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Crypto Corporates Form Blockchain Lobbying Group in Washington

Blockchain companies in the United States are coming together to promote blockchain and cryptocurrency legitimacy in the form of a new blockchain lobbying group based in Washington DC.

Lobbying the American government

Named “The Blockchain Association”, the group is to represent investors and entrepreneurs in the blockchain/cryptocurrency space who are seeking to operate compliantly with the US political system. Furthermore, the group is setting out address the ongoing and numerous issues relating to the taxation and classification of cryptocurrencies in present US law.

The group will also be with lawmakers to develop clear policies on anti-money laundering (AML) and Know-Your-Customer (KYC). As the new entity grows, it will begin other efforts, although these short-term goals will be the early focus.

As reported by the Washington Post, the founding members of the association have been confirmed as Coinbase, Circle, Polychain Capital, Digital Currency Group and Protocol Labs. The backgrounds of these companies cover certain areas such as technology, cryptocurrency exchanges and investors.

Mike Lempres, Coinbase’s chief legal and risk officer, explained the rationale behind this effort: “The Blockchain Association is an effort to get the preeminent companies in the space together so [policymakers] know they’re hearing from companies that welcome regulation when it’s appropriate. We’re not companies looking to game the system, but trying to develop a legal and regulatory system that’ll stand the test of time.”

The association has begun recruiting already, beginning with former Republican lobbyist and former congressional staff member Kristin Smith on board, as well as Protocol Lab’s General Counsel Marvin Ammori. Founder of public sector technology company Hangar, Josh Mendelsohn is also taking a position.

Jerry Brito, executive director of the non-profit research and advocacy group Coin Center, is reported to have said that the emergence of such associations is a sign of a maturing industry.

Time for change

It appears as though the United States is undergoing radical changes at institutional and governmental levels; in late July, blockchain technology in public sector projects also received a guidebook from a US-based IT industry trade association called CompTIA.

The guide offers insights into how public sector leaders should approach blockchain technologies should they wish to implement and adopt the technology into public sector projects.

In July also, the US Chamber of Digital Commerce published a paper called ‘Understanding Digital Tokens: Market Overviews & Guidelines for Policy Makers and Practitioners’, a document that covers regulations, the need for legal clarifications as well as token classification.

Other entities within the US political system are also making bullish charges for blockchain and cryptocurrency regulation, with the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC) believing that the United States is falling behind the rest of the world with regards to blockchain innovation.


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New Survey Shows Mixed Sentiments in Bitcoin, Crypto Mood in the US

A recent survey from YouGov reveals widespread knowledge of cryptocurrencies in the United States, the report also shows mixed sentiments toward the technology.

Contrasting results

YouGov, an international market research and data analytics firm, gathered data from 1,202 participants at the end of August; the poll results showed an interesting disparity in knowledge of cryptocurrency and the actual adoption of it.

The poll found that 79% of Americans were familiar with at least one cryptocurrency with Bitcoin being the most prevalent among 71% of people who said they knew of it. Ethereum came in second at 13% with Litecoin and others trailing behind.

With a vast majority of respondents knowing about cryptocurrencies, a greater disparity is revealed. Of those who said they knew of Bitcoin, 87% said they had not interacted with it; this includes buying, selling and mining.

Some 49% of the Bitcoin-aware group said, “I’m glad I didn’t buy Bitcoin earlier, and I don’t plan to buy it”, while another 15% wish they had bought earlier and now feel it’s too late. In contrast, a South African poll showed that 38% of its respondents wished they had invested sooner.

Despite this, 36% of people in the YouGov poll thought that it cryptocurrencies will eventually be more widely accepted as a means to purchase goods and services legally within ten years,  while 34% disagree and don’t think this will be the case. In this group, millennials made up the majority of those who believed in crypto acceptance with 44% polling favorably.

About 25% of poll respondents think cryptocurrencies are used mostly for illegal purchases, which is a traditional but waning view. However, this skepticism does hold ground in America due to the connections found between Bitcoin and the 2016 election hacking scandal.

With regards to cryptocurrency acceptance, a positive sentiment towards cryptocurrencies is growing in the states, just over a third of those who believe in wider crypto acceptance say they have interest in primarily using crypto over the US dollar.

The article reporting the survey results writes, “However, a majority (57%) say they would not be interested in converting away from the US dollar. Millennials are almost equally split between being interested (48%) and not interested (50%).”

The bigger picture

In July, a Wells Fargo Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index poll gathered data from 1,921 investors over 18 years of age with at least USD 10,000 in traditional investments. It revealed that 2% of respondents owned Bitcoin, and younger investors were keener to adopt Bitcoin should cryptocurrencies become more mainstream, a growing sentiment among millennials.

