virtual currencies for illegal activity, such as money laundering.”

The proposed rules won’t take effect yet. First is a public comment period of 45 days, starting on July 23rd. After that, the department will revise the proposal and release it for another round of review.

Regulation represents a turning point in Bitcoin’s history. The currency is perhaps best known for not being subject to government oversight and has been championed (and vilified) for its freedom from official scrutiny. Bitcoin transactions are anonymous, providing a new level of privacy to online commerce. Unfortunately, this feature has also proven attractive to criminals. Detractors frequently cite the currency’s widely publicized use as a means to sell drugs, launder money, and allegedly fund murder-for-hire.

The failure of Mt. Gox, one of Bitcoin’s largest exchanges, following the theft of more than $450 million in virtual currency, also drew attention to Bitcoin’s lack of consumer protections. In his Reddit post, Lawsky specifically referenced Mt. Gox as a reason why “setting up common sense rules of the road is vital to the long-term future of the virtual currency industry, as well as the safety and soundness of customer assets.”

New York’s proposed regulations require digital currency companies operating within the state to record the identity of their customers, including their name and physical address. All Bitcoin transactions must be recorded, and companies would be required to inform regulators if they observe any activity involving Bitcoins worth $10,000 or more.

The proposal also places a strong emphasis on protecting legitimate users of virtual currency. New York is seeking to require that Bitcoin businesses explain “all material risks” associated with Bitcoin use to their customers, as well as provide strong cybersecurity to shield their virtual vaults from hackers. In order to ensure companies remain solvent, Bitcoin licensees would have to hold as much Bitcoin as they owe in some combination of virtual currency and actual dollars.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, two of Bitcoin’s largest investors, endorsed the new proposal. “We are pleased that Superintendent Lawsky and the Department of Financial Services have embraced bitcoin and digital assets and created a regulatory framework that protects consumers,” Cameron Winklevoss said in an email to the Wall Street Journal. “We look forward to New York State becoming the hub of this exciting new technology.”

Gil Luria, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, also saw the regulations as beneficial for companies built around virtual currency. “Bitcoin businesses in the U.S. have been looking forward to being regulated,” Luria told the New York Times. “This is a very big important first step, but it’s not the ultimate step.”

However, this excitement was not universally shared by the internet Bitcoin community. Soon after posting a statement on Reddit, Lawsky was inundated with comments calling his proposal everything from misguided to fascist. “These rules and regulations are so totalitarian it’s almost hilarious,” wrote one user. Others suggested New York’s proposal would increase the value of Bitcoins not tied to a known identity or push major Bitcoin operations outside the United States.

One particularly controversial aspect of the law appears to ban the creation of any new cryptocurrency by an unlicensed entity. This would not only put a stop to virtual currency innovation (other Bitcoin-like monies include Litecoin, Peercoin, and the mostly satirical Dogecoin) but could theoretically put Bitcoin’s anonymous creator, known by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, in danger of prosecution if he failed to apply for a BitLicense.

One major issue not yet settled is whether other states, or the federal government, will use this proposal as a model for their own regulations. Until some form of regulation is widely adopted, New York’s effort will have a limited effect on Bitcoin business. “I think ultimately, these rules are going to be good for the industry,” Lawsky told the Times. “The question is if this will spread further.”

TIME Money

How Much Is a Bitcoin Worth? Let Google Tell You

Google Search now includes Bitcoin in its currency calculator, lending a little more legitimacy to the cryptocurrency.

If you need to know the current value of a Bitcoin, it’s now faster than ever to figure out through Google.

The search engine’s currency calculator now supports Bitcoin, so you can type “1 Bitcoin to dollars,” “10000 yen to BTC” or “How much is 500 Bitcoin worth?”

As Coindesk points out, Google added a Bitcoin currency tracker to its finance searches last month. Currency conversion is the next logical step, given that Microsoft’s Bing started calculating Bitcoin values in February. Though Bitcoin has struggled to gain recognition from some governments, support from the major search engines may help lend some legitimacy to the cryptocurrency.

Google does caution that conversion rates may not be accurate down to the minute, but you can always consult other sources like Coindesk if you need more detailed data.

TIME Bitcoin

Venture Capitalist Who Wants to Split California Into 6 States Just Bought $19 Million Worth of Bitcoin

Bitcoin
This picture taken on June 20, 2014, shows an entrance of La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris. Stephane De Sakutin—AFP/Getty Images

The massive pool of crypto-currency could help establish bitcoin trading platforms in emerging markets.

Tim Draper, a venture capitalist best known for his proposal to split California into six states, just bought millions of dollars worth of bitcoin that in a former life might have been used as drug money.

As Re/code reports, the U.S. Marshals Service was auctioning roughly 30,000 bitcoin that it had seized from the online drug marketplace Silk Road. Draper won the auction for the entire bitcoin pool, which is worth about $19 million now.

