Bitcoin is a global phenomenon, but not everyone around the world uses it in the same way. Here in Asia, the way a person from the Philippines uses bitcoin is probably very different from how it’s used in Thailand, and both are very different from the typical user in Taiwan. Despite bitcoin being hailed as “borderless,” these use cases tend to vary by country due to factors like government policy, economics, and culture. To help visualize these trends, we reached out to half a dozen Bitcoin thought leaders from some of the region’s most prominent bitcoin businesses.
Hong Kong-based bitcoin remittance startup Bitspark announced today that it has closed a new funding round and secured a new security partnership to strengthen its offerings. Details of the funding round were not disclosed, but Bitspark says the total sum was “six figures” (USD) and that the round was driven by “prominent financial technology investors and executives.” The company says this latest round will help it expand its service offerings.
A year after China began tightening regulations around Bitcoin, the virtual currency is still thriving in the country, albeit on the fringes, according to its largest exchange. Bitcoin prices may have declined, but Chinese buyers are still trading the currency in high volumes with the help of BTC China, an exchange that witnessed the boom days back in 2013, only to see the bust following the Chinese government’s announcement, in December of that year, that banks would be banned from trading in bitcoin.
After hinting several times over the past year or so that it wants to accept Bitcoin on its marketplaces, Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten announced today that it will start to accept the cryptocurrency on its global marketplaces. The rollout will begin in America, and then spread to Rakuten Germany and Rakuten Austria. Bitnet, an enterprise-focused developer that creates bitcoin platforms, is Rakuten’s partner in the rollout.
The future does not look bright for bitcoin in Hong Kong as local lawmakers are urging the central bank to ban the virtual currency, following the scam that could have duped investors of up to US$387 million. The company at the centre of the scam, MyCoin, describes itself on its website as the “leading global bitcoin trading platform and application service provider.
A Chinese cryptocurrency exchange revealed on Sunday that 7,170 bitcoins have been stolen by hackers. The current value is about US$1.75 million. The BTER exchange is temporarily closed while it tries to track down the culprits and recover the bitcoins. BTER’s site is now displaying only a notice about the hack along with a reward of 720 bitcoins (US$176,000) for hunting down the perps. This was first noticed by Coindesk.
Regulators have ordered Australia’s Bitcoin Group to stop making public statements about its plans to undertake the world’s first initial public offering of a virtual currency exchange after the company approached potential Chinese investors via social media. Melbourne-based start-up Bitcoin Group in December said it hoped to raise $20 million on the Australian Stock Exchange, and had been seeking expressions of interest from potential investors from the Chinese community through Wechat, China’s hugely popular instant messaging service.
A scam involving bitcoin in Hong Kong has robbed investors of HK$3 billion (US$387 million), according to the South China Morning Post. MyCoin.hk, a small local bitcoin exchange, suddenly closed and boarded up its office last month. The company reportedly ran a pyramid scheme wherein as many as 3,000 local investors signed up for the promise of a HK$1 million (US$129,000) return on HK$400,000 (US$52,000) bitcoin mining contracts.
It’s fair to say that Bitcoin technology has grabbed attention in Indonesia, especially after local startup Bitdoku facilitated US$22,000 worth of bitcoin transactions within 24 hours at Startup Asia Jakarta 2014. Tech in Asia also recently ran a piece on the most popular Bitcoin startups in Indonesia.
Nearly all of the roughly US$370 million in bitcoin that disappeared in the February 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox probably vanished due to fraudulent transactions, with only 1 percent taken by hackers, according to a report in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, citing sources close to a Tokyo police probe.
Christmas has come early for Philippine Bitcoin remittance service Rebit.ph. Rebit, one of the verticals under Bitcoin umbrella company Satoshi Citadel Industries (SCI), has booked an average 150 percent growth in value of transactions month-on-month since October. That’s a big jump from the usual 80 percent growth it registered during the first few months from its launch in July. The reason for the spike is obvious: remittances from overseas Filipinos usually peak in the run-up to Christmas because of holiday spending, and Rebit has been able to capture a portion of that market.
Quoine, a pan-Asian bitcoin exchange, announced it closed a US$2 million angel round of funding from a number of investors and private funds, according to Coindesk. The young exchange opened shop in June and, while it is officially incorporated in Singapore, does most of its business in Japan. It also recently launched an Indonesian-language site.
For those of you who’ve been living on the moon, bitcoin is an unregulated digital currency that provides a way for folks to transfer money to each other over the web without using a bank or financial institution as a middleman. All bitcoin users need to do is install a wallet app to start trading with bitcoin. The technology is disruptive and controversial because bitcoin spenders can make their transactions anonymously, and even pay for illegal goods and services like drugs and prostitution online.
Australia’s national criminal intelligence agency is tracking the use of virtual currencies such as Bitcoin on online black markets as part of its new ‘Project Longstrike’ operation. The Australian Crime Commission’s executive director of strategy and specialist capability, Judy Lind, today revealed the agency is now monitoring Bitcoin-enabled crime after spending the last two years building technologies capable of tracing Bitcoin transactions.
When Mt. Gox, the former poster child for the wonders of Bitcoin, lost US$460 million worth of bitcoins in a hacking attack, the cryptocurrency world teetered on the brink of failure. Skeptics gained undeniable justification for their derision and public faith in the security of bitcoin exchanges dropped almost as precipitously as the currency’s value. Today, Mt. Gox, chastened and bankrupt, was essentially handed over to bitcoin exchange Kraken, officially turning the page on Bitcoin’s tumultuous first chapter.
Bitcoin is often hailed as the solution to the world’s remittance problems. It’s accessible to the unbanked, it’s nearly instant, and the fees are minimal compared to banks and other money transfer services. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to bitcoin remittances gaining serious traction is bitcoin itself. The complex, unfamiliar nature of the cryptocurrency keeps would-be users at bay.
Chinese Bitcoin exchange website BTCChina has reached a strategic deal with e-commerce providers, including online game service provider Shenzhoufu.com; Internet P2F financial management website Aicaike.com; and maternal and child product retail website Dandanchina.com. According to the agreements, BTCChina will provide Bitcoin payment services to those e-commerce enterprises, which expand payment channels for Internet users, help e-commerce enterprises attract more users, and improve their competitiveness.
Let’s admit it: part of the fun in following the Bitcoin world is not really knowing where it will go. A cryptocurrency has never reached the scale that Bitcoin appears to be getting now, so we have no benchmark with which to predict its progress. This idea holds especially true for how Bitcoin will affect developing countries like the Philippines, where it has been hailed as a solution for expensive remittance fees – but, on the other hand, some dismiss it as a technology too complex for the masses.
Mario Gomez Lozada looks nothing like the shaggy hipsters that you encounter at Bitcoin meetups. At 40 years old, he’s obviously more seasoned, and his tailored suit and Franck Muller watch clash with the usual T-shirts and beards. The first wave of Bitcoin exchanges, like their creators, were a bit rough around the edges. Their lack of professionalism – mixed with a lot of naivete and too much libertarian idealism – eventually ended with the collapse of Mt. Gox and the evaporation of approximately US$400 million worth of the cryptocurrency. Gomez Lozada, a former CIO at Credit Suisse in both Japan and Singapore, represents the coming wave of Bitcoin 2.0 services – polished, professional, and well-versed in both finance and IT security.
Bitcoin’s cloudy future in Japan just got a bit brighter. The virtual currency has been slow to catch on in Japan following the collapse of noted bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox and the government’s subsequent refusal to categorize it as a currency. There are still proponents of Bitcoin in the country, however. Now you can add GMO, one of Japan’s largest internet infrastructure firms, to the list of fans.