Tether Gains Popularity as Payment Method

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There have been lots of debates regarding the legitimacy of Tether (USDT) as a stable means of payments as well as its speculated involvement in the manipulation of the prices of digital currencies. Despite this, the digital currency has been growing with a decent number of merchants now accepting it as a preferred means of stability. This is largely because of its unmatched stability.

As it stands, Tether occupies the fourth spot in the United States’ crypto market. This means that it is already highly regarded as a stablecoin and therefore its rise to the top should not be as much of a surprise. Over the past year, merchants who are using the digital currency have recorded a significant increase in Tether volumes over the past year.

According to CoinPayments.net, one of the world’s largest digital currency payment processors, Tether currently accounts for up to 30 percent of the volume of transactions it processes. In comparison, a year ago the volume of Tether transactions was 30 times less than what has been recently reported. The consistency in Tether’s meteoric rise has been quite consistent across a number of other cryptocurrency payment processors as well.

Why Now?

Well, unlike other digital currencies, Tether burst into the scene with the promise of living up to the stablecoin objective. The digital currency avoided fluctuations and instead opted for at least a one-to-one ratio with the US dollar by managing a reserve.

This feature made it quite popular and many merchants would often accept payments in other digital currencies such as Bitcoin and convert it to Tether in order to “hedge against the volatility” of other cryptocurrencies. The over 265 companies that accept payments in Tether has since switched and are now taking Tether payments directly.

What It Means for Other Digital Currencies

While Tether’s use in commerce is definitely a positive development for the crypto community, its growth has had a rather negative impact on other digital currencies especially the ones considered to be market leaders such as Ether and Bitcoin. Owing to several factors, Bitcoin and Ether have lost their appeal among many investors and due to the rapidly shifting dynamics of the crypto industry, a lot of focus is being given to alternative crypto solutions.

Moreover, there is a need for more accessible digital currency solutions in such areas as gambling and other adult product like cannabis and sex dolls. Tether has caught up and its stability is making many other digital currencies seem like raw deals for many customers. Perhaps this is the beginning of its ascension to the top of the crypto market.

Ripple Acquires Crypto Trading Firm in Iceland

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Renowned San-Francisco-based blockchain company Ripple has recently announced an expansion bid that involves a sizeable increase in its engineering team as well as a move to Iceland. The company which is behind the very popular XRP token is hoping to grow its brand in Iceland by acquiring Algrim, a digital currency trading firm that is based in Iceland.

Through the acquisition, Ripple is aiming at providing better services to customers of its RippleNet product suite. The company has been working very hard to expand the reach of its cross-border payments solution and the recent expansion will go a long way in helping it achieve that goal.

With RippleNet, businesses are able to make cross-border payments between several countries. This is especially good news for the unbanked particularly in areas that do not have widespread banking options. Ripple facilitates the cross-border payments by swapping the original currency with XRP before sending across borders after which it is swapped back to fiat currency at the destination of the payment.

Why Algrim?

Well, to accommodate the sudden and mostly temporary busts of XRP purchases in the process of these payments, the business requires a large supply of the token to dig into. This is what makes the acquisition of Algrim such a monumental leap forward for Ripple. The Iceland-based crypto trading firm will be of huge importance when it comes to building out Ripple’s “On-Demand Liquidity” – this is what the company calls its supply of XRP used for making payments with the digital token.

“With built-in expertise in trading and exchanges, the addition of Algrim’s engineering talent to our team will be instrumental in continuing the momentum we’re already experiencing with On-Demand Liquidity,” Christopher Kanaan, the SVP of Engineering at Ripple commented.

Both companies are quite happy with the new arrangement especially because they share a vision to enable mainstream and wider adoption of digital assets and blockchain technology.

What Next?

Going forward, the new Iceland office will serve as a regional hub for Ripple as it moves ahead with its massive global expansion bid. RippleNet currently boasts of more than 200 customers including Xendpay. There are also several other businesses that use XRP to send payment across borders and they include companies like MoneyGram, Cuallix as well as Mercury FX. In addition to all that, Ripple has also been inking more partnerships across the globe.

All its expansion plans aside, Ripple has been going through a bit of trouble with regards to the price of its XRP token. The price of the token fell significantly this year and it has been showing very little signs of a speedy recovery. Hopefully, these partnerships might be able to help prop-up the price.