Other polls found that 50% of participants from a 2,000 person survey “would like to try out Bitcoin“, with millennials of low income being the most likely to invest. In South Korea, surveys show that cryptocurrencies are rising in popularity, and in the United Kingdom, it was reported that 3 million people have invested in Bitcoin.


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$800K US Government Funding Granted to Scientific Blockchain Project

The University of California-San Diego has received a staggering USD 818,433 grant for a blockchain-based project named “Open Science Chain” (OSC).

OSC is proposed as a platform that allows for researchers to access and verify the data gathered by numerous scientific experiments. The project will be led by Subhashini Sivagnanam, a software architect and researcher who presently works with the Data Enabled Scientific Computing Division at the San Diego Supercomputing Center.

Sivagnanam was awarded the funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop the project. The NSF organization has been around for quite some time and it has previously displayed interest in blockchain projects and research efforts.

In January 2017, NSF was offering millions to fund cyber-security research which included blockchain technologies/ Later that year in July, it provided over USD 400,000 in federal funding to a Princeton University researcher to research cryptocurrencies as part of a mechanism incentive study.

The funding will be officially granted on 1 September 2018 and will be available until 31 August 2021.

According to the blog post on the official NSF website, the OSC project is described as “a web-based cyberinfrastructure platform built using distributed ledger technologies that allow researchers to provide metadata and verification information about their scientific datasets and update this information as the datasets change and evolve over time in an auditable manner”.

The post adds that researches can search, verify and validate datasets, linking them to show lineage information.

Future funds

Funding of this level is becoming less of a rarity for blockchain efforts in 2018 and has the capacity to set a global precedent for other governments to follow in the footsteps of.

Perhaps the US is only now beginning to catch up in the blockchain research and education funding race. In China, four universities are to receive approximately USD 20 million to conduct an interdisciplinary research project that examines blockchain technology applications, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and electronic payment security enhancements.

South Korea has also allocated a significant fund to drive innovation growth over the next five years or so. As part of the Growth through Innovation Investment Plan, the government will be aiming to educate and train a 10,000 strong workforce by 2022-2023 across many fields including blockchain technologies.


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US Overseas Military Personnel to Vote via Blockchain Mobile App

West Virginia State is to pioneer a blockchain-based voting application for smartphones, which allows for its military troops serving overseas to vote in the midterm federal election ballots this November.

Whilst the United States still wrestles with the notion that Bitcoin could have played a role in the operations of Russian hackers during the 2016 elections, it appears as though progress is being made on the side of blockchain technology adoption.

We use smartphones perform many practical functions like banking, shopping and navigation, so it was perhaps only a matter of time that smartphones would have the capacity to be a part of governmental procedures.

Voting on the blockchain

There are several companies exploring the potential use of mobile apps as viable voting systems, and some are applying blockchain to the concept, a technology that is popularized by its anonymous, transparent and secure nature.

The project is a partnership between West Virginia state and Boston blockchain startup Voatz. To utilize the app and vote, users will be required to register by taking a photo of their government-issued identification and a video of their face. One uploaded, facial recognition software will verify the photo and video and approve voters.

In March 2018, it was reported that West Virginia Secretary of State Mar Warner was trialing blockchain voting for the Mountain State’s Senate Primary election on 8 May. It was decided that should it prove successful, the state would allow for all 55 counties to participate with this new method in the November 2018 general election.

Upon the conclusion of the pilot, it was reported from Warner’s office that no problems were found after four audits of the software, which included components such as cloud and blockchain infrastructure.

At that time, the pilot was offered to those serving overseas in the military and families within two state counties. This was to remedy the issue of late receipts and lack of voter anonymity caused by “absentee ballots” provided to those serving overseas.

Despite its success, the blockchain voting system will be limited to those serving abroad. Warner said, “There is nobody that deserves the right to vote any more than the guys that are out there, and the women that are out there, putting their lives on the line for us.”

Blockchain and cryptocurrency in politics

There is, however, skepticism. A chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology was quoted by CNN as saying that “mobile voting is a horrific idea”.

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies persist in their boundless potential to penetrate traditions of modern life. Political endeavors in the United States would appear to persist with a love-hate relationship with cryptocurrencies.

Recently, North Carolina denied cryptocurrency campaign donations, a candidate in Wisconsin is going ahead with accepting digital currencies for his campaign despite the controversy surrounding it. A 2020 Presidential election candidate is also accepting multiple cryptocurrencies, a decision that has yet to be met with scrutiny.


