Monday, February 5, 2018

Who is Hyping Bitcoin and Why?

The internet is a carefully groomed and shilled place where nothing happens by accident.

In the mail today, this SPAM message:

Karthik Reddy>

Hey Robert,
So sorry to interrupt your day but I found your info on Linkedin recently and I wanted to pop over to see if you may take interest in my team’s latest content piece. We are currently releasing and promoting an infographic about Bitcoin.
It’s entitled, “Who Accepts Bitcoin.” It shows all the major companies that accept Bitcoin. It includes companies like Nike, Wordpress, Victoria Secret, Target, Amazon, Etsy and many more!
Would you mind if I sent it over for you to check out?
Best wishes,Karthik Reddy 
Karthik Reddy
campagin Coordinater, Webmastersjury 

About me Travel blogger & Writer | Location Incapable Internet Enthusiast | Re-Designer of the World Around
(unsubscribe from my emails)
How do I know it is SPAM?  Simple, I don't have a Linked-In profile, so they are lying when they says they found me on Linked-In.  This is one of a number of types of e-mails I get every week, imploring me to write a blog topic including their "infographic."  This fellow has a "wall of shame" which lists these types of e-mails.

But who is this person and why do they want me to hype Bitcoin for them?   Bear in mind this is one of over a dozen e-mails I have received recently, imploring me to add positive Bitcoin postings on my blog.

Clearly, there is an orchestrated effort to hype Bitcoin on the Internet.   But why?  And by whom?

One interesting aspect of this is when I searched online to see if Nike and Victoria's Secret really accepted Bitcoins, what I found was that they didn't.  They accept gift cards from an intermediary service, which converts your Bitcoins to dollar (or other local currency) giftcards to spend at these stores.

Why would you want to do this?   It seems like an awful hassle to convert currencies, generate gift cards, just to spend your money.   And there are fees involved at each stage in the transaction - as well as the specter of the partially spent gift card laying around unspent in a desk drawer somewhere.  Companies like gift cards for the simple reason that over a billion dollars in gift cards remain unspent every year.

I wrote about this before.   One day, I am rummaging through a desk drawer and find a gift card.  "Mark, what is this?"  I ask.  "Oh, its a gift card they gave us as a bonus at work!" he replied.   "Why don't we spend it?" I said. ''Oh, I was saving it for special" he replied.

And therein is the problem with gift cards in general - people get them as gifts and think that they need to plan a special shopping trip to buy a special "gift" item with the card, or otherwise they are somehow not respecting the gift-giver's intentions.   So they languish in a drawer and end up being thrown out - or they expire in some instances.   It is just a waste of money.

Airline miles, hotel points, gift cards - spend that stuff as fast as you get it, because it goes to waste if you try to bank it.  You may forget you have it, or the points or rewards may expire (in the case of airline miles) or they may change the rules (they WILL change the rules) as to how many miles or points you need to redeem them.   All of these sorts of things are distractions that try to get you to play an ancillary game, not the primary one (money) so you don't keep your eye on the ball.  If these sort of things land in your lap, get rid of them like a hot potato - spend them.

But getting back to these gift cards, I suspect that the company behind them is behind this "digital" push to promote them online.   Fewer and fewer companies are accepting Bitcoin, even through a lot of "who accepts Bitcoin?" articles online list them as still accepting it.  This article from Coindesk seems to be the most realistic - pointing out that the transaction fees and volatility of Bitcoin have resulted in fewer and fewer companies accepting it as payment.

I suspect in addition to transaction fees and volatility there was a third factor - no one was clamoring to pay with Bitcoin.   Despite its being labeled the "currency of the internet" few people are actually spending Bitcoin, but rather just hoarding it as an "investment" hoping it goes up in value.   And we've seen how that has played out recently.   Those poor bastards who bought at $19,000 are the same folks who bought gold at $1800.

And besides, why pay fees to use Bitcoin to buy something, when you can use your Visa card and get 3% cash back, automatically deposited to your checking account (no points, no rewards, no gift cards!).   Seems like a no-brainer, pay fees (hefty ones) to pay with Bitcoin, wait for a long time to consummate the transaction, dick around with a gift card (which I guess they would have to mail to you, or does it download to your phone?) and then make the transaction, paying the balance if it exceeds your gift card amount, with cash, or leaving a balance on the gift card to forget about.

And what sort of fees are we talking about?  Pretty hefty fees - an average of $28 per transaction, or what you'd pay for a wire transfer at the bank (which is a flat fee, usually of $25 or less).  The gift-card people are claiming there are "no fees" to buy their gift cards.   Oh, great, another non-profit charity being run on the Internet for the benefit of all mankind!   What wonderful people!

Oh, wait.   Gift cards are profitable to sell, as people will, as I noted, forget to spend them, leave trivial amounts on the cards unspent, the cards expire, and so forth.   And like a coupon purchase, they are a guaranteed source of income for the company.  The gift card induces you to spend, so you go to the store and spend - hopefully even more.   So for a $100 gift card, the store may offer it for $95 to a gift card promoter.   This is still not enough to cover the transaction fees for Bitcoin, but presuming they take a large number of Bitcoin purchases and group them together, they might be able to even out the transaction fees.

Or, they are like a lot of internet companies these days, losing money very quickly with no real model on how to make money in the long run.

So is this a good deal, to use dollars to buy Bitcoins to convert to dollars to buy gift cards to buy stuff?   Um, I don't think so.   At best, after all of this effort, you break even (You put in one dollar and take out one dollar in merchandise).   At worse, you lose money when Bitcoin crashes between the time you buy the "coins" and buy your gift card.

The more complicated you can make any financial transaction, the easier it is to rip-off the consumer.   And this is taking a very simple transaction - giving cash and buying stuff - and making it two or three levels more complicated than it needs to be, and only perhaps to "prove a point" about Bitcoin, which oddly enough, you are not proving.   Buying gift cards with Bitcoin isn't buying things with Bitcoin.   Once again, it is merely converting Bitcoin back to a local currency and then spending it.

Until a sealed ecosystem exists, Bitcoin will never be a "currency" but rather a means of transferring money, a specious investment, and possibly a Ponzi scheme and a huge speculative bubble.

And the fact that people like me, across the Internet, are being exhorted to hype this nonsense should tell you all you need to know.