Crypto Regulation: What Was and What Could Be

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2018 was without a big year for cryptocurrencies as a whole particularly because it saw through a number of developments that kicked off in late 2017. There has been an equal measure of ups and downs in the crypto space which, in one way or the other, have been key to the growth of the industry. Keeping all that in mind, one of the key considerations that many people had in the last year and are looking to improve upon is regulation. With more and more institutional investors streaming into the blockchain and crypto space, there has been an outcry for increased regulation which is expected to be a key driver of the crypto bear market of the past year.

Most of these investors also blamed the initial coin offering (ICO) market’s cool-down on potential threats. To put this into perspective, in October 2018, initial coin offering issuers collected close to $770 million, which is a 50 percent drop of what they raised in December 2017. Apparently, this slowdown was a result of continued pronouncements by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton that said ICOs are securities which imply that those that do not register with the SEC would face dire legal consequences.

What This year Holds

One thing that we can all agree on is that 2019 will certainly be the year that crypto regulation climbs to greater heights. In essence, this means that it is likely that various crypto regulations will become a defining move for such organizations as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as well as other financial bodies in all parts of the globe. While some crypto-related businesses may be reluctant to follow the SEC’s rules, existing regulations are already taking a massive toll on a number of crypto businesses and this is likely to increase further as the year progresses.

Regulation, as always, is always going to be double-sided phenomena. On one hand, existing and future regulations may inhibit innovation – some companies may close their doors and others may avoid starting up altogether. The main takeaway here is that we might go through a transition period where companies and businesses that are not able to play by the rules will be forced to step aside.

On the other hand, proving that cryptocurrencies do indeed have some legitimacy might actually be easier with more regulation in place. Already, the entry of institutional investors is starting to becoming a big deal for people who were skeptical of crypto. It is well known that the borderless and anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies makes them nearly impossible to control but with more regulation, reasonable solutions are certainly bound to be found.

Crypto Exchanges “Crying for Regulation”, New Study Reveals

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It is nearly impossible to find an industry where a majority of the participants are wishing for the government to intervene, especially if it thrives off not being subject to influence by said governments. Well, according to a summary delivered by Mistertango, a crypto payment app, 88 percent of cryptocurrency exchanges want some kind of industry regulation introduced before something “potentially disastrous” occurs.

Yes, that is right. Contrary to popular belief, many of the major stakeholders of the crypto industry including a number of renowned exchanges believe that more regulation is necessary to ensure that the industry is safeguarded from volatility and manipulation.

Mistertango’s study involved 24 digital currency exchanges across Asia, South America, Europe, and Oceania, with 88 percent of the respondents expressing their desire for the introduction of more regulatory safeguards. They believe that the existing regulatory standards are not sufficient enough to safeguard against the illegitimate use of digital assets.

Fear of Being Squeezed Out of Operation

As reported by Mistertango, about a third of the cryptocurrency exchanges think that a major market crash is the biggest potential threat to the industry. While they did not elaborate on this, their responses to other questions asked during the survey pointed to their growing fear of being hounded out of the industry by regulated financial institutions.

To put this into perspective, 40 percent of the exchanges believe that reducing the barriers to crypto funding by banks and other regulated financial institutions will help in increasing general acceptance and subsequently, widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies. Majority of the exchanges believe that crypto trades should be subjected to Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) guidelines just as traditional financial institutions are.

“The industry is crying out for regulation and the response from partners has shown this,” said Gabrielius Bilkštys, business manager at Mistertango. “Uncertainty is the biggest fear, and regulation is critical to provide the stability we need. Unfortunately, there is no regulatory consensus – worldwide or otherwise. For cryptocurrencies to move towards the scale and ubiquity possessed by fiat currency, it needs cohesive, considered, and comprehensive regulation. Thus, regulation will be a catalyst, not an inhibitor to the crypto market’s development.”

Calls for Regulatory Reform

Even though calls for regulation of cryptocurrency exchanges are quite common, it is just now that news of stakeholders within the industry supporting such initiatives is arriving. In fact, many of them are beginning to take action. For instance, a number of Japanese crypto exchanges formed a self-regulatory body earlier this year in a bid to rebuild trust in the wake of the $350 million heist that involved Tokyo-based trading platform, Coincheck. Similarly, in South Korea, crypto exchanges have welcomed proposals for regulation of crypto trading by regulated financial institutions.

“It has been widely supposed that crypto companies want to avoid a regulated environment, but this is far from the truth,” Oleksandr Lutskevych, CEO of CEX.IO pointed out. “The industry is all too aware that regulation will lead to the maturity of the market and ensure businesses remain free from suspicion of involvement with illegitimate uses of cryptocurrency.”

