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eff letter Digital rights advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is supporting privacy, free speech and innovation through a new email campaign opposing New York’s proposed BitLicense. The EFF has crafted a pre-written letter for supporters to sign and send to the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) and its leading supervisor, Superintendent Ben Lawsky. The letter argues that premature regulation stifles innovation, and that because of this, the BitLicense could adversely affect the bitcoin and digital currency industry should it pass in current form. However, the EFF mostly asserts the consequences the passage of the law could have for society at large – not just bitcoin businesses and users. In a post to the EFF blog yesterday, activism director Rainey Reitman expounded on the ways the BitLicense affects everyone’s financial privacy, writing: “The NYDFS is letting the fear of money laundering drive a massive regulatory proposal forward that would affect users who are doing nothing wrong. NYDFS should respect the privacy of technology users, and limit its regulation to what is proportionate to the real threat at hand.” The EFF is a non-profit civil liberties organisation that works on technology issues and began following bitcoin in 2011 because of its potential as a cash-like solution for digital payments. Regulation bigger than bitcoin Speaking to CoinDesk, Reitman emphasized the larger implications of the BitLicense, arguing that, regardless of any regulatory body’s view on bitcoin, the BitLicense is problematic because it could be applied more widely to other innovations. “We really don’t know what tools will be built on the bitcoin protocol for years to come, and the proposal that the NYDFS has put forward doesn’t have any carve-outs for non-financial services that are using the bitcoin protocol,” Reitman said. Reitman wrote that people affected by the BitLicense proposal fall into two groups: those who will require a BitLicense and those who don’t but may still be affected by it. Although the law wouldn’t affect digital currency users specifically, it would mandate affected companies keep 10-year records on all parties in each transaction, including the amount, date and time of the transactions as well as the total amount feed and charged to or on behalf of the licensee. Reitman argues that digital currencies like bitcoin endeavor to “recreate some of the censorship-resistant and privacy-protecting attributes of cash”. However, the records each licensee will be required to keep would also include such personal data and identity information as the full names of the transaction parties, account numbers and physical addresses. “This would, in effect, threaten the possibility of having any cash-like interactions in the digital world,” she said. Exemptions not guaranteed In the interview, Reitman also cautioned that certain groups within the bitcoin community should not be so confident that they might be exempt from the regulation, citing Superintendent Lawsky’s most recent remarks from Tuesday. At the time, Lawsky expanded on the intent behind the BitLicense law, asserting that he would ensure bitcoin miners and software developers would be unaffected by the BitLicense in the next draft of the regulation. Still, Reitman warned that members of the bitcoin community should not be “lulled” by his statements. “We don’t know what’s in the next draft of the regulation until we read the next draft of the regulation,” Reitman said. “What’s important is what ends up in the final versions and right now there are no good protections for software developers or frankly for miners. I think there’s enough wiggle room in the current version that miners should be concerned.” Public show of support Bitcoin Foundation chief scientist Gavin Andresen took to Twitter today to promote the letter campaign in one sign that the EFF’s initiative has had a larger impact on the digital currency community. The new BitLicense would force Bitcoin services to spy on their customers. Help stop it: via @eff — Gavin Andresen (@gavinandresen) October 16, 2014 Andresen has a history collaborating with EFF. The organisation began accepting bitcoin in January 2011, later suspended that option and reintroduced bitcoin payments in May 2013. The EFF spent some time analyzing bitcoin during its break from the technology. In that time, it returned all the bitcoin it had previously received to the bitcoin community through Andresen. Broad criticism for BitLicense The EFF initiative is also the latest sign that the BitLicense proposal has garnered criticism beyond the bitcoin and digital currency community. In its formal remarks, the EFF cited a similar stance voiced by the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), which spoke out against the proposal this September. The non-profit, which seeks to maintain the user-controlled nature of the Internet, wrote at the time that the BitLicense threatens broader online privacy and innovation. With their statements, the EFF and join a chorus of bitcoin companies that have issued public statements opposing the law, including Coinbase, Circle and Xapo. Images via EFF Ben LawskyBitLicense
Original author: Tanaya Macheel
