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Op-Ed: Bitcoin as a Solution Against Financial Surveillance

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The bitcoin fever has caught up with Africa as the digital currency continues to make headlines all over the world. The high return potential of bitcoin makes it easy to forget why the virtual currency was created in the first place. Bitcoin allows users to “be their own bank” by providing them with complete control over their finances. This is a particularly powerful aspect of decentralised digital currencies such as bitcoin for users who are living under totalitarian regimes where financial surveillance is commonplace.

Financial surveillance is a system that monitors every transaction that you make. That is to say that your bank knows your purchasing preferences and your financial status hence inhibiting your financial freedom. According to a talk given by outspoken bitcoin thought leader, Andreas Antonopoulos in Riga last year, modern banking systems are worse than useless because they have ignored the utilitarian principle: “first do no harm.”

The Totalitarian Effect

Currently, the global financial systems are centralised, which means that bureaucrats dictate how we carry out transactions through a process termed as Know Your Customer (KYC). KYC is a banking regulation that allows banks to collect the identities of customers which include their names, locations, phone numbers, and dates of birth. Therefore, KYC is a form of financial surveillance that inhibits financial freedom.

KYC came about as a way to prevent criminals from laundering money and funding terrorist groups. However, in the process of reducing criminal activities, many argue that modern banking systems ended up doing more harm than good. As a result, KYC eliminated financial anonymity, which was present when transactions were mainly carried out through cash.

The identity requirement in modern banking has created financial biases because totalitarian financial surveillance dictates who can access banking services and who cannot. Consequently, two billion people have been excluded from the world economy according to World Bank statistics from 2014.

Ironically, the same banks that apply anti-money laundering regulations are often laundering money for governments and cartels behind the scenes, a fact that further emphasises the totalitarian nature of modern financial systems.

Unfortunately, the woes of financial freedom do not end with the hypocritical banking system. The Internet, which has created borderless communication is further contributing to financial surveillance. An article by Cash Essentials reports, “[…] Where big data is leading to the monetisation of consumer information, the anonymity space is becoming smaller and smaller.”

Bitcoin, therefore, comes in to tackle the decreasing financial anonymity. During his talk at the Riga Art Space for the Baltic Honeybadger conference, Antonopoulos said,

“[…] Bitcoin enables us to build a system where we flip the traditional balance between secrecy and privacy.”

Bitcoin and Financial Inclusivity in Africa

Bitcoin is based on a decentralised network that allows customers to transact with a certain degree of anonymity. In other words, bitcoin offers users the opportunity to transact freely from any place in the world and at any time without the watchful eye of a financial institution deciding whether this transaction should be processed or not. This is highly important for individuals living under totalitarian regimes – especially for those who oppose their current leaders.

Furthermore, this also allows decentralised digital currencies like bitcoin to accommodate the unbanked and underbanked population who are struggling to gain access to financial services.

Totalitarian financial surveillance propagated by the modern financial system contributes to poverty and is largely to blame for financial exclusivity in countries with low banking rates. Fortunately, decentralised digital currencies such as bitcoin have the potential to reduce poverty levels and to achieve more financial inclusion as their adoption grows.

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The Best Bitcoin Trading Platforms in 2018

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Bitcoin Trading Platforms

The high number of bitcoin trading platforms can make it difficult for newcomers to the cryptocurrency investment space to decide which platform to sign up for. To aid in this endeavour, Bitcoin Africa has compiled a list of the top five best bitcoin trading platforms available today.

Binance

BinanceBinance is a new cryptocurrency exchange that has already succeeded in making a name for itself as a popular trading platform. The exchange started its operations in July 2017 after raising a significant amount in its ICO. The Chinese platform is headed by Changpeng Zhao who has an impressive amount of experience with blockchain technology having previously worked at Blockchain and OKcoin.

The cryptocurrency exchange supports the trading of an impressive number of digital currencies. It is possible to trade well-known coins such as bitcoin, ether, and litecoin as well as smaller and lesser known digital currencies and tokens. Binance supports over 40 cryptocurrencies. This is an advantage for users who want to trade in tokens that are not easily available on other exchanges.

