A month after hackers shut down the Colonial Pipeline for a ransom of $4 million in bitcoin, the FBI got the majority of the money back.
Bitcoin, the digital currency idolized as free and far from the reaches of the government, was confiscated (some theorized “hacked”) this past week. The FBI took back $2.3M: half of the pipeline ransom. The Bureau followed the 75 bitcoins via the blockchain and, according to an affidavit uploaded by ABC News, seized the private key to the bitcoin account and took 63.7 bitcoin. Though the FBI secured 84.9% of the ransom in BTC, the crypto’s price is down to nearly half last month’s value.
Now, bitcoin enthusiasts like the editors at Decrypt will swear that there is no way the FBI could hack a private account that without the private key and account number, both long strings of numbers, the encryption makes it impossible to get in. But law enforcement could confiscate Bitcoin through other methods.
The blockchain is a ledger going back to the first block mined with all transactions perfectly traceable. With enough computer power, an agency can retrace steps hackers take and force the address owner to comply.
April Falcon Doss, executive director of the Institute for Technology Law and Policy at Georgetown Law, told NPR that while unlikely, there is even a theoretical possibility that the FBI outright hacked the private key.
But “The idea that the FBI would have, through some brute-force decryption activity, figured out the private key seems to be the least likely scenario,” She said. Still, a currency that is supposed to be “the future of finance” dropped more than 8% after the news that digital terrorists couldn’t rely on bitcoin for illegal activity.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has embraced crypto so completely that he’s hosting his own crypto conference on Wednesday, June 2.
Tomorrow I’m hosting my very own Crypto Conference with some of the top players in the DeFi space.
— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) June 1, 2021
The mayor regularly shares photos with crypto executives on social media and his own city government website biography includes a section dedicated to the Bitcoin White paper. The Miami Heat’s home stadium is even being rebraned to the FTX Arena, named after a cryptocurrency exchange (which oddly cannot be accessed by US residents).
Suarez’s June 2nd conference will be 100% virtual and FREE.
In the three days that follow, the largest ever in-person Bitcoin conference will take place at the Mana Convention Center in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
It’s not just crypto. Suarez has been heavily accommodating to the tech and finance industries with the hope that they might relocate their businesses to Miami.
In that vein, deBanked sat down with the mayor in person back in March.
PayPal launched Checkout with Crypto, allowing users to use Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, or Bitcoin Cash to checkout at more than 29 million PayPal merchants.
“As the use of digital payments and digital currencies accelerates, the introduction of Checkout with Crypto continues our focus on driving mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies,” CEO and President Dan Schulman said. “Enabling cryptocurrencies to make purchases at businesses around the world is the next chapter in driving the ubiquity and mass acceptance of digital currencies.”
The transactions will be settled in cash by PayPal automatically, and the firm said it does not plan on holding the coins and will likely sell the balance off. PayPal had previously offered to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrencies on their platform through a partnership with Paxos Trust Company.
PayPal said it added crypto purchasing to engage more customers with online merchants and make their purchasing platform more accessible.
How will the transactions be taxed? The terms and conditions state that PayPal will provide 1099 forms and report to the IRS, but “it is your responsibility to determine what taxes, if any, apply to transactions you make.”
A lot of Crypto news happened at once. Yesterday, Visa announced a USD Coin program, aiming to allow transactions to be settled through a stable coin backed by the USD.
Mr. Wonderful, the Shark Tank multimillionaire, recently said that while Bitcoin may be going through an exciting price discovery phase, it is not liquid enough to garner genuine institutional interest.
“If I want to buy a million dollars’ worth of Bitcoin right now, I’ve gotta do a fair amount of work to pull that off,” he said. “I can’t get consistency with any single regulator on endorsing bitcoin for me to actually do a significant transaction.”
The price of Bitcoin grew significantly at the end of 2020, in three months quadrupling to reach $41k at it’s height. Still, as O’Leary explained on the popular finance podcast “The Pomp” and shared on the O’Leary youtube channel: cryptocurrency is nothing compared to other asset classes.
“Bitcoin is still a nothing-burger,” he said, “a giant nothing-burger.”
Before the asset class becomes big enough for the largest whales to sink billions into as an asset class, cryptocurrencies will have to change. It is simply too challenging to put money in and take money out, and unclear how that will be taxed or regulated in a personal or institutional portfolio.
In the future, O’Leary expects major regulation to approach the crypto space, as evident recently with the SEC charging U.S.-based Ripple over its XRP token.
“Give me the top seven cryptocurrencies, put them into an ETF wrapper, and let me invest in it with liquidity,” O’Leary said. “So that if I want to buy a million dollars of it in the morning and sell a million dollars in the afternoon, I can do that in an ETF format.”
But one thing that cryptocurrency proves, O’Leary said, is that traditional asset classes can be sold 24/7 just like digital currencies.
“Maybe what Bitcoin is telling us is we should have liquidy perpetually, pure price discovery because its always breakfast somewhere in the world,” O’Leary said. “It may be the way of the future, and in a way, if that happens, there would be less demand for something like Bitcoin.”