Bitstamp Bitstamp announced today that select users who fail to verify their accounts within the next 28 days risk having their balances forfeited to regulatory authorities. One of the largest bitcoin exchanges in terms of daily USD trading volume, Bitstamp stated that all users who fail to go through its account verification process will be deemed to have violated its terms of services and be subject to the related penalties. In statements to the press, the company acknowledged that while some customers will complain about the decision or take their business elsewhere, the move is necessary given the demands and goals of its global platform. Bitstamp wrote: “We believe it makes good sense for us to act in a conservative fashion and to do our best to safeguard the integrity of the system. Each day, each minute, each second, Bitstamp provides an online exchange in which we match buyers and sellers, and through these myriad transactions, help to set the real-time value of bitcoin for use by merchants and customers around the world.” The company added new clarity in statements as well, suggesting that the blog post only applies to customers whose accounts have been inactive for more than one year. Notably, Bitstamp already reserves the right to cancel accounts that have not been verified despite its “good faith efforts”. For example, accounts that have been inactive for six months or longer may be transferred to a third-party escrow. The news comes more than one year after the bitcoin exchange first notified customers it would begin taking steps to ensure its compliance with relevant financial regulations on 4th September, 2013. At the time, Bitstamp indicated bitcoin and bank transfers would soon only be available to verified customers. Government involvement a possibility Bitstamp suggested in statements that the reason for the policy was its need to abide by anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) rules in the UK. Further, Bitstamp offered additional details as to how account closures may be handled as well as the type of entities that could be involved. Bitstamp said that accounts and account balances could be transferred to a third-party administrator or government authorities, who may in turn determine the ownership of any funds. Still, it cautioned that “the exact mechanism has not yet been determined”. “After the due diligence process is complete, the remaining funds will be subject to government seizure for uses hopefully related to consumer protection and law enforcement education in this new area of commerce,” the company said. No forfeited customer funds, it said, will go to the exchange itself. Limited effect While Bitstamp said it understands the desire of some customers to remain anonymous, it suggested that the program will help it maintain a leading edge over other international exchange offerings, which it expects to announce similar policies soon. Bitstamp, which is registered in the UK but based in Slovenia, suggests in its own AML policy that it believes the company is currently unregulated, and that it does not fall under the country’s AML and counterterrorist financing (CTF) obligations. Still, the company confirmed its commitment to following regulatory best practices in statements, saying: “Bitstamp has long had the strictest KYC policies and transaction monitoring of any exchange.” Bitstamp went on to reiterate that it believes the one-month notice is sufficient for its customers who may be affected by the closure of their accounts, and further cautioned that it believes only “a tiny minority of customers” will be affected by the move. Images via Bitstamp; Shutterstock Bitstamp
Original author: Pete Rizzo
moolah Alex Green, CEO of digital currency services startup Moopay LTD, known commonly as Moolah, has resigned following the company’s withdrawal of a proposed bankruptcy plan and the release of evidence allegedly tying him to fraud and past criminal activity. The plan for Moolah to continue operating despite its financial troubles was announced on 15th October. In a blog post, the company said that it had secured outside funding – later revealed on the dogecoin subreddit to be a personal injection of cash from Green – and was weighing buy-out options from potential investors. In his resignation post, Green blamed himself for the failure but rejected claims that either digital currency services platform or altcoin exchange MintPal had behaved fraudulently, saying: “There is no scam here, no matter how you look. There has been poor management however and that is my fault, it’s time to rectify that so the remaining employees, our investors, and our customers have a good shot at making something of what I have built.” In the short term, the company said, Moolah will be moving away from consumer-facing services to focus on the merchant digital currency market. Customer, investor concerns mount In the wake of the resignation, members of both the dogecoin community – some of whom were investors in funding rounds conducted by Moolah, took to both Reddit and Twitter to voice their fears about both the future of the company they invested in and the safety of funds stored on either platform managed by Moolah. Moopay announced today that withdrawal requests on the MintPal platform can be made through an augmented front-end of the exchange. Some users have been able to process withdrawals while others have reported delays or missing balances and transactions, according to customer accounts on Twitter. @moolah_io DRK Withdrawal Status