Bitcoins can be used to buy merchandise anonymously. In addition, international payments are easy and cheap because bitcoins are not tied to any country or subject to regulation. Small businesses may like them because there are no credit card fees. Some people just buy bitcoins as an investment, hoping that they’ll go up in value.
Bitcoins are stored in a “digital wallet,” which exists either in the cloud or on a user’s computer. The wallet is a kind of virtual bank account that allows users to send or receive bitcoins, pay for goods or save their money. Unlike bank accounts, bitcoin wallets are not insured by the FDIC.
Wallet in cloud: Servers have been hacked. Companies have fled with clients’ bitcoins.
Wallet on computer: You can accidentally delete them. Viruses could destroy them.
The anonymity of bitcoin
Though each bitcoin transaction is recorded in a public log, names of buyers and sellers are never revealed – only their wallet IDs. While that keeps bitcoin users’ transactions private, it also lets them buy or sell anything without easily tracing it back to them. That’s why it has become the currency of choice for people online buying drugs or other illicit activities.
Bitcoin’s future in question
No one knows what will become of bitcoin. It is mostly unregulated, but some countries like Japan, China and Australia have begun weighing regulations. Governments are concerned about taxation and their lack of control over the currency.
Published December 2013; Updated August 8, 2018