Moreover, Binance boasts of one of the lowest trading fees in the cryptocurrency market. The trading fee is not based on a tiered structure as is common amongst other platforms. Instead, it is fixed at 0.1 percent of your trade. Additionally, it is possible to slash this fee in half if you decide to use the native cryptographic token of the platform, called BNB. It is important to note this reduction is a temporary promotion being run by the exchange and will be stopped at some point in the future.

Without verification, it is possible to withdraw up to 2 BTC daily. However, after registration, you can withdraw up to 100 BTC daily. The withdrawal fees vary for each token and are updated regularly. Binance trading features are advanced and require an existing understanding of trading platforms.

Lastly, it is important to note that it is not possible to fund trades on Binance using fiat currency. To begin trading, you must fund your account with cryptocurrency by sending it to your account on the trading platform. This means you must first acquire cryptocurrency before you can start trading on Binance.

Bittrex

BittrexUS cryptocurrency trading platform Bittrex is one of the largest and most popular exchanges in terms of trading volumes. The exchange started operating in 2014 and is well trusted by the community.

Bittrex makes it a point to focus on security to ensure the safety of its customers’ funds. The platform utilizes industry-leading security practices and stores the bulk of the users’ funds in a cold wallet in order to avoid any losses through thefts or hacks. In fact, Bittrex is one of the few exchanges that has never been hacked since it started operating.

The exchanges most prominent feature is the large number of currency pairs it offers its customers. Furthermore, it features a fairly simple user interface that is easy to use for beginners and traders can withdraw up to 1 BTC daily without verification. To withdraw a larger sum, you need to submit to the KYC and AML practices enforced by Bittrex.

The trading fees on the platform are set at 0.25 percent of the trade. To begin trading, you must fund your account with the cryptocurrency of your choice. However, it is possible to purchase a minimum of $10,000 in bitcoin, ether, or USDT through a bank wire transfer with an ‘enhanced verified account.’

Kraken

KrakenKraken is one of the oldest and most established bitcoin exchanges in the market. It has been in operation since 2011. The design of the exchange makes it easy to execute trades while still offering a wide array of trading tools such as automated orders, stop-loss orders, and margin trading.

The San-Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange utilizes encrypted cold storage to store its customers’ funds. Moreover, accounts on the platform must be secured using two-factor authentication to further enhance security. Additionally, Kraken prides itself on its ability to provide a high level of liquidity.

In addition to America and Canada, the platform supports customers from a number of European countries which makes it popular on the continent. Moreover, Kraken supports fiat trading pairs in a number of different currencies. This allows users from different countries to easily fund their accounts and begin trading. The exchange also has a dark pool, which allows users to trade anonymously.

The fee structure on Kraken is somewhat complicated. Funding and withdrawal fees are dependent on the method and currency utilized. Trading fees are charged on a tiered structure according to trading volumes which are calculated on a thirty-day basis. Trading fees include a taker and a maker fee. Lastly, it can take up to a week for accounts to be registered on the site due to KYC and AML protocols.

Poloniex

PoloniexLaunched in 2014, Poloniex is a well-known and popular cryptocurrency exchange. The platform is best known for its trading tools. It boasts a number of tools and information packages that allow users to make the best decisions with regards to trades. Moreover, it supports lending and margin trading.

However, due to its comprehensive tools, the platform can be difficult for first-time crypto traders to use. Additionally, it is not possible to fund your account with fiat currency. The American exchange also boasts high trading volumes and subsequently liquidity thus it is possible to settle trades in a fairly timely manner.

Poloniex supports a wide number of cryptocurrency trading pairs. Creating an account is easy but the amounts supported for withdrawal are based on the verification level of your account. Trading fees are charged on a tiered structure based on trading volumes but are low in comparison to other exchanges.

Lastly, the platform stores the funds in a cold wallet. It also enforces two-factor authentication for all accounts. The platform did suffer one security breach in 2014 but made sure to refund all affected users.

Bitfinex

BitfinexHong Kong-based Bitfinex was started in 2012. The exchange is considered one the biggest based on daily trading volumes as it handles upwards of $2 billion daily. It provides users with a wide array of trading tools that support both basic and advanced level trading. It is possible to navigate the user interface as a novice but the platform is better suited for more experienced users. Moreover, the exchange has a mobile app for on-the-go trading.