In early 2015, deBanked signed up a customer that was interested in paying with Bitcoin. So we priced it out and we agreed that about one month of advertising on our website combined with an ad in a single magazine issue would cost about 14 bitcoins.
I submitted an invoice via Coinbase and they paid. Pretty soon thereafter, we sold the bitcoins for cash. I thought nothing of it because I’ve never seen Bitcoin as an investment.
We continued to do other advertising deals in Bitcoin in which the contracts were priced in Bitcoin instead of dollars but that was the largest single Bitcoin transaction we ever did. I’ve also done things like pay for hotel rooms for industry conferences in Bitcoin, because you know…that’s how I roll.
As you probably heard over the New Year’s weekend, the price of bitcoin shot up to $34,000. It got me thinking about how I failed to become a Bitcoin millionaire years earlier, but now with this incredible new high, it reminded me of that one deal in particular
Fourteen bitcoins in 2021 is worth approximately $476,000. Almost a half million dollars. That was for just 1 month of advertising on deBanked.
I guess I should’ve held on to them.
Happy New Year.
Spending the previous three and a half months indoors, locked away from others, and sat at homebound desks have had differing effects on everyone. Some have had a period of intense productivity, some have fallen into bad habits, and some have spent an inordinate amount of time on social media. The Winklevoss twins, famous for playing a role in the founding of Facebook, are of the latter sort.
Cameron and Tyler, aged 38, are two entrepreneurs with a particular focus on cryptocurrencies. Having experimented with social media in its early days with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard, the pair later sued the Facebook CEO in 2008, the same year they rowed for the USA in the Beijing Olympics. From here the twins went into venture capital; led a seed-funding round for BitInstant, a Bitcoin payment processor; claimed to have accumulated 1% of all Bitcoin by 2013 between them; and launched Gemini, their own cryptocurrency exchange, in 2014. Since then, as Bitcoin’s value has surged and fluctuated, the pair have become figureheads for the cryptocurrency, having been proponents of the decentralized currency from the days when it was worth less than $10, to its highest valuation in 2017 at just below $20,000, to its current price of just over $9,000.
And with quarantine providing all the time in the world to ponder the future of Bitcoin, the twins have been posting daily on Twitter about the crypto, relating it to any and all topics that proved popular. Cancel culture? There’s a tweet for that. George Orwell’s magnum opus, 1984? There’s a tweet for that. Vaccinations and their alleged comparability with cryptocurrency? There’s a tweet for that.
Beyond comparing and relating Bitcoin to everything that comes up in the news cycle, the twins brought up an idea a number of times on social media over quarantine: that the pandemic has set the stage for a decentralized world.
While it is clear that this has happened to a point already, given the global move toward working from home, Cameron believes it will go further, mentioning in a tweet that the pandemic will be “an inflection point for Bitcoin and the Metaverse.” Choosing not to expand on this lofty statement, the specifics of Cameron’s claim can’t be known for sure, but the idea behind the Metaverse, a collectivized virtual space based off the setting of a 1992 sci-fi novel which is capable of replacing the functions and opportunities granted by the real world, is one well suited to Bitcoin, or, at least the idealized vision of what Bitcoin could become.
As well as this prophesizing of a virtual utopia, the brothers displayed an intense distrust and paranoia of government, currencies that are regulated by centralized banks, and the role of big tech. With tweets criticizing the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $1.5 trillion into the economy, YouTube’s ongoing debate over whether the First Amendment applies to a private business, and warnings against the threat of a government willing to grab more power during a pandemic, the billionaires’ tweets appeared at times to reach Elon Musk’s recent anti-government messages via Twitter.
With the twins having noted their disappointment in the US government earlier in the year at a conference in January, that time regarding the government’s slow adoption of cryptocurrencies, it is not so much of a surprise to see these further critiques, especially with them largely taking aim at the government’s employment of federally printed money, or “toilet paper,” as they call it.
All this being said, the twins appeared to be just like everyone else during quarantine: left with not much to do with a stable internet connection and a charged phone. And so conspiracies and cryptocurrencies aside, the brothers also made time for the irreverent and the relatable, posting about the possibility of a Groundhog Day-style scenario during quarantine as well as the importance of “sunsets, the stars, and true friends” in a tweet that wouldn’t be amiss in a Disney film.
Ultimately though, the sooth-saying and future-gazing done by the Winklevii in quarantine will take years, if not decades, to come about, if it ever does. One thing is certain though, the twins won’t stop talking about it until then.
This week, two House Representatives presented Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell with a letter calling for the Fed to seriously consider the creation of a digital currency.
Beginning their letter with, “As you are aware, the nature of money is changing,” French Hill (R-AR) and Bill Foster (D-IL) run through a brief history of money as we know it before relaying their central worry, “that the primacy of the U.S. Dollar [sic] could be in long-term jeopardy from wide adoption of digital fiat currencies.”
Such concern is bolstered by the knowledge that over 40 other countries are investigating the use of digital currencies, with Sweden, Uruguay, and China’s programs each being name dropped by Hill and Foster; as well as by comments by the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, who noted that in the absence of digital currencies backed by central banks, private firms will be left to dominate the space, effectively bypassing banks, and ceding control of monetary policy as well as power to combat illegal financial activities such as money laundering.
Before signing off, the authors warn of the troubles that Libra, Facebook’s unlaunched cryptocurrency could release into the world of finance if the tech giant is allowed to run free of regulation; and they finish by asking Powell to consider a number of questions relating to the establishment of a US dollar digital currency.
Not found among these questions is the conundrum of whether a sovereign digital currency would be referred to as legal tender despite it being intangible.
Hill and Foster aren’t the first to raise this issue, in fact former Chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Sheila Bair wrote in Yahoo Finance last year urging the Fed to shift its focus. Naming the potential digital currency ‘FedCoin,’ Bair explains the benefits of such a creation, saying that during recessions the Fed could reduce the interest rate on FedCoin in order to encourage spending, while during boom years interest rates could be increased to avoid overheating of the economy. As well as this, Bair proposes that in the case of a downward economic spiral, the Fed could issue time-limited coins that will expire if not spent on consumption.
Although it isn’t all sunshine and economic prosperity in Bair’s assessment, as she also notes that FedCoin has the potential to be a massive disruption to credit availability, with its implementation meaning that the over $10 million which is currently deposited by customers in American banks could vanish overnight if every American moved their savings to FedCoin. Regardless, Bair concludes her article with the warning that “If it does not stay ahead of this technology, not only could banking be disrupted – but the Fed itself could also be at risk.”
Bair’s comments are matched by former Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, who, at the Economic Policy Symposium in August, discussed how a digital currency backed by a coalition of central banks, or as he termed it, a synthetic hegemonic currency (SHC), could allow for economies to move away from the US dollar as the global hedge currency and, thus, remove themselves from the currency’s domineering influence.
Interestingly, Hill and Foster’s letter comes the same week as news of a sovereign digital currency in Venezuela. President Nicolás Maduro confirmed that his government has plans to develop payment methods based off Bitcoin and that the country would begin stockpiling cryptocurrencies for its international reserves. These developments will accompany Petro, the cryptocurrency issued by the Venezuelan government that is backed by the country’s oil and mineral reserves.
As noted by Decrypt, despite his history of supporting Bitcoin, Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s other President whose claim to the position has been recognized by Donald Trump, has described his rival’s move toward a digital currency as a show of “desperation.” In true crypto form, Guaidó also lambasted Petro in 2017 for not being a real cryptocurrency as its value is determined by oil.
With the initial promise of cryptocurrency as the herald of a more egalitarian currency free of borders and regulators having been largely undelivered in the developed world, as such currencies are instead used for speculating and turning profits, Maduro is framing his decision to double-down on digital currencies as a return to the original vision.
“Donald Trump and his sanctions are blocking Venezuela from carrying out transactions in any of the world’s banks,” said the president this week. “There’s other formulas to pay, and it’s what we’re using, because our payment system works perfectly in China and Russia … Venezuela is working with the world of cryptocurrencies as a free national and international payments system … The finance minister and Venezuela’s central bank have new instruments which we will activate very soon so that everyone can do banking transactions, as well as national and international payments through the central bank’s accounts.”
Whether or not Maduro’s plan will actually fulfill the original hopes for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies is unsure, what is certain however is that more and more world leaders and policy makers are beginning to consider digital currencies as an issue to be reckoned with, rather than something to hodl at arm’s length.
Bitcoin’s price might not be all that right now, but Coinbase, a US-based digital currency wallet, wants to pay its customers a reward for holding on to its stablecoin. Unlike Tether, a popular stablecoin that was purportedly fully backed by US dollars but then revealed it wasn’t, Coinbase’s stablecoin is fully backed by dollars on deposit in a bank.
The advantage of a stablecoin, in theory, is the stability and safety of the US dollar combined with the fluidity of cryptocurrency. Coinbase’s stablecoin is called USDC and as of Wednesday, the company will begin paying holders of the coin an annualized reward of 1.25% APY. That’s a little bit less than a high yield savings account. It’s interest but it’s technically not. Unlike a bank, Coinbase won’t be using your funds to facilitate loans to generate income so that it can pay out interest to depositors. Instead, the company claims, “You simply earn while storing your crypto safely on Coinbase.”
Coinbase disclaims the offer by reminding users that their funds are not FDIC insured and that the digital wallet is not a deposit account or savings account.
$176 million of USDC exchanged hands in the last 24 hours as of this post being written.
The crypto faithful, users whose optimism in cryptocurrency has been unwavering, have quietly been looking for an alternative stablecoin to Tether. Tether has been locked in a battle with the New York Attorney General and recently revealed in court documents that its stablecoin was not as well backed as the company had claimed.