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Bitcoin Got Its First Makeover In Four Years

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The first bitcoin upgrade in four years has just been approved by miners around the world. It is a rare moment of consensus among stakeholders, and crypto experts tell CNBC it’s a pretty big deal for the world’s most popular cryptocurrency.

The upgrade is called Taproot, and it’s due to take effect in November. When it does, it will mean greater transaction privacy and efficiency – and crucially, it will unlock the potential for smart contracts, a key feature of its blockchain technology that eliminates middlemen from even the most complex transactions.

“Taproot matters, because it opens a breadth of opportunity for entrepreneurs interested in expanding bitcoin’s utility,” said Alyse Killeen, Founder and Managing Partner of bitcoin-focused venture firm Stillmark.

Unlike bitcoin’s 2017 upgrade – referred to as the “last civil war” because of the contentious ideological divide separating adherents – Taproot has near universal support, in part because these changes are fairly incremental improvements to the code.

What’s changing

Bitcoin’s makeover has to do with digital signatures, which you can think of as the fingerprint individual leaves on every transaction they make.

Right now, the cryptocurrency uses something called the “Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm,” which is created from the private key which controls a bitcoin wallet and ensures that bitcoin can only be spent by the rightful owner. Taproot will switch over to something known as Schnorr signatures, which essentially makes multi-signature transactions unreadable, according to Alejandro De La Torre, Vice President at Hong Kong-headquartered major mining pool Poolin.

In practice, that means greater privacy, because your keys won’t have as much exposure on the chain. “You can kind of hide who you are a little bit better, which is good,” said Brandon Arvanaghi, previously a security engineer at crypto exchange Gemini.

It won’t translate to greater anonymity for your individual bitcoin address on the public blockchain, but it will make simple transactions indistinguishable from those that are more complex and comprised of multiple signatures.

These souped-up signatures are also a game-changer for smart contracts, which are self-executing agreements that live on the blockchain. Smart contracts can theoretically be used for practically any kind of transaction, from paying your rent each month to registering your vehicle.

Taproot makes smart contracts cheaper and smaller, in terms of the space they take up on the blockchain. Killeen says that this enhanced functionality and efficiency presents “mind-blowing potential.”

Currently, smart contracts can be created both on bitcoin’s core protocol layer and on the Lightning Network, a payments platform built on bitcoin, which enables instant transactions. Smart contracts executed on the Lightning Network typically lead to faster and less costly transactions.

“Lightning transactions can be fractions of a penny…while a bitcoin transaction at the core protocol layer can be much more expensive than that,” explained Killeen.

Developers have already begun to build on Lightning, in anticipation of the upgrade, which will allow for highly specific contracts.

“The most important thing for Taproot is…smart contracts,” said Fred Thiel, CEO of cryptocurrency mining specialist Marathon Digital Holdings. “It’s already the primary driver of innovation on the ethereum network. Smart contracts essentially give you the opportunity to really build applications and businesses on the blockchain.”

As more programmers build smart contracts on top of bitcoin’s blockchain, there is also the potential for bitcoin to become more of a player in the world of DeFi, or decentralized finance, a term used to describe financial applications designed to cut out the middleman.

Today, ethereum dominates as the blockchain of choice for these apps, also referred to as “dapps.”

Why the wait

Though the bitcoin community has agreed to the upgrade, the rollout itself won’t happen until probably November. A lot of testing ahead of time will reduce the likelihood of something going wrong during an upgrade.

“Upgrades allow the – extremely remote – possibility of a bug entering the system, which would destroy confidence in the whole cryptocurrency system, effectively wiping it out – a ‘self-inflicted wound’ if you like,” said Jason Deane, an analyst at Quantum Economics.

Deane says this is why upgrade processes are so carefully tested, retested, and vetted, again and again, over very long periods of time, prior to being deployed.

Many also remember the disastrous migration of 2013, when an upgrade went wrong and resulted in bitcoin temporarily splitting in half.

“You don’t want different clients or miners in the protocol out of sync. That’s how catastrophic stuff happens,” Nic Carter, founding partner at Castle Island Ventures, told CNBC. “Because we don’t want a repeat of 2013, we have these extremely long lead times.”

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Fintech CEO: Bitcoin Plunge Correlates to Stock Market Movement

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Friday’s WSJ headline on Bitcoin: “Bitcoin Price Falls to $38,000 in Tandem With Tech Selloff.” The statement that followed? “Digital currency hits its lowest level since August 2021, showing a tight correlation with moves in the stock market.” One fintech CEO comments on what’s happening with digital assets.

“We’re seeing Bitcoin, in particular, as well as some of the other digital assets, move in patterns that coexist with the stock market. The implications to that are far reaching. In particular, it is going to push regulators towards a permanent classification of digital assets, including stablecoins, something that has been up in the air for some time,” offered Richard Gardner, CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of ultra-high-performance trading and surveillance technology that powers global equities, derivatives, and digital asset exchanges.

“These regulatory dilemmas are keeping certain investors out — and keeping some investors that are in from increasing their positions. 2022 long promised to be the year that would see change in this arena, but as there is more and more evidence that digital assets are showing movements that mirror the market, it is even more enhanced,” said Gardner.

“Beyond regulatory issues dealing with classification, I think the bureaucrats are going to be pressured to take a hard look at custody, too. The providers currently servicing the digital assets segment just aren’t providing the intense security that the industry demands,” noted Gardner.

Fireblocks, which is among the best known custody providers, found itself embroiled in a lawsuit with StakeHound, which alleges the custody company lost roughly $70MM of Ethereum, after the key vanished. As a result, StakeHound could not access over 38,000 ETH.