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South Korean Study Makes Recommendations for New Blockchain-Based Stock Market

On Tuesday, South Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) published a study that called for collaboration with regulatory agencies and companies to create a blockchain-based stock trading system.

A practical solution

The study, published on 2 August, is a thorough report on the status of international stock exchange operators and their integration with blockchain technology. Regulators in countries such as the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia are making efforts to utilize blockchain technology for their own stock exchanges.

The comprehensive report does recognize the early stage of blockchain technology in Korea. However, it doesn’t make speculation on the possibility of the new system, instead, it observes empirical and historical facts to back the new recommendation.

Major projects around the world

One of its strongest points is the use of distributed ledger technology by NASDAQ. In June 2018, the stock market titan had developed a blockchain system for the optimization of securities as collateral in margin calls, which remedied previous insufficiencies with this method.

Furthermore, it takes into account the London Stock Exchange Group’s (LSEG) recent foray into the nascent space; in July it was reported that the UK exchange was tapping HyperLedger Fabric, a blockchain from the Linux Foundation that the LSEG and IBM are members of.

While the Korean FSS study doesn’t mention this, it is also worth noting that the LSEG is taking on a partnership with blockchain projects that have emerged from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority’s regulatory sandbox project.

One of the earliest and most ambitious projects surprisingly comes from Australia, and it dates back a couple of years. The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) made an announcement in August 2016 that it had completed the first version of a project to completely replace CHESS, its existing clearing and settlement system, with blockchain technology.  The ASX intends to have the new system rolled out by 2020.

Positive findings

The Korean FSS report concluded that blockchain technology in these use cases is proving to be extraordinarily reliable and efficient, especially with regards to storing and transmitting public transaction information.

The FSS said, “There should be no barrier between public institutions and private companies in developing a blockchain system”, further pledging to “establish long-term planning and continue to promote proofs-of-concept and pilot projects on a project-by-project basis, [as well as to] continue to study the [application of] blockchain… in capital market[s]”.

While South Korea is going strength to strength in its bid to adopt blockchain at an industrial and governmental level, it is utilizing blockchain on the Korea Exchange’s KRX Startup Market in a similar fashion to the countries noted in the study, allowing for the settlement of transactions from unlisted companies.


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Crypto Donation Proposal for Election Campaigns Declined in North Carolina

The North Carolina electoral campaign finance board has denied a proposal made in April 2018 for cryptocurrencies to be allowed as campaign donation funds.

No crypto

Republican candidate Emmanuel Wilder asked the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to provide guidance on whether or not he could accept donations in cryptocurrency for his campaign.

In an email to the board, he wrote, “I know that this is new, but there is a great opportunity to show that North Carolina is truly open to new emerging markets.”

Unsurprisingly, Kim Westbrook Strach, the state elections executive director, responded in July, writing, “We do not have the confidence that we could adequately regulate contributions to a political campaign in North Carolina in the form of cryptocurrency.”

The board officially ruled that only US dollars can be used as campaign financing due to monetary limits detailed in state campaign finance regulations.

Wilder replied with some optimism despite his disappointment, writing in a statement, “Blockchain and other technologies hold the ability to improve how business and public institutions operate day to day… Although it might not be today, there will be a day when this technology will have a place in the political process.”

Bitcoin in campaign funds

In 2017, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission declined to allow Bitcoin campaign contributions; at this point in time, perceptions of the soaring coin were skeptical at best. The response came after a candidate had queried the board on the legality of the accepting the digital currency as campaign contributions.

Executive director of the commission, Mark Skoglund said, “There is no physical manifestation of this currency in any way. It’s just alphanumeric characters that exist only online. It is not backed by any government. The value is subjective and highly volatile.”

In July 2018, candidate for state Governor and Chairman of the Wisconsin Libertarian Party Phil Anderson announced that he would be accepting Bitcoin campaign donations. However, his request for “formal guidance” from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission (WEC) was met with similar skepticism but not an outright ban.

The WEC responded after consulting the Senate and Assembly election committees, describing crypto donations as a “serious challenge” to the state’s law. However, the WEC has made no official challenges or complaint as of yet.

Anderson is undeterred by the cynicism and remains adamant that he and the Libertarian Party will “push all the way back” if the WEC does file a complaint.

Talk of cryptocurrency donations on the campaign trail comes at a very interesting time. A Democratic candidate for the 2020 US Presidential Elections has announced that he will be accepting Bitcoin, Ethereum and other ERC20 cryptocurrencies for his campaign.