The State of Crypto in the World of Soccer

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The World Cup season is gone but the tears, anticipation, and disappointment are still fresh in the minds of football enthusiasts from every part of the globe. It was an exciting time and everyone can attest to this fact regardless of how everything turned out. This time though, there were so many wins that came with the FIFA 2018 World Cup that went down in Russia.

Business was good in so many fronts but crypto turned out to be the main highlight. People were not only able to place bets using various cryptocurrencies but also pay for flights, hotels, food and even alcohol during the World Cup season. This was a huge milestone for the crypto ecosystem as it set the stage for even greater developments.

The World Cup aside, it is becoming clearer that the idea of cryptocurrency is beginning to become more acceptable in several different sectors. Even more interesting is the fact that more and more celebrities are backing cryptocurrencies – these include sports figures and athletes. Clearly, something is being done right and if things continue along the same path, then we should have another revolution in our hands pretty soon.

Didier Drogba Becomes a Crypto Ambassador

The iconic former Ivory Coast player is the latest entrant into the long list of celebrity athletes who have endorsed cryptocurrencies. Russian news outlet, RT reports that Drogba has recently signed up to the official ambassador for a new digital currency-based social networking platform known as all.me. In an interview with RT, Drogba expressed his strong faith in the project saying that he believed in it “a lot”. He even wore an all.me branded t-shirt during the interview to stress how firm his support for the project is.

Founded in 2015 by Artak Tovmasyan, an Armenian businessman, all.me reportedly raised $30 million when the website was launched and is planning to conduct an initial coin offering (ICO) in the fourth quarter of 2018. The platform is quite unique especially because it promises to share half of its advertising revenue with users based on factors that include activity, content, and popularity.

Ronaldinho Launches His Own Cryptocurrency

Brazilian football legend and 2005 Ballon d’Or award winner, Ronaldinho has also recently announced the launch of his own digital currency – Ronaldinho Soccer Coin (RSC) – which is also part of wider ambitions to venture into the global Esports industry, another emerging and rapidly growing market.

The Ronaldinho Soccer Coin project is aimed at developing, among other things, a football academy, and a betting platform and marketplace. In addition to this, the project will invest in hosting amateur and global league matches as well as in the development of virtual reality stadiums which will be used to compile blockchain database to assist in the analysis of player skill and subsequent creation of new teams.

These two are not the only athletes that have shown interest in crypto and as the year progresses we should see even more endorsements and partnerships.

Union Workers Picket in Las Vegas over New Concerns

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It has been a month since the contracts of Las Vegas union employees expired and they have decided the best way to go about the issue is to apply new pressure to casino properties. This begun last Friday when the workers ran picket lines of hundreds of workers on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.

Apart from the issue of better wages, the union workers also wanted the new contracts to address the increased use of robots in gambling establishments as well as the issue of security which has been amplified in the past few months following last year mass shooting at a casino complex.

“We want to make sure we’re not lost to the robots,” Linda Hunt, a food server at the El Cortez Hotel & Casino said. “We want to make sure that they don’t just show up next week — that we have some time to adjust and train for new jobs over the next five years.”

Panic Buttons Coming to Two Las Vegas Casinos

MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment will be joining the increasing number of companies that have begun to provide their employees with panic buttons for use in case of emergency with more emphasis on sexual harassments or abuse. The rollout of the car-remote-sized panic buttons comes amid contract negotiations with the Culinary Union whose members have been vocal about worker protections.

“We are here to do our jobs and provide incredible, world-class customer service for our guests,” Maria Landeros, an MGM Grand housekeeper said in a press release issued by the Culinary Union. “We are not here to be abused or have people think that just because it’s Las Vegas, anything goes.”

“I was carrying a heavy tray full of drinks on the casino floor, and a high roller at the dice game grabbed me by the neck with both of his hands and forced me to kiss him for good luck,” she recounted during the release. “I have permanent nerve damage from that incident and I live in pain every day.”

The use of panic buttons is becoming increasingly common in hotels as a way of giving their employees more assurance of protection. In fact, a number of cities including New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and Seattle have made it mandatory for hotels to provide housekeepers and all other employees who are at a risk of harassment with panic buttons.

The new contract that has been negotiated by the Culinary Union and the Bartender unions includes language that calls for greater security measures for the employees. This includes safety, protection from sexual harassment as well as issues to do with immigration, the use of technology at their workplaces and subcontracting. In addition to all these, the unions also hope to get a share of the anticipated cash flows that the hotels and casinos expect to receive in response to changes made to federal government taxes.

