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2.3.2 Virtual Means of Payment

Bitcoin (bitcoin.org/de) and Opencoin (opencoin.com) are forms of virtual money that are based on the ideas and values of the open source movement. The demands on virtual currencies are that they can be divisible as required, and that they are absolutely forgery-safe, anonymous and untraceable. The virtual currency is formed out of a calculated, encoded character string that meet certain mathematical conditions. This is done in a network of connected computers. Thus one single virtual currency does not consist of a constant character string, but is variable. The string shows the history of the individual virtual currency and the transfer from one owner to the next. This approach ensures that virtual coins cannot be forged, as each individual currency has its own code (Stocker 2011).

It is already possible to buy mobile phones or ebooks on auction platforms using digital coins, or to play poker with them on specially designed websites. Organisations such as the Free Software Foundation (fsf.org) accept donations in virtual currencies. Various platforms offer to exchange digital money into US dollars or other currencies, at constantly updated—and at present, steadily growing—exchange rates (Stocker 2011). At the moment, however, digital currencies appear to present more of a problem—if at all—to real currencies and their associated economies than to banks. The Chinese central bank, for example, is already worried that the “QQ” coin, which is issued by Tencent, the most important Chinese instant messaging provider, might influence the value of the Yuan. The central bank is considering introducing regulations for the virtual currency, respectively for the transactions in which they are used (King 2010, p. 333).

Digitalisation is penetrating real life in ever more aspects, and therefore currencies that exist only online are greatly increasing. The growing importance of social networks reinforces this trend even further. There are already trading centres for virtual currencies, such as Mt. Gox, and marketplaces in which only virtual currencies are accepted for payment, such as Flowplace (Menn 2011).

 
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