There is yet to be any particular backlash at a federal level, which is a surprise considering that Bitcoin was utilized to tamper with the 2016 presidential election.


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Vitalik Buterin: Focus on Crypto Adoption, Not ETFs

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin Tweeted out his critique of those focusing too much on ETF approval, pointing out the accessibility of purchasing cryptocurrency should be focused on to promote ”actual adoption”.’

I think there’s too much emphasis on BTC/ETH/whatever ETFs, and not enough emphasis on making it easier for people to buy $5 to $100 in cryptocurrency via cards at corner stores. The former is better for pumping price, but the latter is much better for actual adoption.

— Vitalik Non-giver of Ether (@VitalikButerin) July 29, 2018

His Tweet cites specifically ”making it easier for people to buy USD 5 to USD 100 in cryptocurrency via cards at corner stores” as the more important task for the cryptocurrency community while saying ETFs would be better merely for pumping the price rather than increased adoption.

The statement received mixed reactions from the crypto-Twittersphere.

One user disagreed with the necessity of using cryptocurrencies for everyday transactions, saying that fiat currencies work perfectly well for that. Another argued that being paid in cryptocurrency would be a more effective way of spurring adoption than being able to purchase small quantities easily with fiat.

Largely, the sentiment online appeared at odds with Buterin’s statement, either championing the benefits of ETF approval or critiquing the use of cryptocurrency payments for everyday purchases and arguing this should not be its primary use.

Circle co-founder and CEO Jeremy Allaire said recently that a significant catalyst for the industry and cryptocurrency adoption has been the development of hundreds of thousands of blockchain-backed dApps, frequently created by companies that operate with their own tokenized ecosystem.

Blockchain testing has certainly helped push forward the industry in a positive light, with institutions such as NASA and Citi pursuing their own initiatives.

Will we see ETF approval?

The US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) recent clarification that neither Bitcoin nor Ethereum were securities has been welcomed by the majority of cryptocurrency users, who believe this is a positive indication that an ETF may be approved.

However, the SEC cited several issues that meant it could not approve the Winklevoss twins’ ETF proposal for the time being. These problems primarily include the threat of price manipulation of the market, hence an inability to protect investors, as well as the issue that most Bitcoin trading is done overseas with no regulatory oversight.

If the market becomes regulated to the SEC’s standards, it has said it would consider approving a Bitcoin ETF, although it seems very unlikely that standardized regulations could be adopted globally by governments. As well as this, most Bitcoin exchanges would not give the SEC all of their private information as requested, particularly the most prominent exchanges which are not based in the US.


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Federal Trade Commission to Hold ICO Scam Workshop

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be hosting a cryptocurrency workshop to address the critical concerns of scams as well as consumer and investor security within the industry.

Educational workshop

The Decrypting Cryptocurrency Scams’ workshop will be comprised of law enforcement, research organizations, consumer groups and the private sector to discuss the exploitation of consumers and explore means to protect consumers.

The FTC has been working on creating adequate protections for consumers in the age of new emerging financial technologies for quite some time. The educational workshop should lend itself toward easing the already restrictive US laws and legislation that are in place, that is, if the workshop manages to make a serious impact.

Complications in the US

The United States has some rather mixed, directionless stances on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offering (ICO) regulations. In July 2017, the SEC classified ICO tokens and cryptocurrencies as “investment contracts” and, therefore, as securities based on the Howey Test, though there appear to be no regulatory guidelines for digital coin developers to comply with.

Due to these grey areas, legal uncertainties and strict investment regulations, US citizens will also struggle to find an ICO that they can participate in; many ICO operators and companies have made a choice to ban US investors from offerings.

The SEC has also been slightly aggressive in the pursuit of gathering data on the industry; having recently issued 80 subpoenas the SEC is charging ahead with firm investigations which may be perceived as potentially having a negative impact on the industry but actually, the tough stance is not without progress.

An FTC and SEC crypto education

Despite the somewhat negative stories emerging from the US, the SEC has also taken the educational approach and launched a website that for a fake Howeycoin ICO, designed to show what a scam or hoax token offering should look like.

Following this and hopefully, the combined efforts of the SEC and FTC can keep cryptocurrency and blockchain related discourse on the table and hopefully push decision-makers towards creating a more definitive framework for ICOs and their accompanying cryptocurrencies.


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Robinhood Phone App Introduces Secure Streamlined Bitcoin Trading

Popular mobile phone app Robinhood is looking to offer the ability to trade cryptocurrencies in addition to stocks on US exchanges. The app initially set out to bring investments in public limited companies to a wider demographic without the limitation of fees and minimum balances. The app uniquely collects interest on balances similar to a bank instead of taking a commission on trades. It offers a variety of features, a few of which are security measures and real-time market data.

