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Category Archive: Europe

Blockchain Europe: Europol studies the ledger

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Europol, or the European Union major law enforcement agency, has started a new working lab to study the blockchain and digital currencies. 
This program sees also the participation of Interpol, one the most important organizations focused on law enforcement problems, and the Basel Institute on Governance, a non-profit organization focused on financial issues.
According to a press release published a few days ago, this lab will organize workshops with a global network of experts.
“Internet technologies become continuously more advanced, and so do the ways in which criminals utilize them for their illicit and illegal activities. Among these technologies, digital currencies are already transforming the criminal underworld.”
Europol and Interpol collaborate on digital currency issues since the beginning of 2016, and these two groups already organized a few conferences and training sessions for the global law enforcement representatives in the past.
Also, earlier this year, Europol started a partnership with Chainalysis with the aim of expanding its power of tracking cryptocurrency transactions.

Blockchain Europe

Europe has always been interested in blockchain and cryptocurrencies since the beginning.
Recently a European Parliament representative suggested to start studying the blockchain and investing €1m in a task force focused on the distributed ledger.

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Europe Blockchain: € 1m to study the distributed ledger

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The European Parliament might start to study the blockchain technology with a task force of € 1m. 
A member of the European Parliament, in fact, suggested to create a program focused on studying digital currencies and the distributed ledger. 

Europe Blockchain: a legislative objective

This news comes a few months after the legislative arm of the European Union approved a task force proposed previously this year by Jakob von Weizsäcker.
Von Weisäcker now asks for financial support to fund the program.
He explained that the task force should be organized in order to position the European Commission at the forefront of an innovative technology.
“This pilot project aims at creating a Task Force, staffed with regulatory and technical experts, in order to build up technical expertise, regulators capacity and develop use cases, especially for governmental applications, in the field of distributed ledger technology (DLT) as proposed in the Resolution of the European Parliament on virtual currencies.”
The task force project is one of the most important legislative efforts that came from Europe about the blockchain. 
“Too early hard regulatory measures would stifle innovation and hamper its potential. Waiting too long might lead to a materialization of systemic risks,” commented Von Weisäcker. 

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Burger King accepts bitcoin

The well-known fast food company, Burger King, has started to accept bitcoin among its allowed payment methods, but only in Arnhem, Netherlands.
Located in the city center of Arnhem, this Burger King venue will accept bitcoin and anyone that will pay with in this way will receive a second burger (a whopper) for free.
Another interesting news is that Burger King will host bitcoin meetups to increase the number of people who know what bitcoin is.

But, why Arnhem?

Since the opening of the Arnhem Bitcoinstad (also known as Arnhem Bitcoincity), the number of merchants who decided to accept bitcoin increased exponentially, and now Arnhem has 100 shops (including malls, coffee shops and restaurants) where people can spend their cryptocurrency.
In fact, yesterday (February 18th) Arnhem Bitcoinstad stated:

“The project Arnhem Bitcoincity has reached a new milestone: There are now 100 venues that accept Bitcoin in Arnhem. The Burger King in the city center is the latest to join the project. For Bitcoin enthusiasts Arnhem is like heaven as you can practically pay everything with bitcoins.”

Growing bitcoin enthusiasm

Bitcoin enthusiasm is growing fast in Arnhem and merchants have started to keep bitcoin instead of converting them immediately.
“When this project started, all merchants converted their bitcoins to euros immediately through the payment processor BitKassa, but a growing number of merchants now keep their bitcoins, since they can pay some of their supplies with bitcoins themselves at other merchants who accept Bitcoin as well. For instance a restaurant owner who pays for his bread at a bakery that also accepts bitcoins,” Arnhem Bitcoinstad team commented.

Life on Bitcoin

Maybe you have watched the documentary Life on Bitcoin, or maybe not, but all around the world there are a lot of cities where you can at least survive using bitcoin as the only payment method.
In fact, Life on Bitcoin shows how a young married couple could live and travel everywhere with payments only in bitcoin.
Of course, there is still a very long way to go but this couple has proved that it is already possible to conduct a normal life with the crypthocurrency.
For about 100 days, Austin and Beccy Craig decided to eliminate from their life credit cards and cash, relying only on bitcoin and they found several merchants who decided to accept bitcoin in exchange for meals and ground transports. 
Life on Bitcoin has also inspired another travel: the one by Felix Weis, a 27 years old programmer who started to live for a whole year using only bitcoin. Felix writes about his adventures on his blog and he also shooted a documentary.

