BitSpark Wins Innotribe 2015 Singapore Semi-Finals and Announces New Offline Service

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BitSpark Wins Innotribe 2015 Singapore Semi-Finals and Announces New Offline Service
bitspark

Bitcoin remittance startup BitSpark, alongside four other fintech startups, won the Innotribe 2015 Singapore Semi-Finals held Thursday at the Red Dot Design Museum. The event was organized through a partnership with NextBank Asia and sponsored by international bank Wells Fargo and European startup accelerator Level39.

BitSpark will now progress to the finals, which will be held in October at Singapore Sibos, where it will have the opportunity to win $50,000 and as well as support from the international payment network SWIFT.

Other winners of the Singaporean competition were social consumer credit rating startup Trustingsocial, automated risk management platform provider Jewel Paymentech, online payment processor Codapay, and mobile payments solution provider goSwift. Each of the 15 startups that participated in the event had to pitch the company to a panel of judges, which was composed of financial technology experts and entrepreneurs from the Asia-Pacific region.

BitSpark will be competing against 20 other fintech startups in the finals. Besides the Asian competition winners, finalists from Innotribe competitions held in North America, Africa and Europe will also be competing. The North American showcase has yet to held, and so far only one other digital currency startup progressed to finals. Elliptic, a secure storage service for a variety of assets using the blockchain, won the European showcase in April.

Connecting offline remittances

BitSpark secured a spot in the finals with a new service they announced during the competition. BitSpark CEO George Harrap told Bitcoin Magazine the new service is a way for offline remittance agents to offer online remittances through the startup’s Bitcoin international technology.

“With Bitspark, traditionally offline small business remittance shops (who can service the unbanked) are brought online, and online remittance services (who cannot access the unbanked/unconnected) are now able to connect with unbanked customers,” said Harrap.

The new service aims to solve of one of Bitcoin remittances’ biggest hurdles: digital. The vast majority of senders and receivers are still offline, cash-loving and might not have the best access to the Internet.

Online is still tiny part of global remittances, around 10 to 15 percent, though that is changing. BitSpark will continue to follow the company’s philosophy of “bitcoin in the background,” or cash-in and cash-out, so consumers don’t need to bother handling the digital currency.

BitSpark already operates its online Bitcoin remittance service in a several parts of Asia, including mainland China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong. The startup uses only Bitcoin as payment rails, and users send and receive fiat. It has previously explored ways to cater to offline remitters with pre-paid cards in the Philippines and a physical point-of-presence in Hong Kong.

Developing an agent network

BitSpark will try to entice remittance agents to join the startup’s service by offering a subscription-fee model instead of the commission model offered by Western Union, MoneyGram and others. Attracting agents and building a large agent network is crucial for the success of the service.

Instead of giving a cut of each transaction to BitSpark, agents within their network will pay a yet-to-be-defined monthly fee to be part of the service. According to Harrap, the pricing model will put much more cash in the pockets of agents compared to existing remittance companies.

The Bitcoin startup said it already has a number of operators signed up, but whether the different fee model will be compelling enough to incentivize the number of agents it needs to join is a big if. Established offline remittance services offer a trusted brand and large customer base, both of which are huge for getting volume and subsequent agent earnings. Though it varies from country to country, in many places agents make between 30 percent to 45 percent.

That percentage might seem small, but even with a large cut going to remittance companies such as Western Union, agents are likely making a good living from the large volume provided by such brands.

BitSpark did not elaborate in detail about the new service but said more information would be available closer its launch in July.

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Deep Web Documentary Shines Light on the Rise and Fall of the Silk Road
deep-web

On  February 4, 2015, a young man named Ross Ulbricht was convicted of seven charges laid in a U.S. Federal Court in Manhattan. On May 29, 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes.

He was accused of being the owner and operator of the Silk Road website, the most popular online drug marketplace.

The indictment charged Ulbricht in seven counts, including narcotics trafficking, narcotics trafficking by means of the Internet, conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to commit or aid and abet computer hacking,  conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, and conspiring to commit money laundering.

Filmmaker Alex Winter has written, directed, and produced a film outlining the story of the rise and fall of Silk Road called Deep Web. It premieres on May 31st at 8PM on Epix.

