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Why central bank digital currencies will destroy bitcoin

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Cryptocurrency serves ruin

Postby Vugrel В» 29.01.2020

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It was one that people could move over the internet instantaneously and nearly free of charge. Issued and distributed not by a central bank but by its own users, it drew the drapes of privacy around financial transactions while making forgery—in theory, at least—impossible.

But success, of course, breeds competition. And Bitcoin is now clearly the dominant cryptocurrency; as of this writing, in early April, its market cap was three times that of Ethereum, its nearest competitor, and roughly equal to those of all other cryptocurrencies combined. No one can copy an individual bitcoin, but anyone can copy the idea of Bitcoin. So how might a government, or a corporation, or even ordinary people, go about doing so in a way that makes Bitcoin useless or redundant?

Here are a few scenarios. Instead an algorithm automatically makes a withdrawal from your electronic wallet, in a currency called Fedcoin. Sure, you still have a few dollar bills. But they are tucked away as souvenirs. Louis, and later refined by Sahil Gupta, who as an undergraduate at Yale wrote a study on how a currency like Fedcoin would work. With some colleagues, he wrote code to test a simulation. In their system, a blockchain records transactions, just the way it happens with Bitcoin. Instead of being updated by a network of unaffiliated peers, however, the Fedcoin ledger is managed by institutions certified by the Federal Reserve.

Each bank is responsible for a chunk of addresses on the blockchain. When new transactions come through, the bank validates them in a new block and sends it to the Fed.

The Fed then acts as the final arbiter, checking the entries and unifying the blocks into a master version of the blockchain that it makes public. To use fedcoins, people must first show proof of identity and set up a wallet with the Federal Reserve or an affiliate bank, at which point they can buy the new currency with US dollars at a one-to-one ratio.

A scheme like this, says Gupta, might gain popularity and ultimately result in the slow disappearance of physical cash. What such researchers are finding is that a digital version of state-run currencies could match or even improve upon the efficiencies of Bitcoin. Gupta believes that transactions should be processed much faster when a central bank is behind the system as opposed to the peer-to-peer network that currently records Bitcoin transactions.

This efficiency could add up to a lot of saved money. The Bank of England, which has been furiously researching blockchain technology, reported in that even partial adoption of a central-bank-issued digital currency would result in a 3 percent increase in GDP as the cost of taxes and transaction fees went down. A shift away from cash would also make it easier for governments to collect taxes and enact monetary policy, says Campbell Harvey, a professor of finance at Duke University.

Because this scenario could happen tomorrow if the right people got their acts together. This time Bitcoin is usurped by a social-media behemoth. To imagine how Facebook could use its popularity to topple Bitcoin, look at how another large network, Telegram, approached the issue.

So Facebook, like Telegram, could issue its own native currency. Or it could take the more insidious route: adopt Bitcoin itself and take it over. Today, the rules of Bitcoin are enforced by a triad of network operators: the users who make transaction requests, the miners who process those requests and write them into the blockchain, and the validators who watch the blockchain to make sure everything is up to snuff. All of them are using interoperable software, which is what keeps them united on a single version of the blockchain.

Any subset of these network actors can decide at any moment to use another version of the Bitcoin software with slightly different rules to split off from the rest and form a parallel currency. Exactly that happened last year with the creation of Bitcoin Cash, an alternative blockchain with slightly different specifications that allow it to process more transactions in each block. If Facebook could persuade a large enough fraction of Bitcoin users and miners to run its own proprietary version of the Bitcoin software, the company would thereafter control the rules.

It could then refashion Bitcoin as a corporate version of the Fedcoin described above. First, spend a month building a user-friendly, secure, Facebook-hosted Bitcoin wallet.

A Bitcoin wallet is exactly what it sounds like—a container for your digital currency. There are many different kinds—some in hardware, some in software—varying in their level of security and ease of use.

Facebook, with its vast engineering resources and expertise in user experience design, would have no trouble making its wallet slick as hell. Then, overnight, integrate it into every single Facebook account—all 2. The address of every Facebook user is presented as a real name rather than a meaningless alphanumeric string. For those tired of watching ads, you mix in another fun feature.

Other media outlets, like Salon, are already experimenting with this. On the side, and with very little fanfare, you build a data center and begin mining bitcoins on your own. Now let your users absorb these remarkable new tools into everyday life. Give them time to delight in the ability to send money instantaneously over Facebook to any of their friends on the global platform.

Give them time to get addicted. Give them time to settle in to the new career paths that emerge as personal brands turn into commodities.

And all the while, credit yourself with ushering Bitcoin into the mainstream. Then take control. As with Bitcoin Cash, a rebellious few will choose to stop using your wallet and will instead send their transactions to the few ideologically driven miners who continue working on the old Bitcoin blockchain. The real Bitcoin, the one that nearly everyone in the world is using, is now yours. Now you have the same powers the Federal Reserve would have over its own centrally issued currency.

Now you can mint, block, and reassign coins at will. In this near future, goods and services are increasingly represented by tokens, which can be exchanged with anyone. Why not instead of a million ounces of gold in the vault, you drop a million shares of Apple in the vault? The trend among blockchain startups is to build services that function only with the use of a native cryptocurrency, one specifically designed for the application.

Even companies that predate the blockchain are catching on. In January, Kodak announced a new coin that people could use to license the rights to their photography. These tokens are not unlike the points systems and gift cards that companies have used to hem in their customers for decades.

What changes when you record these assets on a blockchain is that they become easily and securely transferable. Facilitating trades between distinct digital assets would require a whole ecosystem of innovations.

For assets that live on separate blockchains, there will need to be reliable ways to transfer tokens on one chain at exactly the same moment that another token moves elsewhere.

So under those scenarios, would there be advantage left to the original Bitcoin? These qualities would disappear the moment transactions were yielded to the Federal Reserve, or to Facebook, or to a network of brokers coordinating the sale of bartered assets. But if all Bitcoin can offer in our hypothetical future is privacy and censorship resistance, then we have to ask—is it actually giving us those things right now?

There are no real names stored on the Bitcoin blockchain, but it records every transaction you make, and every time you use the currency, you risk exposing information that can tie your identity to those actions. We know from documents leaked by Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency has sought ways of connecting activity on the Bitcoin blockchain to people in the physical world. The NSA has been tapping fiber-optic cables, monitoring internet activity, and luring people onto compromised platforms by falsely promising to secure their privacy—all in an effort to collect every bit of data that might link addresses to names and real identities.

Should governments seek to create and enforce blacklists, they will find that the power to decide which transactions to honor lies in the hands of just a few Bitcoin miners.

Some of these crucial players are already feeling the pressure of travel bans imposed by the Chinese government, though it remains unclear whether any specific demands have been made. But the seven billion people not yet using Bitcoin might not care about any of that. With networks, convenience wins, and convenience is based on size. Morgen Peck is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Morgen Peck. Three ways Bitcoin could be brought down, co-opted, or made irrelevant. Option one: Government takeover. Tagged Bitcoin , Blockchain , Cryptocurrency. Author Morgen Peck. From our advertisers. In association with Intel. Produced in association with IBM.

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