Because of bitcoin's decentralized nature and its trading on online exchanges located in many countries, regulation of bitcoin has been difficult. However, the use of bitcoin can be criminalized, and shutting down exchanges and the peer-to-peer economy in a given country would constitute a de facto ban.[176] The legal status of bitcoin varies substantially from country to country and is still undefined or changing in many of them. Regulations and bans that apply to bitcoin probably extend to similar cryptocurrency systems.[177]

According to the European Central Bank, the decentralization of money offered by bitcoin has its theoretical roots in the Austrian school of economics, especially with Friedrich von Hayek in his book Denationalisation of Money: The Argument Refined,[132] in which Hayek advocates a complete free market in the production, distribution and management of money to end the monopoly of central banks.[133]:22
Network nodes can validate transactions, add them to their copy of the ledger, and then broadcast these ledger additions to other nodes. To achieve independent verification of the chain of ownership each network node stores its own copy of the blockchain.[80] About every 10 minutes, a new group of accepted transactions, called a block, is created, added to the blockchain, and quickly published to all nodes, without requiring central oversight. This allows bitcoin software to determine when a particular bitcoin was spent, which is needed to prevent double-spending. A conventional ledger records the transfers of actual bills or promissory notes that exist apart from it, but the blockchain is the only place that bitcoins can be said to exist in the form of unspent outputs of transactions.[7]:ch. 5
IE… I have 50 ETH , and want to buy a ‘widget’ for 25 ETH given a particular set of circumstances (it works, or the temperature is >10c tomorrow). I agree with a seller on the conditions of a contract, and we ‘create’ a contract on an Ethereum platform, with appropriate sign-offs and verification. This could be 2 steps, or it could be 1000 steps. Once established in the ‘smart contract’, if it is indeed >10c tomorrow, the contract automatically shifts 25 ETH to your account and ships me my widget. The results are recorded in the blockchain.
Bitcoin prices were negatively affected by several hacks or thefts from cryptocurrency exchanges, including thefts from Coincheck in January 2018, Coinrail and Bithumb in June, and Bancor in July. For the first six months of 2018, $761 million worth of cryptocurrencies was reported stolen from exchanges.[68] Bitcoin's price was affected even though other cryptocurrencies were stolen at Coinrail and Bancor as investors worried about the security of cryptocurrency exchanges.[69][70][71]

Wallets and similar software technically handle all bitcoins as equivalent, establishing the basic level of fungibility. Researchers have pointed out that the history of each bitcoin is registered and publicly available in the blockchain ledger, and that some users may refuse to accept bitcoins coming from controversial transactions, which would harm bitcoin's fungibility.[128] For example, in 2012, Mt. Gox froze accounts of users who deposited bitcoins that were known to have just been stolen.[129]
In March 2013 the blockchain temporarily split into two independent chains with different rules due to a bug in version 0.8 of the bitcoin software. The two blockchains operated simultaneously for six hours, each with its own version of the transaction history from the moment of the split. Normal operation was restored when the majority of the network downgraded to version 0.7 of the bitcoin software, selecting the backward compatible version of the blockchain. As a result, this blockchain became the longest chain and could be accepted by all participants, regardless of their bitcoin software version.[42] During the split, the Mt. Gox exchange briefly halted bitcoin deposits and the price dropped by 23% to $37[42][43] before recovering to previous level of approximately $48 in the following hours.[44] The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) established regulatory guidelines for "decentralized virtual currencies" such as bitcoin, classifying American bitcoin miners who sell their generated bitcoins as Money Service Businesses (MSBs), that are subject to registration or other legal obligations.[45][46][47] In April, exchanges BitInstant and Mt. Gox experienced processing delays due to insufficient capacity[48] resulting in the bitcoin price dropping from $266 to $76 before returning to $160 within six hours.[49] The bitcoin price rose to $259 on 10 April, but then crashed by 83% to $45 over the next three days.[40] On 15 May 2013, US authorities seized accounts associated with Mt. Gox after discovering it had not registered as a money transmitter with FinCEN in the US.[50][51] On 23 June 2013, the US Drug Enforcement Administration listed ₿11.02 as a seized asset in a United States Department of Justice seizure notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881.[52][better source needed] This marked the first time a government agency had seized bitcoin.[53] The FBI seized about ₿30,000[54] in October 2013 from the dark web website Silk Road during the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht.[55][56][57] These bitcoins were sold at blind auction by the United States Marshals Service to venture capital investor Tim Draper.[54] Bitcoin's price rose to $755 on 19 November and crashed by 50% to $378 the same day. On 30 November 2013 the price reached $1,163 before starting a long-term crash, declining by 87% to $152 in January 2015.[40] On 5 December 2013, the People's Bank of China prohibited Chinese financial institutions from using bitcoins.[58] After the announcement, the value of bitcoins dropped,[59] and Baidu no longer accepted bitcoins for certain services.[60] Buying real-world goods with any virtual currency had been illegal in China since at least 2009.[61]
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