The documentary tells the story of the rise and fall of Silk Road, bringing the viewer  into the world of U.S. law enforcement agencies during their early monitoring and seizure of the website, follows Ulbricht’s court case, and documents the present work of one group of people trying to rebuild a decentralized version of the Silk Road.

It includes testimonials from government officials, law enforcement, crypto-anarchists, ex-Silk Road vendors, and people who knew Ulbricht personally.

The filmmakers provide an impartial recounting of this shocking story while bringing to light important topics of discussion.

“I really tried to shine a light on aspects of the story that I wasn’t seeing,” says Winter.  “It’s a complex thing to tell a story about for that reason. It’s very easy to paint a story black and white, So a lot of painstaking effort was made to dig into the roots of what these movements are about and examine the grays of what’s seen as a black and white story.”

The documentary’s footage of Ulbricht reveals an idealistic, fun-loving, and liberty-minded young American man whose life is paradoxically juxtaposed with that of a drug kingpin. His character straddles the line of  between hero and villain throughout the story.

Creating such a comprehensive look at this whole story wasn’t without its challenges for the filmmakers.

“Creating this film required a fairly comprehensive understanding of the tech,” says Winter.  “You also have to have an understanding of the people in the tech communities and get at what their motives are and what they’re trying to accomplish; look at hard truths that may not be palatable to people,  and just try to paint a human face of the individual convicted of this crime since the counter narrative is so strong; trying to swim against that current is also challenging.”

Bitcoin Magazine spoke to Lyn Ulbricht, Ross Ulbricht’s mother at the SXSW premiere of Deep Web.

“He was pretty upset,” said Lynn Ulbricht.  “It was very tough on him. The trial was emotionally draining; very hard on all of us. Since then, he really tries to be positive. He’s strong and resilient. He tells me that when he was feeling restless he started working out. He’s coping but it’s tough. He’s very cut off. I’m proud of him. “

“This case is very important,” concluded Lynn Ulbricht.  “There’s evidence pointing to the fact that the Silk Road server was accessed illegally. It sets precedent going into the digital age that will affect all of us. It’s not just about Ross.”

News that two federal agents used their government position for the robbery and extortion of large sums of money from  the Silk Road has recently surfaced.

Ulbricht’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial on March 6 on the grounds that the government’s failure to provide  this exculpatory material in a timely manner denied Ross his fifth amendment right to due process and fair trial.

Not denying that the criminal case against these former agents alleges corruption, judge Katherine Forrest has denied a retrial for Ulbricht. According to her ruling, “This motion for a new trial…does not address how any additional evidence, investigation, or time would have raised even a remote probability that the outcome of the trial would be any different.”

Winter is hoping to bring this story to everyday people and make them think about things that they would’ve otherwise given thought to.

“I hope that this project challenges people enough to dig deeper. I hope that people have enough humanity to question things. I hope that it provides impetus for more nuanced discourse about the internet and the movements around the internet that I think are very important.”

Overall, this gripping documentary demands the viewer’s’ attention and contains the staunch realization that we are entering the “future”. Along with that comes problems like cyber crime and unknown hacking methods used by both citizens and governments. Some questions to be asked are: Is it safer for drug deals to go on online?  What are the US citizen’s relationship to their government? Is this altering?

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Bitcoin Casino Bitstarz Partners With iGaming Software Provider FENgaming
Lobby2

Bitstarz.com has partnered up with established gaming company FENgaming, allowing Bitstarz to include popular NetEnt games in their offerings. Bitstarz.com now offers more than 550 casino games, instantaneous transfers and no fees for Bitcoin players.

Bitstarz.com is pleased to declare their co-operation with iGaming software supplier FENgaming. The new partnership empowers BitStarz to add NetEnt games currently popular on the European market to their portfolio. Bitstarz is now making their way to the top of the internet gaming industry with their vast range of games and their fiat and cryptocurrency payment system. Bitstarz.com offers huge stakes holding the Guinness World Record with the Mega Fortune jackpot of €17,800.000.

With the new slots included, the online gambling platform now has more than 650 casino games for desktop and cell phones accessible to its customers. Bitstarz’s offerings now include state-of-the-art amusement such as popular Quickfire, Amatic, Ezugi, Betsoft, and now additionally NetEnt games with top picks like Gonzo’s Quest, Starburst, Blood Suckers and Jack Hammer.