A85ae8b5f0f5a5dbeef276430dd2d08d94cfd8339a562e53a1e0b1d27ce5f24c Displayed 2h ago. but NO on blockchain — Viktoras P. (@onealfa) October 16, 2014 Green’s resignation post did not include specific plans for addressing investor concerns regarding Moolah PIE shares, purchased during three investment rounds. In the message, he only said that the company was in the process of “ensuring that there is a chance [for] our investors to see continued ROI”. On the dogecoin subreddit, a number of PIE investors voiced frustration that they were kept largely in the dark of the company’s troubles, which became apparent this week following Moolah’s failed relaunch of MintPal. As one investor noted: “You are the reason this failed. And we as investors and the public told you time and time again what you were doing [was] wrong and you didn’t listen to us. Ever. You’ve got no one to blame but yourself. And likewise, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves for having blind faith in you. Live and learn.” Syscoin project facing uncertainty Several months ago, Moolah handled the initial coin offering (ICO) for the syscoin project. The alternative digital currency initiative got off to a rocky start, prompting Moolah to put in place a staggered release plan for the 750 BTC it held following the ICO. The Moolah bankrutpcy, abrupt turn-around and subsequent leadership collapse prompted the syscoin development team to reach out to the company in order to have the remaining ICO funds released. Syscoin team manager and coder Dan Wasyluk said in a 16th October post on Bitcoin Talk that his team had begun looking into legal options after Moolah did not meet a pre-established 14th October payment deadline for the amount of 250 BTC. That amount has since been released in the form of 50m syscoins, which according to Waslyuk were purchased during the ICO as a means to support the process. Wasyluk continued: “We have given Alex/Moopay LTD until 21:00 BST Oct 17, 2014 to release the entirety of the Syscoin escrow fund in order to prevent litigation. We have provided him with the contact for our legal counsel in the interim. We have not contacted UK Police as of yet. We will continue to keep the community posted on the action being taken here. He added that the team wishes to avoid legal recourse and issued a call to the Moolah team to fulfill all of its obligations.  Fraud allegations grow The now-ex CEO of Moolah had long faced criticism for questionable business practices. These include a hands on – and sometimes personal – approach to public relations and behind-the-scenes dealings made public in a video leaked earlier this year. New information has been released by members of the dogecoin community, including dogecoin co-founder Jackson Palmer and former Dogecoin Foundation member Ben Doernberg, purportedly tying Green to a number of other identities. A series of chat logs, photographs and social media accounts suggest that Green may have conducted a series of scams in the past, including another digital currency-focused startup, under the names Ryan Gentle, Ryan Kennedy and others. In the interest of protecting the @Dogecoin community: w/@BenDoernberg — Jackson Palmer (@ummjackson) October 15, 2014 Since the announcement, new information regarding past criminal activities purportedly committed by Green have been shared online, including testimonials from bitcoin traders and former associates of Green who shared information via Twitter. Green has denied the allegations, telling CoinDesk that the effort is “one hell of a smear campaign”. The information release has prompted a broad reaction from the community, including a message from Andreas M Antonopoulos who thanked both Palmer and Doernberg for their actions. Congratulations to @BenDoernberg and @ummjackson who both blew the whistle on Moolah months ago, to howls of disapproval. They were right. — AndreasMAntonopoulos (@aantonop) October 16, 2014 Images via Moolah; Vidme DogecoinMoolah
Original author: Stan Higgins
Oct 16 - flickr 4yas bitcoingroup melbourne Bitcoin Group has announced it will pursue an initial public offering (IPO) in Australia. If successful, it would be the first bitcoin company to offer its shares to the public in an IPO. The Melbourne-based firm offers a cryptocurrency arbitrage service, but plans to turn mining into its main revenue source if its offering is approved. Bitcoin Group’s chief executive, Sam Lee, said: “We believe for bitcoin businesses in the mining industry be taken seriously they need to first have the transparency, accountability and legitimacy of a listed company.” Bitcoin Group aims to raise AU$20m from the sale of 100 million shares at AU$0.20 a share, and would trade on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Emphasis on mining Notably, Lee also runs Bitcoins Reserve, an offshore cryptocurrency arbitrage fund whose operations will be folded into Bitcoin Group. The fund claims a return of 765% to its clients for the 12 months ended from 24th May, according to its prospectus. However, if the company raises the expected capital from a share offering, Lee wants to focus the firm’s efforts on mining instead. Bitcoin Group has already engaged with mining rig makers and signed an agreement with an electricity supplier in anticipation of starting its mining business, according to an investor presentation. Lee says Bitcoin Group will remain “hardware agnostic” although