Where to live using bitcoin: CoinMap and BitMap

There are a lot of startups who decided to create platforms where you can read about all the restaurants and shops who accept bitcoin.
One of this is CoinMap, who reports more than 7000 shops all around the world. It is a web platform so you can use it from your laptop.
But, if you prefer a mobile app instead, you can download BitMap, available for IOS or Bitcoin Map for Android.
About the author: Amelia Tomasicchio is a writer and a journalist of Bitcoin-related news and articles. She started writing about Bitcoin in 2014 and she graduated in Rome with an essay about movie industry related to Bitcoin.

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European Union wants to monitor virtual currencies

On February 2nd the European Commission announced the decision to propose a new regulation for digital currency exchanges and wallet service providers.
In charge of this will be the European Council that has a mandate to do so by next June.

The objective of the new rules will be “to help identify the users who trade in virtual currencies” and also put an end to “the anonymity associated with such exchanges“,

These were the words of Valdis Dombrovskis during yesterday’s press conference: 

By June at the latest we will propose measures to have better control of payment forms such as virtual currencies and anonymous pre-paid cards.” 
Dombrovskis continued by saying that the Commission wants to control and maybe prohibit transactions from high-risk countries that enter the EU: “In June the Commission will come up with an EU blacklist of such countries“, he said. 

Dombrovskis previously commented: “We must cut off terrorists’ access to funds, enable authorities to better track financial flows to prevent devastating attacks such as those in Paris last year, and ensure that money laundering and terrorist financing is sanctioned in all Member States. We want to improve the oversight of the many financial means used by terrorists, from cash and cultural artefacts to virtual currencies and anonymous pre-paid cards, while avoiding unnecessary obstacles to the functioning of payments and financial markets for ordinary, law-abiding citizens”.

So this initiative clearly aims at fighting the potential use of virtual currencies by terrorists or criminals, although there isn’t so much evidence of such use.
In fact, a few days ago Europol concluded that there is no connection between Bitcoin and terrorism: “Despite third party reporting suggesting the use of anonymous currencies like Bitcoin by terrorists to finance their activities, this has not been confirmed by law enforcement”, said Europol.

Virtual currencies and their underlying technologies can provide faster and cheaper financial services, and can become a powerful tool for deepening financial inclusion in the developing world,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who presented IMF paper at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, during the panel Transformation of Finance.

A conclusion of the report is that virtual currencies fall short of the legal concept of currency or money. While acknowledging that there is no generally accepted legal definition of currency or money, the authors note that both are associated with the power of the state to issue currency and regulate the monetary system.

About the author: Amelia Tomasicchio is a writer and a journalist of Bitcoin-related news and articles. She started writing about Bitcoin in 2014 and she graduated in Rome with an essay about movie industry related to Bitcoin.

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Amelia Tomasicchio

Infographic: Bitcoin Popularity Worldwide

Bitcoin Popularity Worldwide - infographic

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Microsoft to Sponsor the Ethereum DΞVCON1 Conference

The Ethereum DevCon1 conference is set to take place on November 9th in London. In a recently published blog post by George Hallam, the Ethereum team announced that Microsoft would be one of the sponsors of the first-of-its-kind event. MIcrosoft and Bitcoin have had a somewhat strong relationship since the American company started accepting it last year. Now, it seems that “Bitcoin 2.0” technology like Ethereum is taking some of the institutional attention away from Bitcoin. Vitalik Buterin, one of the founders of Ethereum, commented on the sponsorship:

DΞVCON1 is very excited to work with Microsoft and we look forward to having them in London.

Microsoft’s head of US Technology Financial Services, Marley Gray, explained more specifically why Microsoft had taken an interest in this international and decentralized technology event:

Microsoft is excited to sponsor and attend Ethereum’s DevCon1. We find the Ethereum blockchain incredibly powerful and look forward to collaborating within the Ethereum Community. We see a future where the combination of Microsoft Azure and Ethereum can enable new innovative platforms like Blockchain-as-a-Service. This will serve as an inflection point to bring blockchain technology to enterprise clientele”.
 

“Blockchain-as-a-Service” is a new term that we will undoubtedly hear more of in the coming years. Most everyone involved in the technology side of their business is familiar wit Software-as-a-service (SAAS) which has given rise to incredibly large corporations. In contrast, the service that the blockchain provides is removing the need for people and points of failure in the middle and back office. Smart contracts and blockchain-as-a-service obviously go hand in hand. What will be most interesting is if Microsoft’s potential use of Ethereum in their Azure platform is what finally prompts Amazon to get into the decentralized digital currency game. One can only hope.
 
Ethereum DevCon1 Is Bringing Interesting Companies and People Together… For a Better Future

Already, it has been confirmed that not only will Microsoft be in attendance, but so will Nick Szabo. That is actually no surprise given that Szabo coined the term “smart contract” many many years ago and has become increasingly vocal on the internet as his pet idea has started to come to fruition. Smart contracts are a large part of Ethereum’s mainstream appeal, though the concept is still in the process of gaining momentum. The future prospects of robots and computers replacing humans for certain types of jobs has always been on the fringe of human imagination. The more you think about smart contracts, the more you realize that such a futuristic world couldn’t exist in a stable state without something like smart contracts. As panelists at the Money20/20 conference stated:

Cryptocurrency is the most natural way for machines to pay machines.

Bitcoin-inspired blockchain technology, of which Ethereum definitely is, has seen a lot of validation lately. Other Bitcoin-inspired blockchain technology like BitShares is also gaining traction, though not in the form of Microsoft sponsorships. Besides the fundraising and actual release of Ethereum’s Frontier alpha and a shaky first few days, the formation of a conference is a milestone that most “altchains” never achieve – not that there was any doubt that Ethereum would make it this far, anyways. After all, even Imogen Heap has even started using Ethereum, why wouldn’t Microsoft be next?

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EU’s Top Court Rules That Bitcoin Exchange Is Tax-Free

(Bloomberg) Bitcoin and other virtual currencies can be exchanged tax free, the
European Union’s top court said in a ruling that puts them on a more
equal footing with traditional cash.
Value added tax — a type of
sales levy — needn’t be applied because the business involves “the
exchange of different means of payment,” the EU Court of Justice in
Luxembourg ruled Thursday. The case was triggered by a dispute in
Sweden, where David Hedqvist set up a service for the exchange of
mainstream money for bitcoin and vice versa.
Bitcoin
currency, introduced in 2008 by a programmer or group of programmers
under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, has no central issuing authority and
uses a public ledger to verify encrypted transactions. It has gained
traction with merchants selling legitimate products but also has been
used to facilitate illegal transactions because money can be transferred
anonymously.
“Transactions
to exchange traditional currencies for units of the bitcoin virtual
currency (and vice versa) constitute the supply of services” under the
bloc’s law “since they consist of the exchange of different means of
payment,” the court ruled. As such they are exempt from value-added
taxes, it said.
To exclude such transactions from the tax
exemptions given to traditional exchanges “would deprive it of part of
its effects,” given that the exemption’s aim is to counter “the
difficulties connected with determining the taxable amount and the
amount of VAT deductible” in cases of taxation of financial
transactions, the court said.

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HolyTransaction welcomes new users from Greece, Europe, and the World over

Everyone with a finger on the pulse of the world’s financial health has been keeping their eyes peeled for the latest on the potential “Grexit” (Greek Exit) from the European Union. With negotiations of a final deal once again bearing no fruit, the average citizen’s faith in the traditional financial system is eroding at an ever-increasing rate. A few years ago, it was Cyprus; now, it is Greece. Frankly, the rest of the fiat-using world is right to believe that they may be next. In times like these, interest in Bitcoin tends to spike. In just the last week, Greek Google searches for the keyword ‘Bitcoin’ have increased notably. Let’s not forget that historically we have always seen a trickling effect where new Bitcoin users find themselves researching altcoins in an attempt to get ahead of the next big thing. It is possible that the current economic turmoil in Greece is the next big thing that pushes interest in Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

We have seen fellow digital currency companies focus their attention and marketing on Greece and Europe, which is another indicator of the breadth of this event. The classical way to buy bitcoins is to use your bank. Unfortunately, with Greece’s banks closed for the next week and possibly more time after that, it is arguably too late for the Greek people to buy Bitcoin easily.

Since most Greeks have their money tied up in the banks that are currently shut down. The people on the ground can’t even buy Bitcoin through the banks. Bitcoin isn’t going to be accepted by Greece over night, but Bitcoin also isn’t going to be shut down by anyone over night. In the coming weeks, the contrast between digital currency and banks will sharpen for many onlookers. Observers the world over will be struck with a sort of enlightenment: their vision will clear. Bitcoin might not be able to help the Greeks buy a loaf of bread in their local economies tomorrow morning; however, Bitcoin and blockchain technology can and will be able to prevent similar economic disasters from happening ever again.

