It's All About the Bitcoins
“Gold’s current price of almost $1900 will certainly mean more abuse, corruption, militarization and the erosion of indigenous rights around the world,” writes anti-gold bug Sakura Saunders, the co-founder and editor of ProtestBarrick.net, a campaign against the gold mining company Barrick Gold, the world’s largest pure gold mining company, which ProtestBarrick claims is guilty of human rights violations and environmental destruction in the course of doing business. The activist group has decided to throw its weight behind Bitcoin as a more socially-conscious alternative to gold.
The Bitcoin markets have been sleepy over the past week or two, and Bitcoin traders are starting to whine. What happened to the drama of hacks, the excitement of skyrocketing prices? The biggest news out of the weekend’s Bitcoin World Conference and Expo was that the organizers teased future conferences in Thailand and Amsterdam. “As fun as it was, seems there were no great world-shattering announcements that would affect the world of bitcoin in the near future,” one Bitcoiner who was present told Betabeat. “Other than more conventions as announced by Bruce.” On the Bitcoin Forum at bitcointalk.org, user tacotime wrote: “Well, someone buy or sell a bajillion BTC and do something, it’s boring as hell right now out there.”
But the Bitcoin markets may soon pick up again as a Bitcoin start-up launching later today, in partnership with one of the better-known exchanges, is likely to encourage a new crop of casual traders and the Bitcoin-curious.
Bitcoin, the sophisticated three-year old digital currency that recently spread from hackers and programmers to a less-technical set, continues to fascinate.
Bitcoin enthusiasts headed to New York this weekend for the first Bitcoin World Conference and Expo in east Midtown, an event comprised of networking; workshops on mining and coding; showcasing of Bitcoin start-ups; announcements of future Bitcoin conferences in Thailand, Amsterdam as well as a Bitcoin cruise in 2013; meals at restaurants that accept Bitcoin; and talks by e-currency luminaries including Gavin Andresen, the technical lead for the Bitcoin project.
About 75 people, all but a handful of them male, gathered this weekend in east Midtown at the Roosevelt Hotel and at the studios of OnlyOneTV, which produces the web show The Bitcoin Show and organized the conference.
Attendees included representatives from Mt. Gox, the largest exchange which is based in Japan; TradeHill, the second-largest exchange; CampBX, a Georgia-based exchange, who lost their luggage on the flight; along with a host of other Bitcoin businesses. About a third of the audience were miners; about a fourth said they’d heard of Bitcoin
before it was cool since November. Attendees wondered if the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, the purported and potentially pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin who last contacted Mr. Andresen by email in April, was among them.
Energy has flagged in the hunt for the people behind MyBitcoin.com, the popular e-wallet service that disappeared with, according to them, 154,406 Bitcoins back in early August. After days of silence, a spokesman emerged for the site and a claims process was initiated to refund users 49 percent of their deposits, which in today’s prices shakes out to $861,755.
But that still leaves 78,747 BTC ($896,929 USD at today’s prices), which MyBitcoin’s spokesman says were taken by hackers, unaccounted for.
The Redwood City-headquartered ExchB, founded in May 2011, just started accepting cash and check payments via brick-and-mortar banks to speed up the sometimes-lengthy process of crediting an account with USD in order to buy BTC. “ExchB customers can walk up to any of over 15,000 locations nationwide and make a cash deposit at any Chase or Wells Fargo branch,” president David Sterry wrote last week. “Simply walk up to the teller, deposit your cash or check, and e-mail us an image of your receipt. Cash clears when we verify your e-mail and check deposits typically clear overnight.”
The first Bitcoin Conference and World Expo is movin’ up–organizer Bruce Wagner, host of The Bitcoin Show, just announced a venue change. Instead of hosting the event at his studio, attendees will gather at the chic Midtown Roosevelt Hotel at 45th and Madison from August 19 to 21. Somebody there must like Bitcoin.
The popular Bitcoin transaction processor that disappeared from the internet about 10 days ago, taking at least tens of thousands of Bitcoins in user deposits with it, has been communicating via statements posted to the site. In essence: We screwed up. We were hacked. We have enough BTC to refund some of the lost Bitcoins, and then we’re done. “It appears to be human error combined with a misunderstanding of how Bitcoin secures transactions into the next block,” the most recent statement says by way of explanation.
