The latest figures from LocalBitcoins show that there has been an increase in the number of users as well as the use of the world’s top digital currency, Bitcoin, in India.
According to Coin Dance, weekly LocalBitcoins volume for Bitcoin rose by over 100 percent in the week of Nov. 26 compared to the previous week - that is 27.7 mln Indian Rupee (INR) in the week of Nov. 26 compared to 16.3 mln INR in the week of Nov. 19.
Several factors could have been responsible for this surge. Top among them is the recent demonetization of certain denominations in India’s currency. As the world’s largest receiver of remittances, Indians were abruptly stopped from using the old 500 INR and 1000 INR. Another factor that could have contributed to the surge is the rumor that the government plans on banning gold imports.
However, while it could be said that the total amount of the currently traded figure - which tops at an equivalent of approximately $408,000 weekly - could still be considered disproportionate to the huge market potential of Bitcoin in a country like India, it shows that the digital currency is gradually picking up particularly when looking at it from the perspective of the values involved.
A European bank has become the latest victim of ransom attacks, as customers are now faced with paying 10 percent of their balances or having their personal data exposed.
The attack is affecting the Liechtenstein operations of Swiss Bank Valartis, recently acquired by Hong Kong-based Citychamp Watch & Jewellery Group Ltd.
Customers threatened directly
Valartis, which only recently received the all clear to operate in neighboring Switzerland following liquidity problems, has only given limited information on the situation.
“We’ve alerted the authorities and are communicating with them,” German newspaper Bild am Sonntag quotes CEO Andreas Insam as saying.
The origins of the hackers are not known, but their plans strike a familiar tone: pay out funds or face personal transaction data being shared with authorities and media organs.
This time, however, customers themselves are being directly threatened. Valartis counts ‘high-end’ clients among its user base, which includes “politicians, actors and high net worth individuals,” Bild am Sonntag reports.
Similarities to other cash-for-Bitcoin-style attacks are numerous, coming at a time when lax cybersecurity practices in business worldwide are under the spotlight.
Banks have also had a tough few months, most recently with UK-based Tesco Bank losing funds from around 40 thousand accounts overnight earlier in November.
What could possibly happen if and when a tiny fraction - one percent - of the Indian population gets a hold on what Bitcoin could do for them in the country’s time of demonetization, which has forced the citizens into applying unusual efforts to access and use their hard-earned money?
Something big, but not unexpected.
With hashtags like; #india #trump #china #fed, it could create a nexus, with the prediction by CivicKey’s CEO that the price of Bitcoin will hit the $1000 mark before the end of 2016.
Lamassu’s co-founder Josh Harvey started this puzzle with a tweet that says that there are 13 mln people in the Indian one percent, and the fact that many of them will be hearing about Bitcoin now is in itself a big deal.
With the Editor in Chief at Adamant Research, Tuur Demeester, adding in a tweet that Bitcoin, on Indian exchange Zebpay, has been selling for 20 percent premium, equivalent to $895, one could either join the view that the digital currency will jump into its store of value element or agree that the arbitrage reflects the uncertainty around the Indian rupee.
For Cashaa’s Kumar Gaurav, the issue in India created an opportunity window in the form of a huge gap between the west and the east, which is very good for his P2P platform. It is helping millions of Indians to transfer money in India without passing through intermediaries or banks, especially as people in the high liquid market are looking to sell their Bitcoins in India.
With the Indian Government’s demonetization drive resulting in chaos and a rush for cash, Indians are turning to god to tide over the crisis.
Worship places requested to deposit cash received
The characterization of India as a spiritual place by most tourists is not wrong, considering that it is the birthplace of multiple religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Religious institutions play an important role in daily life and receive a lot of money - including small bills - as donations. The Ministry of Finance has requested religious institutions to deposit their cash donations into banks, which can then redistribute these small bills into the economy.
In the southern state of Kerala, the Martin De Porres church has opened its collection box to help the needy. The church normally opens its donation box once every six months.
Money laundering attempts
Not all actions of religious institutions during this crisis have been philanthropic - some of them are under the government’s scanner for money laundering.
There has been a surge in deposits made to temples and other religious institutions, post the demonetization measures taken by the government. The government is investigating if the management of certain institutions are involved in laundering money by showing it as anonymous donations.
Currency and religion
Governments have often used religion to reinforce the belief of the masses in government measures. “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States and appears on fiat bills.
Bitcoiners differ in their views. While Bitcoiners may or may not believe in god, they believe in the math underlying the Blockchain.