Robinhood Crypto

Robinhood Crypto was launched in February, supporting real-time market data for 16 cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin and Ethereum are the only two currently trading on the application, with a view to support more. A spokesman did say to “keep in mind that supporting market data for individual cryptocurrencies does not necessarily mean we plan to add buying and selling”.

Access is limited to customers in Montana, California, Missouri, Massachusetts and New Hampshire with more states available later. The company hopes to release the application globally, with plans initially for Australia. By bringing all investments together in one application which is more accessible, this could encourage integrity in the cryptocurrency market. Having a familiar application could make the transition to larger exchanges less daunting and also providing a streamlined solution for round the clock trades for those with experience.

Robinhood Crypto will not support ICOs at this time, which could contribute to safer investments for newer traders, mitigating the need for thorough research.

Features and security

Buy or sell orders can start at any amount above 0.00001 BTC and 0.001 ETH. Traders have several order options with additional functionality. Market orders can be protected from price moves with order collars (up to 1% for buys, 5% for sells). Limit orders can be placed in USD or fractional amounts.

Coins traded on the platform will be stored in a combination of cold or hot (offline or online) storage to provide enhanced security. As of now, Robinhood does not support withdrawing or depositing crypto to external wallets as a preventive measure against illegal activities. There is a view to allowing withdrawals in the near future.

Various steps have been taken by the company to provide enhanced security. Rotation of security staff, restricted access, and regular third-party security tests will look to ensure user investments stay safe.

Security is a growing concern in the crypto market with the limited availability of qualified staff. In recent months, the industry has seen some large-scale hacks to exchanges, such as the recent ones of Coincheck and Coinsecure. Exchanges’ inabilities to store clients investments securely could have a detrimental effect on the market.


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SEC Chairman Doesn’t Believe Every ICO is a Scam; Japan and South Korea Charge Ahead Toward Regulation

Jay Clayton, the Chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), gave a speech at a Princeton University event that provided fascinating insight into his evolving views on how to approach initial coin offerings (ICOs) as well as how to classify and regulate cryptocurrencies.

Not every ICO is a scam

Essential discussions that delve deeper into blockchain technologies, ICOs and cryptocurrencies are taking place all over the world. Perhaps now that the markets are cooling off, the topic of how to legitimize the lucrative technology is finally on the table.

During the event, the SEC chairman disregarded that all ICOs were fraudulent scams, bearing contrast to his position in February. At a Senate hearing, Clayton declared he was “unhappy” with how ICOs were conducted, based on the fact that they did not follow private placement rules, and that there were some fraudulent ICO operators.

Clayton made a potent remark that brought to light a solution for a lesser-mentioned problem: what happens if the technology continues to have fraudulent actors? He said:

“I think if we don’t stop the fraudsters, there is a serious risk that the regulatory pendulum – the regulatory actions will be so severe that they will restrict the capacity of this new security.”

Overseas efforts

The United States isn’t the only country wrestling with the ICO debate; in Japan, a recent government-backed study revealed that it now is looking to bring forth the proper legal and regulatory frameworks to give the go-ahead on the popular capital-raising method.

The report included guidelines that will identify investors, which will prevent money laundering, which acts as a protection for existing shareholders and debt holders, making “unfair” trading practices such as insider trading a thing of the past for cryptocurrencies.

The report also goes on to classify three types of ICOs:

The “venture company type” is the typical fundraising method and is defined as “fund-raising by venture companies through high-risk, high return investments”.

The second is the slightly lesser known “ecosystem type” which is described as “fund-raising for collaborative efforts in which multiple corporations such as companies and local governments are engaged”.

The third and probably least known of them all is the “large company type”, which is for “fund-raising by companies for certain in-house projects with high risk”.

Advancements in the United States and Japan are steering the future of cryptocurrency in the right direction; BitcoinNews recently reported that South Korea is making preparations to tax cryptocurrencies, which may come off as alarming, but can be a vital spoke in the regulatory wheel.

Rallying support

What makes it even less alarming is that the third largest fiat-to-Bitcoin market in the world is also preparing to have a cryptocurrency for its capital city, and in fact, the United States and Japan are above South Korea in the fiat-to-Bitcoin market listing.

It is evident that despite the constant negative press, cryptocurrencies are part of very progressive discussions taking place in the largest markets in the world. It is these serious pioneering efforts that will make blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies validated as part of the economy.


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