he added that he planned to use some of the proceeds from the listing, if it goes through, to invest in ASIC chip makers. “Our role is to provide a transparent, accountable and legitimate vehicle for our investors to gain exposure to bitcoin mining, which is currently one of the most profitable segments within the industry,” Lee said. Australia regulatory regime shaping up Bitcoin Group has announced its listing plans as Australia’s regulatory regime for digital currencies begins to take shape. In August, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) published guidance on the tax treatment of digital currencies for the first time. Under the ATO guidance, digital currencies could be subject to both capital gains and goods and services taxes. This means that buying bitcoin on an Australian exchange, for example, would incur the additional 10% goods and services tax. While some digital currency companies in Australia welcomed the clarity created by the ATO guidance, many disagreed with the tax treatment. Non-profit advocacy group Bitcoin Association of Australia, for example, said at the time that the treatment placed an “onerous” administrative burden on companies who would be required to keep detailed records of transactions. Australian exchange and payment processor CoinJar began imposing GST on bitcoin sales from 3rd October, although it has stated that it supports changes to the current tax treatment guidelines. For Bitcoin Group, the ATO’s guidelines are critical to its listing plans. Lee interprets the tax authority’s moves, despite the drawbacks in its tax treatment, as largely positive for bitcoin companies there. “The ATO guidance from our point of view is workable and comprehensive [...] To have a clear position from the ATO is better than not having one at all,” he said. A senate inquiry into digital currency tax treatment and other implications has also been announced, with the findings to be presented next March. Publicly traded bitcoin companies While Bitcoin Group would claim the mantle of being the first company dealing in bitcoin to make an IPO, it wouldn’t be the only public bitcoin company. Two other firms, digitalBTC and Bitcoin Shop, also have shares traded publicly, although they both achieved this through “backdoor listings”. DigitalBTC is a mining firm that is also listed on the ASX. It raised AU$9.1m in a reverse takeover of a fund that invested in natural resources called Macro Energy in March. Its stock price has risen from under AU$0.05 then to AU$0.20 today. The firm reported a loss of $11.2m for the year, although it said its bitcoin mining and trading business generated a pre-tax profit of $2.4m. The firm said the net loss was due to an accounting expenditure of $10.9m incurred by the reverse takeover. Oct 16 - DigitalBTC priceDigitalBTC stock priceBitcoin Shop is an e-commerce platform that is traded on the OTCQB market in the US. It has run into trouble recently, with its management foregoing salaries in a bid to reduce expenses. Its share price has fallen from $5.26 when it completed its reverse takeover of TouchIT Technologies in February to $0.08 today. Bitcoin Group’s Lee points to digitalBTC’s share offering as a sign that the Australian investing public has an appetite for bitcoin stocks. He also believes that a listed entity would give customers the transparency and consumer protections that aren’t guaranteed by privately held mining firms. “Me and other local bitcoiners have been misled by over ambitious delivery dates of certain mining companies in the past, but due to the companies operating as private entities, investors and customers have no recourse to receive fair treatment,” he said. Images via Yasser Alghofily / Flickr; Shutterstock AustraliaBitcoin GroupdigitalBTC
Original author: Joon Ian Wong
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial ParkAccra memorial to the founding father of Ghana, Kwame NkrumahControversial and unjust though it often was, the British Empire left a legacy of political and cultural ties, not to mention a large and vibrant expat community in the UK, that exist to this day. As many of these expats regularly send money to family and friends back home in their countries of origin, a vast flow of cash ($3.2bn in 2011) makes its way from the UK around the world. creating a lucrative market currently dominated by banks and money transmitting services like Western Union and MoneyGram. This is a market ripe for disruption from bitcoin, which excels at making international transfers of value speedily and cheaply. Ghana alone has almost 100,000 people living in Britain – more than a tenth of the global expat total for that country – many of whom support relatives at home by sending regular money remittances. Also according to World Bank data, around $138m was remitted globally into Ghana in 2012, with an estimated $25m of that coming from Britain (Excel document). Ghana remittances. Source: The World BankGhana remittances. Source: World BankCompelling use case Sending all that money comes at a cost for consumers. On average, a £200 transfer from the UK to Ghana will encounter a 7.4% fee when the unfavourable exchange rates often given against the local currency, the Ghana cedi (GHS), are taken into account. Furthermore, for developing countries, remittances are an important source of income, as well as of foreign exchange. Some countries have remittance