South Korea Advances Its Cryptocurrency Regulations Further

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South Korea has been at the forefront of the crypto industry since the investor boom and cryptocurrency frenzy of 2017 and since then, the country has seen a number of gradual and significant changes in the way cryptocurrencies are perceived within its borders. Just recently, the country’s authorities announced that it was lifting the blanket ban on initial coin offerings (ICOs). Next on South Korea’s agenda are plans to lead what could be the fourth industrial revolution that they will be backed by blockchain initiatives.

Even as the country surges on towards delivering a blockchain-powered future, the authorities still understand the importance of regulation. According to the announcement which was made by the country’s Financial Services Commission (FSC), a set of new anti-money-laundering and know-your-customer rules for cryptocurrency exchanges will take effect on July 10, 2018, and will remain in effect for a year.

A Tougher Stand

The country’s new guidelines will make the current regulations on user and transaction monitoring even stricter than they were before. These stricter regulations are being put into place so as to prevent money laundering, fraud as well as money transfers between local and foreign exchanges.  The FSC also requested the Korea Financial Intelligence Unit (KFIU), the country’s financial supervisory organization to strengthen their control over digital currency transactions and user activity so as to provide cryptocurrency exchange investors with even greater security.

The advancement of the crypto regulations in South Korea was primarily based on the FSC’s recent inspection of Nonghyup Bank, KB Kookmin Bank, and KEB Hana Bank – the inspection revealed that some of the crypto exchanges had moved assets from their investors’ depositing accounts into their own operating accounts. This is a violation of the promise that cryptocurrency exchanges make to keep investors’ assets separate from their own.

“We plan to closely keep tabs on bank accounts used by cryptocurrency exchanges for parking their expenses,” the FSC noted after the findings.

The new regulations also require the crypto exchanges to conduct Customer Due Diligence (CDD) and Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD). These are meant to ensure that foreigners are not trading digital assets through the South Korean crypto exchanges and, as mentioned earlier, to reduce the possibility of fraud, prevent money laundering and prevent personal data breaches.

While these regulations mostly seem to be restrictive in nature, the South Korean government’s initiative to control the crypto space is also a step forward towards the legitimization of the sector. In the next few months, the local authorities will be teaming up with local exchanges and banks in an effort to better structure the cryptocurrency market.

Facebook Reverses Ban on Crypto Ads for Approved Vendors

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Barely six months after a somewhat successful attempt at banning the proliferation of deceptive cryptocurrency advertising on the popular social media platform, Facebook has decided to lift some of these restrictions. The ban on cryptocurrency adverts by Facebook come officially on January 30 as part of a customer protection initiative that was meant specifically to keep naïve users of the platform from falling victim to crypto-related scams that have been rife in the online space.

 “We’ve created a new policy that prohibits ads that promote financial products and services that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices, such as binary options, initial coin offerings, and cryptocurrency,” Facebook’s Product Management Director, Rob Leathern said at the time.

In the wake of Facebook’s crypto ad ban, other leading tech companies and advertisers such as Twitter, Google and Snapchat also joined in and implemented their own bans on cryptocurrency ads while citing the same reasons that Facebook did.

Did It Work?

Unfortunately, the ban did not turn out to be as effective as Facebook had hoped – crafty cryptocurrency advertisers were still able to sneak their promotions onto the social media platform by modifying or changing the spellings of common crypto-related keywords. However, it is worth mentioning that the ban did indeed see to a significant reduction in the number of crypto ads.

Unfortunately, again, while the ban helped in barring con artists from advertising, it also barred legitimate cryptocurrency business like Gemini and Coinbase from advertising their products. This is perhaps the main reason why Facebook has moved to loosen their restriction on cryptocurrency adverts albeit with a few conditions.

The Terms

In an official blog post on Tuesday, June 19, Facebook’s Rob Leather once again made the announcement that the social media platform has loosened the restriction they laid out earlier this year in January but they have also included measures to ensure the allowed ads are from legitimate crypto businesses.

“In the last few months, we’ve looked at the best way to refine this policy — to allow some ads while also working to ensure that they’re safe. So starting June 26, we’ll be updating our policy to allow ads that promote cryptocurrency and related content from pre-approved advertisers. But we’ll continue to prohibit ads that promote binary options and initial coin offerings,” the blog post reads.

Even though Facebook argues that it has loosened the ban to allow legitimate cryptocurrency business to keep advertising their services, there has been speculation stemming from rumors that the social media behemoth has been developing its own blockchain and could eventually launch its own digital currency.

In a way, this was confirmed by an announcement from Mark Zuckerberg which followed shortly after and stated that the company was looking into digital assets and the decentralized technologies behind them as a potential fix for some of Facebook’s problems.