Plenty of religious institutions accept Bitcoin. The Shoreline Unitarian Church has accepted Bitcoins since 2014, using Coinbase as a payment processor. On the other side, the Satanic Temple of Detroit also accepts Bitcoin, using ShapeShift. Bitcoin is indeed a great leveller.
Recent events in Canada suggest its government could be well positioned to become an early mainstream adopter of Bitcoin.
Thursday, Nov. 17 recorded the biggest attendance ever at the Toronto Bitcoin meet-up. Earlier on the same day was a meeting between Jason Cassidy, president at Crypto Consultant, who is quickly becoming a Bitcoin ambassador in Canada and the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC). The meeting was a move to work with the commission towards cryptocurrency legislation in Canada.
Everyone seems to be involved
Cassidy explains that the increased interest in the world’s first truly decentralized digital currency seems not to be limited to enthusiasts and tech pioneers. The Government of Ontario is now taking an active role in helping to shape future legislation for Bitcoin and digital currencies, a trend that he says will become commonplace over the next few years as mainstream acceptance becomes a reality.
Cassidy describes this development as groundbreaking steps in the right direction, as it opens the door for collaboration with various levels of government. “We are now at a point where, to grow the ecosystem further, we must work diligently with these groups to form a legal framework that makes sense for all Canadians,” he says.
An uplifting progress
Cassidy did not hide his excitement towards Bitcoin’s progress in Canada. He notes that having been in the cryptocurrency space since 2012, it is very uplifting to see this type of progress.
No surprise that the interest in Blockchain technology is strong in Russia. Tech enthusiasts and bright business minds do not wait for the Blockchain revolution to happen, they make it happen.
The first Russian Bitcoin Conference, which was held in the Spring of this year, has demonstrated not only that there is a strong demand for the developing of technology in the country, but also the need to create a platform for sharing experiences and knowledge.
Two main areas of concern
The very recent Blockchain&Bitcoin Conference was organized by Smile Expo in the conference center, Digital October. The event was naturally divided into two interesting and important tracks - a Technology Track led by the founder of Bits.media Ivan Tikhonov, and a Regulations Track, led by Blockchain entrepreneur Alex Fork.
Key speakers within the Financial Track - Elina Sidorenko, who is heading the working group for digital currencies at the State Duma, and Artem Tolkachev, the head of the Blockchain Community - outlined the position of Russian authorities regarding the development of digital currencies in the country. As was suggested by the speakers, the main issues discussed by the regulators at the moment concern defining the legal status of digital currencies and ways of their regulation.
Following the experiences of other countries, state authorities suggest the treating of digital currencies as one of the following: finances, financial tool, quasi-money, or goods. Each of these options has its own pros and cons and requires the introduction of changes within national legislation.
For example, the idea of digital money being considered as a financial tool is too obscure and uncertain, as the variety of financial tools are too wide and any changes have to be considered by the federal law payment system. Treating digital money as goods is not easy either, it would equalize all digital money transactions to trade turnover, leading to certain complications in the tax policies and trade regulations. Unsurprisingly the term quasi-money appeared in discussions over the nature of digital currencies.
Elina Sidorenko explained: “The term quasi-money does not necessarily imply something bad. This term could eventually be used to define any digital currency, as soon as we agree on what we actually mean by that.”
Industry has changed significantly
Generally the situation around digital currencies in Russia has changed significantly during the last seven months. The most discussed topic last Spring was how harsh the penalty would follow for trading digital currencies. Luckily, regulators have moved forward from their desire to ban alternative money and prevent them from any possible development.
Starting on Nov. 17, merchants at the Passage du Grand Cerf will be the first Parisian marketplace to accept Bitcoin, with 20 shops already preparing for its acceptance. These shops will be added to Paris’s growing list of Bitcoin-accepting shops and will be accepting both fiat and Bitcoin with the help of several Bitcoin groups.
The Passage and Bitcoin
With the help of France’s Cercle du Coin Bitcoin club and La Maison du Bitcoin by Ledger, the merchants of the Passage are welcoming Bitcoin as an additional and alternative way to pay without suffering heavy fees and rates for transactions, thanks to Bitcoin’s P2P system.
However, the merchants are not expecting to make huge profits with Bitcoin but want to tell Bitcoin owners in Paris that there are more places to spend it at and not just online stores.
The Blockchain technology is attracting an increased interest from the Russian financial institutions and IT companies and may be poised to overcome skepticism from Russian regulators.
This is perhaps not surprising, given Russia’s prominence in the technology sector with over 120,000 local programmers and continuing growth in e-commerce and online activities.
However, certain legal obstacles may still pose challenges for promoters and developers of cryptocurrencies and other Blockchain applications.