“The rise of institutional investors really has blown the doors of the barn, and it made it clear that custody needs to be more than simply an afterthought. We need firms with a background in cybersecurity and financial technologies to take the lead here. Custody can’t be handled by startups with big investors and a complete lack of competency in safeguarding digital assets,” said Gardner.

Modulus is known throughout the financial technology segment as a leader in the development of ultra-high frequency trading systems and blockchain technologies. Modulus has provided its exchange solution to some of the industry’s most profitable digital asset exchanges, including a well-known multi-billion-dollar cryptocurrency exchange. Over the past twenty years, the company has built technology for the world’s most notable institutions, with a client list which includes NASA, NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Siemens, Shell, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago.

“Over the past weeks, headlines continue to emerge about Bitcoin’s movement in relation to the market. As that continues to expand, there’s just going to be no question that now is the time to normalize the classification of cryptocurrencies,” noted Gardner.

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Merchant Use of Bitcoin As Payment Method Dropped by 27 Percent in 2021 – Bitpay

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Bitpay one of the leading crypto payment service provider reported a decline in Bitcoin’s dominance in crypto payment methods in 2021. According to Bitpay, merchant use of Bitcoin has dropped by 27 percent from 92 percent recorded in 2020 to about 65 percent in 2021.

Bitpay revealed that merchants are increasing the use of other cryptocurrencies to process their payments on its platform. Ethereum now accounted for 15 percent of the total transactions, stablecoins accounted for 13 percent while two leading meme coins, Dogecoin and Shiba Inu coin with Litecoin accounted for 3 percent of total transactions in 2021.

The decline in the use of Bitcoin was partly due to the rise and acceptance of stablecoins for cross-border payment, likewise, unlike bitcoin where the price is not stable, the value of stablecoins is steady irrespective of the market trend.

Despite the volatility in the crypto market in the last quarter of 2021, Bitcoin price rose by 57.64 percent from $29,374.15 it traded on 1st of January, 2021 to $46,306.45 it closed on 31st of December 2021. However, the volatility did not deter investors from holding on to the Bitcoin in their wallets.

BitPay founded in 2011, processes an average of 66,000 transactions per month and $1 billion in annual transactions with over 80 employees. Chief Executive Officer Stephen Pair said the company’s overall 2021 payment volumes rose 57 percent year over year.

Pair Said, “our business ebbs and flows to some degree with the price, when the price goes down, people tend to spend less, we have not experienced as much of a decline in volume with this recent pullback. It’s probably just a reflection of more and more companies that need to use this as a tool to conduct payments.

As merchants begin to accept crypto payments, more companies are also stepping in, indicating the growing adoption of crypto in the payment industry. Last week, Investors King reported that PayPal was planning to launch its own stablecoin called PayPal Coin.

Pair said, “PayPal getting into this space has been great for our business because it causes companies to start asking the question of should they accept crypto payments”.

Bitcoin is 37.87 percent down from its All-Time High of $68,789.63 traded on the 10th of November 2021. At press time Bitcoin is down by 1.25 percent trading at $42,566.12

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The Fed’s Failure on Inflation is Bullish for Bitcoin: Nigel Green

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The U.S. Federal Reserve’s failure on inflation will help drive the price of Bitcoin skywards, predicts the CEO of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organizations.

The assessment from deVere Group’s Nigel Green, a high-profile crypto advocate, comes as the U.S. consumer price index jumped 7% in 2021, the largest 12-month gain since June 1982. The widely followed inflation index increased 0.5% from November, exceeding forecasts.

He notes: “Last year, the Federal Reserve said that inflation in 2021 would be at 1.8%.

“However, U.S. prices soared last year by the highest level in nearly four decades, draining the purchasing power of American households.

“Inflation is everywhere, and it could be around for longer than anyone would like.

“So, why didn’t the Fed – the central bank of the world’s largest economy – not see what was coming?

“Could they seriously not see how supply chain bottlenecks and a shortage of qualified workers would drive up prices and erode people’s and firms’ spending power?”

He continues: “Surely, this must be the biggest miscalculation in the history of the U.S. central bank.

“It shows how the traditional fiat system, of which it is a key component as it is charged with maintaining price stability, is dangerously out of step with reality.

“I believe this will fuel the demand – and therefore the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.”

Why is this so?

With Bitcoin’s fixed supply of 21 million, and institutional investors increasingly moving off the sidelines and into the crypto market, it’s going to continue to outpace gold as a safe haven for capital, says Nigel Green.

“Money flows to where it gets its best treatment, and with treasuries yielding negative in real terms, moving capital into the Fed is a clear liability for investors.

“In addition, in this current inflationary period, Bitcoin has outperformed gold which, until now, has always been almost universally hailed as the ultimate inflation hedge.”

Bitcoin is often referred to as ‘digital gold’ because like the precious metal it is a medium of exchange, a unit of account, non-sovereign, decentralized, scarce, and a store of value.

“Yet, the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is superior to gold as a medium of exchange or form of payment,” says Nigel Green.

“Unlike gold, it is a fixed unit of account and easily divisible and transportable. Gold is not easily immediately divisible, and there are potential issues with purity and verification. Whereas Bitcoin is easily traced on blockchain technology and this is going to be a considerable advantage, especially in cross-border transactions.”

He concludes: “The Fed has lost control on prices and investors are looking for safe havens to protect their purchasing power.

“Bitcoin is primed to provide the inflation shield so many are now seeking, especially as our lives and the global economy is increasingly run on tech and digital solutions, and this megatrend is only set to become more dominant moving forward.”

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