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Keeping up with crypto can be hard. The industry is growing fast, and while that presents a whole new set of possibilities, it also means a whole new set of problems.
Luckily, we’re here to help.
Many of the problems crypto faces today are precisely due to a lack of regulation and the resulting lack of interest from mainstream companies or banks to get involved in the industry. Others, however, are more self-inflicted.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. And each of these problems has an achievable solution.
Here is Decrypt’s list of the seven biggest problems the crypto industry is currently facing, and how they can be overcome.
Crypto exchanges keep getting hacked
The continued onslaught of crypto exchange hacks has made one thing clear: exchanges are fallible. To some, this demonstrates that exchanges aren’t secure enough, highlighting the lack of institutional standards for security. To others, this is a question of custody—that you shouldn’t store your coins on an exchange to begin with.
But how are funds disappearing? In some cases, it was an inside job. In others, hackers exploited smart contracts or technical bugs. Sometimes, phishing techniques have been used, or the exchange owner simply misappropriated the money.
All cases, however, have one thing in common: a lack of transparency and secure safeguards.
So how do we solve that? Well, for one, users could opt to use more secure exchanges, like Coinbase, which secretly tries to hack itself to improve its own security. Second, and more importantly, crypto exchanges should adopt industry-wide security standards—something these businesses might need to create for themselves, unless regulators eventually do it for them. And third, more secure and scalable decentralized exchanges need to be created to provide alternatives—and these are already being worked on.
The imbalance between privacy and security
Bitcoin was originally seen as an anonymous cryptocurrency created by a pseudonymous inventor. But since then, know-your-customer (KYC) protocols have been integrated almost everywhere. Even Erik Voorhees, a staunch libertarian, has been forced to bow to the pressure of regulators and institute KYC on his crypto exchange, ShapeShift.
On the one hand, this could all be viewed as a positive sign for crypto. For institutions and regulatory bodies to get onboard, KYC and other forms of compliance are and will be necessary.
However, the need to hand over private, personal data to exchanges or other companies must be weighed against the danger in combining that data with public blockchain information.
Many crypto exchanges are currently working with blockchain analytics providers to build up detailed pictures of the crypto ecosystem. All of your crypto transactions laid bare for the world to see. The problem? Consider the case of Neutrino, a firm with access to both KYC and blockchain data, whose founders—as part of Hacking Team—sold data to authoritarian governments worldwide.
So how can we use cryptocurrencies without revealing every intimate detail of our financial records to such companies and governments? Privacy coins are a good start. Coins such as Monero and Zcash make it much harder for anyone to see what you spend your money on. And, for now, you can also use the remaining exchanges that don’t require KYC, like Changelly and Local Bitcoins. But expect this to get harder.
The SEC’s crypto crackdown is intensifying
In case you hadn’t heard, the SEC has had a busy time in crypto lately. Ever since SEC Chairman Jay Clayton declared that virtually all ICOs—except Ethereum—are unregistered securities offerings in the SEC’s view, the Commission has mostly focused on projects that allegedly committed more obvious wrongdoing, such as outright fraud. However, as Decrypt revealed last October, the Commission sent out numerous ICO-related subpoenas last year and has also been pressing its foot down on ICO promoters, such as Floyd Mayweather.
Earlier this month, the Canada-based messaging app Kik revealed that it has spent $5 million just in negotiations with the SEC over its cryptocurrency Kin, which the company used to raise close to $100 million in an ICO in 2017. The SEC informed Kik late last year that it has recommended an enforcement action against the company over the unregistered ICO.
While some may view the SEC’s actions as a sign that regulators are at last “cleaning up” the crypto industry, others feel that the SEC is overreaching and unfairly punishing well-meaning entrepreneurs by cracking down on all blockchain-based tokens—not all of which should be deemed securities.
For example, the Wyoming state legislature has passed a number of bills designed specifically to solve this problem and make a clear distinction between securities and “utility tokens.” If the SEC adopts this approach, it could help to keep the industry growing. If it doesn’t, expect to see more fines for ICO promoters, more coins delisted from exchanges and more failed attempts to pivot a coin to being a registered security.
Crypto companies still can’t get bank accounts
The crypto world was shocked but not surprised when it was revealed Bitfinex had a $750 million black hole in its finances—which the company has since covered with a hasty IEO. But this unearthed a bigger, more fundamental problem. It turns out that the bank holding up Tether’s funds was more integral to the crypto industry than most people knew.
