Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Analyzing the Effects of the MtGox and Dwolla "Seizure" on Bitcoin

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security put a freeze on MtGox's Dwolla account in the state of Maryland. The result was an almost immediate dip in the price of Bitcoin by 15%, but after the initial panic the price rebounded and things have once more returned to a state of semi-stability. Let's start with the email that some Dwolla users received:
You’re receiving this notice because our systems have indicated that you’ve processed and completed a real-time Dwolla-to-Dwolla payment to Mutum Sigillum LLC (“Mt. Gox”) within the last 24 hours.

Due to recent court orders received from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Dwolla is no longer legally able to service Mutum Sigillum LLC’s account.

This is a courtesy email encouraging you to follow up on any uncompleted orders with Mutum Sigillum LLC as Dwolla is now unable to move money to and from Mutum Sigillum LLC’s Dwolla account.

Dwolla is not party to this matter nor does it have any information or further insight into the situation. We strongly encourages those with questions to contact Mutum Sigillum LLC

Note: Dwolla requires a court order before honoring requests such as seizing funds or revoking access to an account.

On behalf of Dwolla, we apologize for this inconvenience.
Somewhat worrisome to many is that MtGox apparently had no idea this was going on and first heard of the matter via the Internet. Here's what they've had to say so far:
MtGox has read on the Internet that the United States Department of Homeland Security had a court order and/or warrant issued from the United States District Court in Maryland which it served upon the Dwolla mobile payment service with respect to accounts used for trading with MtGox. MtGox takes this information seriously. However, as of this time MtGox has not been provided with a copy of the court order and/or warrant and does not know its scope and/or the reasons for its issuance. MtGox is investigating and will provide further reports when additional information becomes known.
What's more, either thanks to the news or just as an opportune time to launch a DDoS attack, MtGox's website is largely inaccessible today. And then there have been the news stories about the "seizure of funds", money laundering, and so forth. Some of these are better than others -- Ars Technica for instance explains the reason for the seizure, and others basically parroted that around the Internet. The real question however is what this means for Bitcoin, particularly in the USA.

Ironically, I suspect this will have the opposite effect of shutting down Bitcoin (or Litecoin or other crypto-currencies). By taking this action, all that the DHS has really done is grabbed a bit of money and made some headlines that tell a bunch of other people that Bitcoin is real and people are using it. The main crime committed by MtGox isn't the use of Bitcoin; it's that they failed to register as a money transmitting service with the US government, who could then seize their funds. In fact, there are still plenty of ways to get money out of MtGox (or Bitcoin): wire transfer, OKPay, and Liberty Reserve to name just three. That mostly means that instead of paying Dwolla $0.25 for a withdrawal, you'll be paying a minimum of 1% or $25 for the same thing now, which sort of stinks but hardly makes Bitcoin any worse.

As noted above, the initial reaction was a fast drop in BTC prices, but think about this: a bunch of people have money on MtGox, and they might want to get that money out. What's the fastest way to do so? In many cases, it's going to be buying BTC and transferring the coins to another exchange (or just taking them offline to wait and see what happens). Instead of a steady drop in price, we may see the opposite effect: a slow but steady increase, especially if more people get interested in Bitcoin thanks to the news -- no such thing as bad publicity, right?

If you're still concerned about the long-term prospects for Bitcoin, consider how successful the government has been at stopping piracy (of software and music), or shutting down BitTorrent and other file sharing networks, or even the war on drugs. The thing is, all of those are blatantly illegal activities, and the government has still failed to keep them from proliferating. Bitcoin on the other hand might be in a somewhat grey area (thanks in part to the way many people tie it to Silk Road), but as yet there seems to be nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a digital currency -- the worst thing about it for people with money is that it's not controlled by the banks or other large corporations, or in other words they can't make tons of money off of Bitcoin because they don't control it and they didn't create it!

Google, Amazon, and other companies seem to be trying to create something similar, but it's always tied to their other products (and you can probably guess how I feel about those). It would be like creating a digital currency backed by the US government: it would basically be the same as the dollar. Bitcoin on the other hand remains in the control of the wild west of the Internet, where those with the most technical savvy tend to win out. Short of the Internet collapsing, Bitcoin is here to stay and remains the front-runner for a "free" digital currency.

BTC: 1JSrAuxPUhD2rS6yYLiPPT6X8fvz7c7k1W
LTC: LXpEZcNJtikd263z7Ha3vrdYDcLU7hiKWv

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