FENgaming is an iGaming software supplier with more than 10 years of experience in the business. With past clients including some of the top casinos on the market FENgaming provides end to end gaming solutions; they are legally licensed in many countries and FENgaming software is compatible with some of the most popular third-party slots and games including NetEnt.

Major gaming software provider NetEnt has been providing premium gaming solutions to the world’s largest online gaming platforms since its launch in 1996.

Bitstarz Marketing Manager Sasha Jade states,

“NetEnt games add more depth to our game selection and this puts us in a privileged position to introduce our brand to markets that are already used to playing these titles”

With market leading customer service and fiat and Bitcoin options, this new partnership is one more step in offering a solid casino service for gaming enthusiasts around the globe.

Sasha Jade proceeds with saying,

“This addition will enable us to compete head to head with established brands, especially in Scandinavia, where NetEnt games are very strong and in demand by players”.

With Bitstarz’s new co-operation with FENgaming the online Bitcoin casino continues in their mission to offer the ultimate casino experience to players worldwide. By adding NetEnt games to their online portfolio Bitstarz is gaining ground in the European market with an impressive range of games. Onlookers and betting fans worldwide can expect numerous further energizing developments.

For more information please visit: https://www.bitstarz.com

Media contact:

Name: Sasha Jade, Marketing Manager

Email: sasha.jade@bitstarz.com

 

 
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Bitcoin Gets ‘Slashdotted’ and the Creation of Mt. Gox
slashdot

From DIGITAL GOLD by Nathaniel Popper

Headphones on and an oversize can of MadCroc energy drink by his side, Martti sat at his dorm room desk, giddy. Slashdot, a go-to news site for computer geeks the world over, was going to post an article about Martti’s pet project. Bitcoin, largely ignored over the last year, was on the verge of receiving global attention.

The campaign to get Bitcoin real press coverage had begun a few weeks earlier, not long after Martti finished his three-month internship at Siemens. A new version of Bitcoin, version 0.3, was being prepared for release by Satoshi, and the regulars on the forum saw a perfect opportunity to get the word out. Martti agreed with a handful of other users that Slashdot would be the best place to do this.

“Slashdot with its millions of tech-savvy readers would be awesome, perhaps the best imaginable!” Martti wrote on the forum. “I just hope the server can stand getting ‘slashdotted.’ ”

A small crew went back and forth about the right language to submit to the Slashdot editors. Satoshi got his hackles up when someone suggested Bitcoin be sold as “outside the reach of any government.”

“I am definitely not making any such taunt or assertion,” Satoshi wrote.

He quickly apologized for being a wet blanket: “Writing a description for this thing for general audiences is bloody hard. There’s nothing to relate it to.”

After Martti suggested his own changes, the final version made the more modest assertion that “the community is hopeful the currency will remain outside the reach of any government.”

When the item went online, shortly after midnight in Helsinki, it wasn’t anything more than the single paragraph the Bitcoin team had submitted.

“How’s this for a disruptive technology?” it began. “Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer, network-based digital currency with no central bank, and no transaction fees.”

Despite the modesty of the item, the Internet chat channel that Martti had established for the Bitcoin community quickly lit up. NewLibertyStandard wrote: “front page!!!”

Regulars like Laszlo made a point of being on the Bitcoin chat channel, to answer questions and serve as a tour guide of sorts for any newbies who checked in after reading the story. In his dorm room, Martti posted a message on Facebook: “If I was a smoker, I would have smoked two packs already.”

Martti watched as the counters, which tracked the number of users on the forum and the chat channel, ticked steadily upward. Messages crowded his forum in-box; and the Bitcoin website, running on servers that could not handle more than one hundred viewers at a time, began to slow. Within an hour, the limit was reached and the whole site went down. Martti scrambled to scale up the site’s capacity with the company that rented him space. But this, and the derogatory comments that showed up under the Slashdot item, did not dampen his enthusiasm. This was what he’d been waiting for for months.