But he’s not using his newfound cryptocurrency purely for personal enrichment. Instead, he’s partnering with Vaurum, a firm that wants to create a bitcoin exchange for financial institutions. The goal with this new bitcoin pool, according to Vaurum CEO Avish Bhama, is to create some liquidity in emerging markets, which otherwise might struggle with their own weakening currencies.

“Of course, no one is totally secure in holding their own country’s currency,” Draper said in a statement on Bhama’s blog. “We want to enable people to hold and trade bitcoin to secure themselves against weakening currencies.”

Between that and the plan to split up California, give Draper some credit for trying shake things up, at least.

[re/code]

TIME technology

California Lifts Ban on Bitcoin

California Legalizes Bitcoin
California Gov. Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at Google headquarters on September 25, 2012. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Technically, all transactions using digital or alternative currencies had been illegal in California until Monday

California lawmakers approved a bill Monday that lifted an outdated ban on the use of bitcoin and other alternative currencies, as more states seek to clarify and revise virtual currency laws.

AB 129, which Governor Jerry Brown had signed on Saturday, will ensure that “various forms of alternative currency such as digital currency” will be legal in purchasing goods and transmitting payments, according to the bill’s text. The bill reflects the growing use of digital currencies, revising Section 107 of California’s Corporations Code that prohibits use of “anything but the lawful money of the United States.”

“In an era of evolving payment methods, from Amazon Coins to Starbucks Stars, it is impractical to ignore the growing use of cash alternatives,” Democratic Assemblyman and the bill’s author Roger Dickinson said in a recent statement.

Dickinson noted that points and rewards programs function as digital currencies, and thus would not have been legal without the passage of AB 129, which legalizes these “community currencies,” that is, alternative payment systems between businesses and customers.

Other states have similarly sought to clarify their bitcoin laws. In March, the Texas Department of Banking stated that bitcoin transmissions, while permitted, are not technically “currency” transmissions. That month, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced the state will accept proposals for a virtual currency regulation system.

While bitcoin use is now legal in California, it is not technically legal tender, a status reserved for and defined federally as “United States coins and currency” under the Coinage Act of 1965. The IRS clarified in March that bitcoin functions more like property than currency, which means that taxes applying to property transactions also apply to bitcoin transactions.

Elsewhere in the world, only very few countries, notably Brazil and China, have specific regulations of bitcoin use.

TIME Bitcoin

King’s College Becomes First U.S. School to Accept Bitcoin

King's College Will Accept Bitcoin Payments
A Bitcoin medal. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

First accredited U.S. college to accept the digital currency

At King’s College, bitcoins—used to purchase items from satellite TV to illegal drugs—can now be used to pay tuition.

The New York City school announced Friday that it will accept bitcoin payments, the first accredited U.S. college to do so, according to a press release. Through a partnership with Coin.co, a company that facilitates bitcoin transactions, King’s College will allow use of the digital currency to pay tuition, submit donations and deal with other expenses.

The school hopes this move will immerse students in new technology, as bitcoin has become increasingly popular over the past year. It will also eliminate the 2-3% transaction fees charged to the college when students pay tuition via credit card, as Coin.co does not have transaction fees.

“Allowing bitcoin to be used to pay for a King’s education decreases our costs while simultaneously allowing our students to be a part of this exciting new technology,” King’s College President Dr. Gregory Alan Thornbury said in the statement.

The school follows the trend of two other higher education institutions that accept bitcoin: Cyprus’ University of Nicosia in November, and the UK’s University of Cumbria in January. The University of Puget Sound accepted an alumnus’ $10,0oo donation via bitcoin in February, though the Tacoma school does not have an official bitcoin payment policy.

Currently, a semester’s tuition at King’s College costs about 28 bitcoin.

TIME apps

Apple Takes a Cautious Step Towards Bitcoin

As part of its ongoing developer conference this week, Apple has added a section to its developer guidelines regarding apps for virtual currencies, including, possibly, Bitcoin.

If you look for Bitcoin apps in the App Store right now, you’ll notice most of them are tickers that monitor Bitcoin’s exchange rate. But if you use Bitcoin yourself and want to move some of that money around, there aren’t any apps that’ll let you do that just yet.

That may all change soon, provided that transmitting virtual currencies is allowed in your neck of the woods.

Apple’s new guideline reads as follows:

Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.

TechCrunch co-editor Matthew Panzarino posits that Apple will probably take a cautious approach with such apps:

Does this mean Apple will start accepting bitcoin apps that transmit currency in the App Store immediately? Probably not, unless there have been rulings declaring the currency “legal” in a given region. If there is no ruling, I wouldn’t count on it.

And note that Apple doesn’t explicitly mention Bitcoin by name — just “virtual currencies,” though Bitcoin is currently the highest-profile of the virtual currencies out there.

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