Akon Launches Cryptocurrency to Power Youth Entrepreneurship

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Senegal-born platinum-selling singer and philanthropist Akon has recently announced plans to build his own city in Senegal with his recently launched digital currency, Akoin, being the main form of exchange. Cryptocurrencies have had their fair share of celebrity backers but most of the support has been at face value, that is, most of them are just ambassadors for digital currency outfits. As such, the move by Akon to venture into the crypto space is not only bold but also game-changing.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on June 18 on a panel titled “Branding Africa: Blockchain, Entrepreneurship and Empowering the Future,” the Grammy-nominated performer said blockchain technology and cryptocurrency could be “the savior for Africa in many ways” especially because of its high-security factor.

“I think that blockchain and crypto could be the savior for Africa in many ways because it brings the power back to the people and brings the security back into the currency system and also allows the people to utilize it in ways where they can advance themselves and not allow government to do those things that are keeping them down,” Akon said during the panel event, according to Page Six.

A Crypto City?

According to an initial blurb posted by ICO Impact Group, Akon and his team have a more ambitious plan in the works and it involves a 100 percent crypto-based city. As mentioned earlier at the beginning of this post, Akoin will be the center of the transactional life of the city that has been dubbed “Akon Crypto City.”

As it turns out, the development of the Akon Crypto City is already underway and it began with the 2,000 acres of land that the singer was gifted by the President of Senegal. The city is located within 5 minutes on Senegal’s new international airport, and a short drive from Dakar, Senegal’s capital city. It is also close to the coast, which in addition to all the factors make it a strategic location for such a venture.

At the moment, there are so many reasons to be skeptical about the plan especially because of the blithe overuse of “blockchain” as a buzzword and panacea to existing financial problems. To make it worse, Akon’s responses to the technical questions during the panel were not exactly heartening either – PageSix reports him saying, “I come with the concepts and let the geeks figure it out.” This is not exactly reassuring especially considering how shaky the crypto space is.

However, if we consider Akon’s Akon Lighting Africa charity project and how it effectively helped 17 countries in Africa to arrange for financing for solar panels and small-scale lighting projects, then this ambitious endeavor might just pay off, eventually.

IMF Official Urges Central Banks to Compete With Crypto

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) deputy director, Dong He, on Thursday published an article that is meant to nudge the central banks to work on measures geared towards making fiat currencies “more attractive in the digital age.” Dong He believes that crypto may someday reduce the demand for central bank money and, therefore, these banks should consider adopting concepts to obstruct the competitive pressure that cryptocurrencies are already exerting on fiat currencies.

IMF’s stance when it comes to cryptocurrencies has not been particularly reassuring especially when it comes to the future of these digital assets. In an event in March, IMF Chief Christine Lagarde advised supervisors to prepare technical elements that would assist them in “fighting fire with fire.”

The deputy director reiterated this thought and outline his view that, at the moment, cryptocurrencies and other crypto assets have more adoption. Consequentially, the central banks are bound to eventually lose their command and influence on the economy, which is usually through strategies like interest rate charges.

“Second, government authorities should regulate the use of crypto assets to prevent regulatory arbitrage and any unfair competitive advantage crypto assets may derive from tighter regulation,” he pointed out. “That means rigorously applying measures to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism, strengthening consumer protection, and effectively taxing crypto transactions.”

Dong He further pointed out some of the viable alternatives that the banks could adopt. These include the idea of the central banks moving to create their own digitized assets or digital currencies that could be exchanged in a peer-to-peer fashion, just like it is done for other cryptocurrencies.

“For example, they could make central bank money user-friendly in the digital world by issuing digital tokens of their own to supplement physical cash and bank reserves. Such central bank digital currency could be exchanged, peer to peer in a decentralized manner, much as crypto assets are,” a related excerpt from the article reads.

Already, a number of banks have been researching ways to implement such a move but there have been a number of setbacks, one of the most prominent being divergent opinions on whether such a move would pay off or not.

According to the deputy director, the central banks can actually profit from the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies – monetary policymaking will, without a doubt, benefit from such kind of technology by improving the banks’ forecasts using big data, machine learning, and, of course, artificial intelligence.

“Central banks should continue to strive to make fiat currencies better and more stable units of account. The best response by central banks to crypto is to continue running effective monetary policy while being open to fresh ideas and new demands, as economies evolve,” he noted.  “That means rigorously applying measures to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism, strengthening consumer protection, and effectively taxing crypto transactions.”