 

Chapter 5

July 12, 2010

When he awoke late, the morning after the Slashdot posting, Martti Malmi saw that the attention was not a hit-and- run phenomenon. People weren’t just taking a look at the site and moving on. They were also downloading and running the Bitcoin software. The number of downloads would jump from around three thousand in June to over twenty thousand in July. The day after the Slashdot piece appeared, Gavin Andresen’s Bitcoin faucet gave away 5,000 Bitcoins and was running empty. As he begged for donations, he marveled at the strength of the network:

 

Over the last two days of Bitcoin being “slashdotted” I haven’t heard of ANY problems with Bitcoin transactions getting lost, or of the network crashing due to the load, or any problem at all with the core functionality.

 

But while the Bitcoin software itself was working well, new users quickly ran up against the limitations of the Bitcoin ecosystem. Those who immediately wanted to acquire more Bitcoins than were available from Gavin’s faucet were left with only a few meager options, one of them a creaky, unreliable service that Martti had set up a few months earlier.

Jed McCaleb was one of the people who encountered this weakness. A native of Arkansas, Jed had been raised by his single mother, who made a living as a journalist. From a young age, Jed had been something of a math and science prodigy, and this allowed him to make it to Berkeley for college. Jed, though, had trouble sticking with things, and he soon dropped out of Berkeley and moved to New York. There he and a partner set up what became one of the main successors to Napster. His software, eDonkey, made it possible for individuals to trade large files like movies and it proved so successful that the Recording Industry Association of America sued Jed and his business partner. They eventually paid $30 million to settle the case and shut eDonkey down, but they also earned a few million along the way.

Despite being a soft-spoke introvert, Jed had a cool way about him that helped him make friends and girlfriends. When one of his romantic flings ended up pregnant, he and the woman, MiSoon, decided somewhat spontaneously to keep the baby and make a go of it. They used some of Jed’s earnings to buy an estate with a pool an hour or so north of New York City, just as they were expecting a second baby. In the sprawling, mostly empty house, Jed threw himself into an online game he had created called The Far Wilds, which had attracted only a few aficionados. He spent endless hours in a first-floor bedroom, which he had turned into a den. Books about neuroscience and artificial intelligence piled up around him—as did old food, attracting bugs that MiSoon initially tried to get rid of, but later came to accept as one of the side effects of Jed’s brilliant mind.

When Jed came across the Slashdot post about Bitcoin he was immediately intrigued. It seemed to fulfill many of the ideals behind Napster and eDonkey—taking power from authorities and giving it to individuals. But when Jed tried to buy some actual Bitcoins, he ran into the limitations of the few existing sites that sold them.

MiSoon was nursing their newborn son when she wandered into Jed’s study one night and encountered his frustration.

“There’s this really cool thing called Bitcoin— it’s like this nerd, libertarian thing,” Jed told MiSoon, in his hushed, intense voice. “But it’s so lame. I can’t buy any at night.”

Jed said he wanted to build a site himself where he could buy coins at any hour. When MiSoon arose the next morning, it was done. With some experience in amateur foreign-currency trading, Jed knew the basics of what an exchange required. But he had never actually set up a website before, having previously worked more on the sophisticated back-end software. His new Bitcoin exchange was something of a fun experiment.

He and MiSoon discussed possible names for the site. He mentioned an old domain name that he owned and was not using—mtgox.com. Jed had bought the site in 2007, for use as an online exchange to buy and sell the cards used in the role-playing game Magic: The Gathering hence the acronym for Magic: The Gathering Online Exchange. It had operated for just a few months before Jed shut it down and the site had been vacant since.

“Yeah, you should use that,” MiSoon replied. “That’s kind of weird and easy to remember. Why not if you already have it registered?”

Seven days after the Slashdot post, Jed casually advertised his new site on the Bitcoin forum:

 

Hi Everyone,

I just put up a new Bitcoin exchange.

Please let me know what you think.

 

Mt. Gox was a significant departure from the exchanges that already existed, primarily because Jed offered to take money from customers into his PayPal account and thereby risk violating the PayPal prohibition on buying and selling currencies. This meant that Jed could receive funds from almost anywhere in the world. What’s more, customers didn’t have to send Jed money each time they wanted to do a trade. Instead, they could hold money—both dollars and Bitcoins— in Jed’s account and then trade in either direction at any time as long as they had sufficient funds, much as in a traditional brokerage account.