Author: Caleb Chen

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European Central Bank hacked, personal data stolen

(RT) Hackers have stolen personal information from the European Central Bank (ECB) in what seems to be a blackmail scheme. The stolen data includes email addresses and contact information taken from the organization’s database.
“There had been a breach of the security protecting a database serving its public website,” ECB said in a statement on Thursday. “This led to the theft of email addresses and other contact data left by people registering for events at the ECB.” 
Around 20,000 email addresses were stolen, according to media reports. 
The hacked database serves the public website and gathers registrations for conferences and other visits. It is “physically separate from any internal ECB systems.” 
The bank was not aware of the theft, and only found out about the stolen data after the perpetrator sent an anonymous email, demanding a reward in exchange for the information. 
The ECB refused to go along with the scheme and did not reveal how much money was requested. 
The majority of the stolen information was encrypted, such as data on downloads from the ECB website. But personal information, such as email addresses, phone numbers, and home addresses were not protected by an encryption. 
The bank will contact people whose data might have been stolen. Meanwhile, “all passwords have been changed on the system as a precaution” and “security experts have addressed the vulnerability.” 
The cyber attack did not compromise internal systems or market sensitive data, according to the statement. 
German police have opened an investigation into the matter.

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Virtual and digital currencies can challenge the sovereignty of states

(CoinTelegraph) “Virtual and digital currencies can challenge the sovereignty of states,” says Gareth Murphy, senior Central Bank of Ireland
official. At a recent digital money conference in Dublin, he mentioned
that rivals are interfering with a bank’s ability to sway the price of
credit for the entire economy. Murphy warned that there might be
considerable threat to the finances of a country if increasingly more
transactions for services and goods fade away from the tax system due to
the use of crypto currencies such as Bitcoin. He added:

“Central banks, [out] of necessity, have monopolized the exercise
of these functions. Virtual currencies pose new challenges to central
banks’ control over these important functions.”

Bitfin 2014 is Ireland’s biggest
Bitcoin conference. It gathers the brightest minds in finance,
payments, banking, and business. The goal is to host fearless debates on
the risks and opportunities involved with decentralized currencies.
Bitfin (Bitcoin Finance) wants to shape
the future of corporate strategy, commerce, and economic policy in the
current industry of peer-to-peer digital money. “Bitcoin Finance is the
digital money conference you’ve been waiting for,” the official press
release reads.
Gaining ground in Ireland
Losing confidence in currencies may lead to uncertainty, which can
trigger significant drops in economic activity. The Central Bank has
constantly emphasized that it doesn’t recognize digital currencies such
as Bitcoin in Ireland. Nonetheless, those who choose to use Bitcoin anyway won’t have consumer protection.
As the Director of Markets Supervision at the Central Bank, Mr.
Murphy is well aware that virtual currencies could offer a great option
for people looking to buy and sell different services and goods. He
added that in these circumstances, the anti-money laundering rules will
be thoroughly tested.  Failure of settlement infrastructure and
payments, or any sort of “financial plumbing,” could have a great impact
on the country’s economic activity and consumer confidence. Murphy
said:

“In effect, economic activity is the aggregate of domestic
transactions in the ‘euro-denominated economy’ and the ‘virtual currency
economy.’”

Because digital currencies pervade economic activity, major financial
institutions and banks will most likely feel the effects. Other major
financial institutions don’t see Bitcoin as a threat to their
operations. However, in Murphy’s view, these institutions would be
foolish to have this kind of attitude towards the technology,
mentioning:

“This is likely to have a profound operational impact on these firms and their regulatory risk profile.”

Monetary and economic changes
In today’s hybrid economy, central banks will have to face a lot of
economic challenges. Digital currencies defy the way these institutions
calibrate exchange rates, monetary policy and set price of credit. 
Supporting Bitcoin and encouraging its growth would have to be
attentively monitored. Gareth Murphy added:

 “The existence of a ‘euro-denominated economy’ and a ‘virtual
currency economy’ raises the prospect of an internal balance of payments
between two sub-economies where suppliers may prefer one currency over
another as a means of payment (for different goods and services).”

Virtual currencies – a bank’s worst enemy
Most economies function with many different currencies and the USD is
the most frequently used on a global scale. Bitcoin undermines a
central bank’s ability on matters such as economic analysis, data
collection, supervision, policy formation, enforcement and resolution,
so these sort of implications can’t be overlooked.
As far as regulation is concerned, Murphy suggests that Bitcoin
shouldn’t take things for granted and assume its actions will keep
falling under US and Switzerland regulations. He did mention that
Bitcoin should be used to support indefinite innovations that may come
from a wiser use of the technology:

 “We should not presume that current regulations are
future-proof. It is possible that further innovations will mean that
these regulations may no longer apply. This suggests that new
regulations may ultimately be needed which are based on new legal
concepts with a clear scope which must stand the test of time.”

Virtual currencies will soon become a bank’s worst enemy, and that’s
because they’re offering lower fees, commissions, greater convenience
etc. Bitcoin might gain control over the most important functions of
exchange rate and monetary policy. In spite of the currency’s relative
instability, more people are turning their attention to Bitcoin, and the
more publicity it receives the higher chances it has to become
ubiquitous in our everyday lives.

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