Due to its large trading volumes, Bitfinex boasts a significant amount of liquidity. This enables the platform to quickly settle trades which helps users exploit changes in the market. The exchange supports margin trading, margin funding as well as more complex order types such as fill or kill and iceberg orders.

The trading platform has encountered a number of security breaches in the past. Due to this, it stores its funds offline with just enough to facilitate trades kept online. It also enforces two-factor authentication, encryption and other security measures to avoid other compromises in its security.

Fees on Bitfinex are tiered. The greater the trading volumes, the less the fees levied. The trading volumes are calculated monthly. The platform makes a point to update the fee structure regularly.

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Ugandan Socialite Zari Hassan’s Social Media Accounts Hacked – Attackers Ask for Ransom in Bitcoin

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Zari Hassan

Earlier this month, Ugandan socialite Zari Hassan had several of her social media accounts hacked. Interestingly, the cyber criminals asked for a ransom payment in bitcoin (BTC) from Hassan so that she could regain access to her account.

The Zari Hassan Hack

Zari Hassan

Image by instagram.com/zarithebosslady/

Zari Hassan is a popular Ugandan celebrity with millions of followers on social media. A few weeks ago, however, her Instagram and Facebook accounts were reportedly hacked.

Her attackers’ goal was to extort money from her, given that they had enough information about the kind of lifestyle she lives. They demanded $4,000 in bitcoin (BTC) to be sent to them as a ransom to release access to the account.

Hassan was able to retrieve access to her accounts but it is unclear whether she paid the ransom or whether the compromised social media platforms enabled her to re-access her accounts.

Hassan is among a number of several female celebrities who have had their accounts hacked in the past few months.

Keep Your Online Accounts Safe

There are lessons to be learned from this. For one, we need to take caution in securing our online accounts on social media. Things such as frequent password changes, allowing two-factor authentication, making use of privacy settings as well as limiting app permissions should not be taken for granted. We need to make use of them to keep our accounts as secure as possible.

Furthermore, for those of us that hold cryptocurrencies, we need to ensure we keep our cryptocurrency wallets and trading accounts safe and secure. Hackers have been increasingly targeting cryptocurrency users due to the irreversibility and relative anonymity of cryptocurrency transactions.

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SARS is Going After Potential Crypto Tax Evaders in South Africa

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In a bid to identify tax evaders, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) is actively working towards identifying and tracking various transactions carried out by cryptocurrency traders. The agency’s main agenda is to identify those making money from their cryptocurrency transactions and ensures that these people pay the appropriate tax.

SARS is Going After Crypto Traders

The agenda was made known why the agency’s director, Mark Kingon, during an Institute of Internal Auditors conference held in the Sandton, according to IOL. Mark Kingon said:

“The most important thing is identifying individual trading actively because it’s easy to say cryptocurrency gains must be deductible, but there are also those who lose. Identifying the traders will make the process of tax deduction easy and straightforward.”

He added that “being able to identify transactions on the blockchain will also help greatly towards identifying corrupt government official moving stolen money, drug dealers, kidnappers and the likes.”

Public Blockchain Makes Tracking Bitcoin Transactions Possible

The tracking of cryptocurrency transactions is made possible due to the transparent nature of the blockchain. The public ledger design of the blockchain is in such a way that every transaction on a public blockchain can be read by a third-party. As a result of this transparency, it becomes possible to track any transactions once the starting point is located.

bitcoin de-anonimisationSeveral methods for identifying the real-world identities of bitcoin holders have been developed over the years. Chain analysis, linking IP addresses to bitcoin transactions, and wallet address clustering are three of the most popular bitcoin de-anonymisation methods currently being applied by law enforcement agencies and tax authorities.

In South Africa, cryptocurrencies are not recognised as a payment method or currency. Therefore they are not classified under the income tax or capital gain act. Instead, cryptocurrencies are being classified as assets of an intangible nature.

Therefore, it becomes crucial for citizens and residents of the country engaging in cryptocurrency trading, to ensure that a proper filing of their profit and loss trading cryptocurrency is included in their taxable income report.

SARS confirms that it now has a fully functioning procedure for identifying non-complying traders and any trader found guilty of tax evasion will face the full wrath of the law.

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