These advances made it significantly more convenient to buy and sell Bitcoins, but also brought new dangers that threatened to betray some of the currency’s basic principles. Satoshi had designed Bitcoin to eliminate the need for trusted central authorities. It was supposed to be a new money that people could hold on their own, without a bank, secured with a private key that only the user knew. Mt. Gox customers would be moving back to the old model in which a single institution—Jed’s company—held everyone’s money. If Jed offered good security measures, this might prove safer than holding coins on a home computer. But Jed was not a security expert, and if he did somehow lose the private keys to the exchange’s digital wallets, his customers had little recourse. Unlike the banks that Bitcoiners had bashed, Mt. Gox had no deposit insurance and no regulators overseeing the safety and soundness of Jed’s operation. The choice was between security and principles on one hand and convenience on the other.

From DIGITAL GOLD by Nathaniel Popper Copyright © 2015 by Nathaniel Popper. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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Blockstream Starts Development on the Lightning Network
blockstream-lightning

The authors of the much-discussed Bitcoin Sidechains paper “Enabling Blockchain Innovations with Pegged Sidechains,” released in October, have formed the company Blockstream to develop new ways to accelerate innovation in digital currencies, open assets and smart contracts. In November, Blockstream closed a $21 million seed funding round with nearly 40 investors, including well-known pioneers of the Internet and financial services sectors.

The Bitcoin Sidechains paper envisages an ecosystem of “sidechains” separate from the main Bitcoin blockchain but interoperable with it. A sidechain can carry bitcoin as currency, in which case users will be able to seamlessly transfer bitcoin between the sidechain and the main blockchain. At the same time, the sidechain can implement changes from Bitcoin Core. For example, a sidechain can implement more powerful scripting features or more watertight privacy.

For a readable explanation of sidechains, see “A simple explanation of Bitcoin ‘Sidechains,” by Richard Gendal Brown, executive architect for banking innovation at IBM UK.

“[A]t any point, whoever is holding these coins on the sidechain can send them back to the Bitcoin network by creating a special transaction on the sidechain that immobilizes the bitcoins on the sidechain,” explains Gendal Brown. “They’ll disappear from the sidechain and become available again on the Bitcoin network, under the control of whoever last owned them on the sidechain.”

The deployment of sidechains interoperable with Bitcoin requires the implementation of suitable hooks in Bitcoin Core. That will inevitably take some time, but it’s worth noting that some Blockstream team members are also Bitcoin Core developers.

In February, developers Joseph Poon and Thaddeus Dryja released a first draft version another much-discussed paper, proposing a decentralized Bitcoin Lightning Network where related transactions can take place instantly on “micropayment channels” off-chain, and only the final settlement is processed by the blockchain. According to the authors, lightning networks would enable bitcoin scalability, efficient micropayments, and near-instant transactions.

The implementation of lightning networks would also require appropriate tweaks to Bitcoin core. Some developers have noted that there is a certain degree of affinity between sidechains and lightning networks.

“Other approaches seek to modify Bitcoin protocols in various ways,” wrote Robert McGrath. “For example, Sidechains aim to create alternative blockchains hanging off the main blockchain, which would help limit the costs of the main blockchain. Another variant is the Lightning network, which aims to allow some transactions to be performed “on the side,” and on send the results to the main blockchain.”

Rusty Russel, an Australian developer known for his work on the Linux kernel, wrote a series of blog posts about interesting features of lightning networks. “The key revelation of the paper is that we can have a network of arbitrarily complicated transactions, such that they aren’t on the blockchain (and thus are fast, cheap and extremely scalable), but at every point are ready to be dropped onto the blockchain for resolution if there’s a problem,” he said. “This is genuinely revolutionary.”

Now it appears that the development efforts for sidechains and lightning networks are coming together. Russel, who joined Blockstream a few weeks ago, is working on lightning networks, and one of his first actions was to set up a Blockstream-hosted mailing list for “Discussion of the development of the Lightning Network, a caching layer for bitcoin.” The new mailing list archives are freely accessible.

“They hired me,” Russel said on Reddit. “We agreed I’d be working on developing lightning. I set up a mailing list and am developing a toy prototype to explore the ideas. Will put on github once that’s ready (two weeks?) but it’s a long long way from anything someone could use. I’m excited about lightning, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

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