revenues of over 20% of GDP, according to a report citing the World Bank. All this provides a compelling use case for bitcoin-based services that have the potential to significantly undercut that figure, allowing millions more dollars annually to go to the people that really need it, rather than global corporations. To this end, an Accra-based startup called Beam – which is currently preparing for its launch into private beta next Monday – plans to disrupt that market by offering bitcoin’s speed and cost savings to the UK–Ghana remittance stream. Invading the remittance space Beam home page “The remittance industry in Africa is highly inefficient,” Beam’s CEO Nikunj Handa explained. As well as the costs, which can be up to three times those in Asia, delays are also commonplace. “It can take up to two to three days for remittances to be finally delivered in someone’s bank account or in cash,” he said. Beam aims to outdo its entrenched rivals by fixing these problems with a faster, more affordable and more convenient solution: bitcoin. “By using bitcoin to accept payments from remittance senders,” he said, “we are able to receive payments instantly and with almost no fees. This keeps our costs very low, and allows us to pass on those savings to our customers.” Senders using the service are charged a flat-fee of £1 ($1.60) on each transaction, regardless of the amount. In addition, the firm levies a 3% markup on its exchange rate. Beam transaction webpageBeam’s transaction webpage“We validated the idea for Beam with a manual process: people in the UK would send bitcoin to someone in Ghana, who would in turn sell the bitcoin to us, in exchange for Ghana cedis,” Handa explained. “We started building Beam only after validating the need to automate this process.” Beam is heavily localised for the Ghanaian and Nigerian markets. The startup partners with mobile money vendors and banks to enable “instant deposits into recipients’ accounts in Ghana and Nigeria”. This, said Handa, avoids customers the wait they would encounter with international bank wires, or having to queue and fill in paperwork at agent locations. About Beam Beam was co-founded by Handa along with Falk Benke, the startup’s CTO. Before starting the company, both taught software development at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) – a nonprofit set up to provide training and mentoring to young African entrepreneurs aspiring to launch new, Ghana-based software companies. During this time, Handa and Benke say they sold bitcoin to the local market and taught how bitcoin can be used to solve problems faced in online payments and money transfers. Beam later graduated from the MEST incubator programme, which, Handa said, provided some pre-seed investment in the startup. Backed by the Meltwater Foundation, the company also has the support of a team advisors at MEST, including venture capitalist Neal Hansch and Meltwater founder and CEO Jorn Lyseggen, along with legal, marketing, banking and regulatory advisors. Winning over customers Alongside the speed, convenience and low cost of bitcoin-based transactions, Beam plans to win over new users by providing a wide variety of payout solutions that its competitors don’t. Handa said: “We will enable our senders to top up airtime, pay utility bills, or even pay for gifts for their loved ones back home. We aim to become a one-stop solution for diasporans looking to provide for their loved ones back home.” Beam has also been raising awareness amongst its target market on how bitcoin can be used as a cheap way to buy items online when credit cards fail to work. Justifying his claim, Handa said: “My co-founder and I bought and sold over $35,000 worth of bitcoin to Ghanaians in just three months. People in Ghana are gaining awareness of bitcoin technology, and we plan to do everything we can to boost this effort.” Additionally, the company aims to promote bitcoin to young entrepreneurs in the country in the hopes of building a local ecosystem there. Currently, Beam says it is the only bitcoin company in Ghana, but the team hopes that, in time, that will change. Ready for regulation Currently, Beam is primarily focused on the UK senders’ market due to its high concentration of Ghanaian and Nigerian expats. Handa indicated, though, that the startup can accept bitcoins from people in all other parts of the world with the exception of the US. This restriction he said, is “due to the high level of licensing requirements in each US state”. Regulatory obligations do exist in the UK and Ghana, he said, although they are “rather ambiguous”. Until more clarity is forthcoming, Handa said: “We have built in KYC [know-your-customer] and AML [anti-money laundering] controls (like most bitcoin exchanges) onto our systems as a precaution. All users are required to verify their identities and residential addresses before sending money via our platform.” In Ghana and Nigeria, Beam is partnering with banks which already have remittance licenses in order to ensure compliance. In the UK, Handa said, the firm will follow the regulatory evolution of the national tax authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and the Financial Conduct Authority going forward. Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park image via Shutterstock AfricaBeamGhanaRemittances
Original author: Dan Palmer
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