Some members of the Bitcoin community suspect foul play (more about that later). But as promised, there is now a claims form for users who lost Bitcoins in the debacle: “Claims are manually reviewed and will be processed within 48 hours of being filed. This claim form will remain online for 30 days.”
And as of Saturday night, the historically-reticent MyBitcoin has a voice: “Tom Williams,” who stepped forward to field questions from the Bitcoin community via the #bitcoin-police channel on IRC, where he verified his association with the site by moving Bitcoins from the MyBitoin IP to a pre-specified address and providing the same encrypted signature that was used to sign the official statements posted on MyBitcoin.
After passing muster with the tech-savvy denizens of #bitcoin-police, a loosely-organized group of Bitcoin enthusiasts who investigate various issues in the Bitcoin community, Mr. Williams got down to tacks. “Listen: what did you think we did after the hack happened? We got shitfaced for many days. What would you do? Fuck.”
Who is Tom Williams? MyBitcoin.com, which disappeared without explanation from the internet about a week ago, is back up with a messages “From the desk of Tom Williams, operator of MyBitcoin.com.” The statement, labeled an “incident report,” is the only live page on the site. MyBitcoin noticed a large amount of BTC missing, the statement says, realized its security had been breached, and pulled the site immediately. After investigating the hack, the statement says, the “we” behind MyBitcoin realized it
was bankrupt and “would have to go into receivership.” There will be a claims process for reimbursing users, the statement says.
We’re not exactly sure what constitutes receivership in a system with no central authority, or why the site’s anonymous operators would feel obligated to refund its anonymous users given the utter lack of accountability. Before the statement hit, word on the street was that MyBitcoin.com, the user-friendly Bitcoin wallet that was the go-to for most Bitcoin newbies, was an elaborate ploy set up by a group of (Canadian?) hackers who swindled naive Bitcoin users for the money and the lulz. At the time it went down, MyBitcoin.com had more deposits than the third largest Bitcoin exchange, Bitomat.pl. Bitomat.pl had 17,000 BTC on hand when it went down this weekend due to human technical error. But just one Bitcoin user, the vocal Bruce Wagner, had 25,000 BTC stored at MyBitcoin when it disappeared. Betabeat had 6 BTC there, and we’re surely not the only ones. At today’s prices, MyBitcoin had more than $250,000 in its coffers.
This Is Not Investment Advice
THE BEST WAY TO FIND serious traders of the digital currency Bitcoin is to log onto Internet Relay Chat—that bare-bones, plain-text experience that hasn’t changed much since its creation in 1988—around midnight, and jump into one of the many conversations dedicated to the phenomenon. Bitcoin, a decentralized payment system that approximates cash, has been quickly gaining popularity since May, when its bit part in a Gawker story about an “underground website where you can buy any drug imaginable“ turned into a starring role in stories like Fast Company’s “Funny Money: Is Bitcoin the Future of Currency … Or a Total Scam?”
One indication of how far the currency has evolved: the emergence of Bitcoin derivatives. Despite reluctance by merchants to embrace the new money and a near-constant stream of crises, from cyberattacks to technical failures, the two-and-a-half-year-old technology—carefully designed by a group of anonymous programmers to serve as a standard for digital payments without the need for a central authority—seems to have staying power. This is especially true among its investors, who have graduated from simple transactions like buying and selling to negotiating options and futures contracts.
During an interview yesterday, one Bitcoin investor described the burgeoning economy as “a Mexican soap opera–there’s always some kind of drama.” Indeed!
Let’s review the freshest crises: Chile and San Francisco-based TradeHill claims e-payments platform Dwolla has been reversing transactions [The Bitcoin Show]. Dwolla responds by changing its terms of services to say “receiving party may be subject to chargebacks” [Bitcoin Money]. Web-based wallet MyBitcoin.com, where Betabeat was keeping all our Bitcoins in the world, has been down since Friday with no explanation, leading to speculation that the admins either forgot to pay their electric bill or have made off with user deposits [MyBitcoin]. That’s not even the worst of it.