Crypto Capital was a Panamanian payment processor that used shell companies to offer “bank accounts” to crypto companies. It did this for years without telling the legitmate banks that it worked with that crypto was involved. High-profile crypto exchanges, such as Binance, Kraken, and many others, used Crypto Capital in the not-so-distant past. They opted for this “bank” of last resort since most traditional banks, outside of a treasured few, won’t touch companies that handle cryptocurrencies.
But Crypto Capital is no more. The New York State Attorney General indicted two of its three founders over allegations of running an unlicensed money-transmitting business. The means crypto businesses are now left with even fewer banking options. While some are currently using other similar crypto-friendly banks, like Noble Bank, others are using small banks and paying them a premium to store their fiat money.
However, this may be about to change. For example, in the U.K., Coinfloor has just started offering fiat bank accounts—registered with the Financial Conduct Authority—for crypto companies. While this service is geographically limited, it might be a stimulus for other businesses to provide similar offerings.
Price manipulation is still rampant
Bitcoin is still a relatively small asset class when compared to more established assets. As such, it can be easily manipulated by high-net-worth investors—known as whales—or even crypto exchanges themselves. The stablecoin Tether, for example—operated by the same company that controls crypto exchange Bitfinex—is often accused of being used to manipulate the market.
One visible sign of market manipulation can be seen on price charts as “barts”—sudden spikes, up or down, in the price of Bitcoin, before the price eventually settles back to where it started.
Why is this a problem?
For one, market manipulation was the SEC’s main reason to not approve a Bitcoin ETF. So, this is a problem that needs to be addressed before we see large institutional investors sinking huge amounts of money into Bitcoin. But to make it harder to manipulate the market, there also needs to be much higher trading volumes across the board.
How can this be achieved? Cleaning up the amount of fake trading volume in the market to get a better picture of what’s really going on would be a good start. The crypto market could also benefit from clearer regulations so that larger players feel more confident trading cryptocurrency. As Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong recently said, institutions want to get involved in crypto—we just need to provide them with the right tools to do so.
Crypto’s overreliance on Tether
Tether is absolutely integral to the crypto industry right now. Analysis by research firm Crypto Compare revealed that just under 80 percent of Bitcoin trading was done against Tether. There is just shy of $3 billion Tether in existence today, and it arguably has a huge influence on the market.
But Tether remains plagued by lingering questions of its future viability. The stablecoin is currently embroiled in a fraud investigation launched by the NYSAG stemming from the aforementioned financial troubles, including its move away from being backed 1:1 to U.S. dollars in its reserve to being backed by stocks, Bitcoin, and maybe more.
While stablecoins undoubtedly have a big part to play in the crypto industry, we shouldn’t put all our bitcoins in one basket.
To be clear, there are many other great uses for stablecoins, including cross-border payments and helping Venezuelans and others dealing with hyperinflation to store their wealth. And there are a number of other alternatives to use, such as Paxos, Circle and True USD. However, these coins account for less than 2 percent of Bitcoin trades—nobody is using them.
The real problem, then, is not that these stablecoins exist but rather that Tether has a monopoly on trading pairs across the crypto exchange market. Some exchanges, such as Binance, have added new stablecoins, but many others continue offering only Tether. This has to change.
And a quick way to reduce crypto’s overreliance on Tether and make the market more resilient is for exchanges to simply offer more stablecoins to trade with.
Institutions are not using public blockchains
JP Morgan made waves when it announced JPM Coin, a U.S. dollar-backed stablecoin on a private blockchain. Similarly, Facebook is reportedly building its own stablecoin to use within WhatsApp—which analysts estimate will be, again, on a private blockchain. Notice a pattern?
Typically, private blockchains are permissioned networks used for anything from passing KYC documents to supply chains. They are inaccessible to everyday people and don’t integrate with other public blockchains, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. While it is a good step that the institutions are getting involved in crypto generally (and a far cry better than calling Bitcoin “rat poison squared”), it is a worrying sign that they are largely steering clear of public blockchains—if you care about these blockchains becoming widely adopted, that is.
On the other hand, a few institutions are dabbling with some public blockchains. IBM’s World Wire makes use of the Stellar network for its cross-border payments. Then again, Stellar is centralized enough that the whole network went down for over two hours without anyone noticing.
Instead, the task of achieving mainstream adoption is left up to innovators like BitPay, which recently hired the U.S. WorldPay CFO Glen Braganza and processed $1 billion in payments through 2018, almost solely in Bitcoin, Braganza recently told Decrypt.
The clear message is, if the institutions won’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves.