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#Blockchain In the Daily: Token Delistings, Paybear Is Savvy, Revolut and Hackers

In the Daily: Token Delistings, Paybear is Savvy, Revolut and Hackers

In this edition of The Daily, crypto exchange Upbit is preparing to delist four tokens, while several projects have accused Kucoin of suggesting market making services to pump their volume and avoid delisting. Also, crypto payment processor Paybear has rebranded to Savvy, and British online bank Revolut is hiring hackers to test its systems.

Also read: Quadrigacx Transfer, Tokenized Bonds, Beam Investment, Rakuten Pay

Upbit Marks Tokens for Delisting

South Korean crypto exchange Upbit has added several tokens – blocktix (TIX), salus (SLS), salt (SALT) and wings (WINGS) – to a category of digital assets that can be delisted in the future. The trading platform provided the reasons for its decision in an announcement published on its website.

The company explained for example that Blocktix, a project to build an event ticket sales platform, has not launched any working products for a long time and is not developing. Similar conclusions have been drawn regarding Wings Dao, a crypto price forecast service, and Salus, a proof of stake coin whose low liquidity exposes it to manipulation.

The salt token has been added to the list due to an inspection launched by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. SEC is investigating the connection between Salt Landing Holdings Inc. and Shapeshift CEO Erik Voorhees, as well as the possibility of fraud in the distribution of the tokens during the 2017 initial coin offering.

Upbit now expects to receive clarifications from the projects and if they are not satisfactory, the exchange will proceed with the delisting of their tokens.

In the Daily: Token Delistings, Paybear Is Savvy, Revolut and Hackers

Kucoin Accused of Blackmailing Coin Projects

Four token projects have reportedly been asked by crypto exchange Kucoin to pay up to $180,000 in fees for volume-boosting services. After their daily trading volumes fell into the bottom 18 percent on the Hong Kong-based platform, Jibrel, Encrypgen, Publica, and Unikrn were told there’s a quick way to recovery, The Block reported, quoting different sources.

Talal Tabbaa, COO of Jibrel, told the outlet that the startup was advised in an email how to improve the volume of its crypto to avoid the risk of being delisted. “Then they recommended market making firms that would help us reach the minimum daily volumes they set for projects. I was honestly shocked at the requests they were making,” he added.

The market makers were supposed to help the project reach a minimum trading volume and remain listed on the exchange. Tabbaa believes that was a proposal to conduct wash trading. “I’m 100% sure. Whenever there’s a guarantee, you know there’s something wrong,” he noted. His company turned down the $180,000 offer.

The team of another project, Encrypgen, was also told how to increase its trading volume through a marketing campaign promoted by Kucoin and allegedly offered at a price of $90,000 in BTC. After the CEO of the company David Koepsell refused to pay for the service, Kucoin eventually delisted its token.

Payment Processor Paybear Rebrands to Savvy

Crypto payment processor Paybear, a company based in the Swiss canton of Zug, has changed its brand name to Savvy. The startup claims to be working with over 3,000 merchants. It now offers an updated version of its core merchant API called Savvy Merchants and a new Savvy Wallet with support for multiple cryptocurrencies. The company, which also says it has already processed over $10 million worth of transactions, is currently expanding its offering into the consumer market. That strategy is part of Savvy’s plans to invest into other areas that demonstrate how cryptocurrencies can be spent and used.

Revolut to Hire Hackers

U.K.-based fintech startup Revolut is planning to improve its cyber security with the help of a team of hackers who will be tasked with breaking into its systems. The plan is to expose potential weaknesses in order to prevent real cyberattacks, data breaches and fraud, The Independent reported.

In the Daily: Token Delistings, Paybear Is Savvy, Revolut and Hackers

According to Paul Heffernan, the online bank’s chief information security officer, the team consisting of five computer experts will monitor security operations and browse the dark web for potential threats. “One of the responsibilities of this team is to come in and just hack all of our own systems for us,” Heffernan explained. The specialists will be hired in the next three months.

What are your thoughts on today’s news tidbits? Tell us in the comments section.


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


At Bitcoin.com there’s a bunch of free helpful services. For instance, have you seen our Tools page? You can even lookup the exchange rate for a transaction in the past. Or calculate the value of your current holdings. Or create a paper wallet. And much more.

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#USA Startups Weekly: Flexport, Clutter and SoftBank’s blood money

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The Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking story this week, highlighting limited partners’ concerns with the SoftBank Vision Fund’s investment strategy. The fund’s “decision-making process is chaotic,” it’s over-paying for equity in top tech startups and it’s encouraging inflated valuations, sources told the WSJ.

The report emerged during a particularly busy time for the Vision Fund, which this week led two notable VC deals in Clutter and Flexport, as well as participated in DoorDash’s $400 million round; more on all those below. So given all this SoftBank news, let us remind you that given its $45 billion commitment, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the Vision Fund’s largest investor. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the planned killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here’s what I’m wondering this week: Do CEOs of companies like Flexport and Clutter have a responsibility to address the source of their capital? Should they be more transparent to their customers about whose money they are spending to achieve rapid scale? Send me your thoughts. And thanks to those who wrote me last week re: At what point is a Y Combinator cohort too big? The general consensus was this: the size of the cohort is irrelevant, all that matters is the quality. We’ll have more to say on quality soon enough, as YC demo days begin on March 18.

Anyways…

Surprise! Sort of. Not really. Pinterest has joined a growing list of tech unicorns planning to go public in 2019. The visual search engine filed confidentially to go public on Thursday. Reports indicate the business will float at a $12 billion valuation by June. Pinterest’s key backers — which will make lots of money when it goes public — include Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Fidelity and SV Angel.

Ride-hailing company Lyft plans to go public on the Nasdaq in March, likely beating rival Uber to the milestone. Lyft’s S-1 will be made public as soon as next week; its roadshow will begin the week of March 18. The nuts and bolts: JPMorgan Chase has been hired to lead the offering; Lyft was last valued at more than $15 billion, while competitor Uber is valued north of $100 billion.

Despite scrutiny for subsidizing its drivers’ wages with customer tips, venture capitalists plowed another $400 million into food delivery platform DoorDash at a whopping $7.1 billion valuation, up considerably from a previous valuation of $3.75 billion. The round, led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from previous investors SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, will help DoorDash compete with Uber Eats. The company is currently seeing 325 percent growth, year-over-year.

Here are some more details on those big Vision Fund Deals: Clutter, an LA-based on-demand storage startup, closed a $200 million SoftBank-led round this week at a valuation between $400 million and $500 million, according to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden’s reporting. Meanwhile, Flexport, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based full-service air and ocean freight forwarder, raised $1 billion in fresh funding led by the SoftBank Vision Fund at a $3.2 billion valuation. Earlier backers of the company, including Founders Fund, DST Global, Cherubic Ventures, Susa Ventures and SF Express all participated in the round.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Menlo Ventures has a new $500 million late-stage fund. Dubbed its “inflection” fund, it will be investing between $20 million and $40 million in companies that are seeing at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue, growth of 100 percent year-over-year, early signs of retention and are operating in areas like cloud infrastructure, fintech, marketplaces, mobility and SaaS. Plus, Allianz X, the venture capital arm attached to German insurance giant Allianz, has increased the size of its fund to $1.1 billion and London’s Entrepreneur First brought in $115 million for what is one of the largest “pre-seed” funds ever raised.

Flipkart co-founder invests $92M in Ola
Redis Labs raises a $60M Series E round
Chinese startup Panda Selected nabs $50M from Tiger Global
Image recognition startup ViSenze raises $20M Series C
Circle raises $20M Series B to help even more parents limit screen time
Showfields announces $9M seed funding for a flexible approach to brick-and-mortar retail
Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M
Zoba raises $3M to help mobility companies predict demand

Indian delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai. ( INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Indian media reports, Uber is in the final stages of selling its Indian food delivery business to local player Swiggy, a food delivery service that recently raised $1 billion in venture capital funding. Uber Eats plans to sell its Indian food delivery unit in exchange for a 10 percent share of Swiggy’s business. Swiggy was most recently said to be valued at $3.3 billion following that billion-dollar round, which was led by Naspers and included new backers Tencent and Uber investor Coatue.

Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, is the latest venture-backed business to enter the unicorn club with the close of a $300 million Series D round this week. The latest round is split into two, with Hillhouse Capital leading the “D1” tranche and Sequoia China heading up the “D2” portion. New backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital, Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures also participated.

Longtime investor Keith Rabois is joining Founders Fund as a general partner. Here’s more from TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos: “The move is wholly unsurprising in ways, though the timing seems to suggest that another big fund from Founders Fund is around the corner, as the firm is also bringing aboard a new principal at the same time — Delian Asparouhov — and firms tend to bulk up as they’re meeting with investors. It’s also kind of time, as these things go. Founders Fund closed its last flagship fund with $1.3 billion in 2016.”

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I discuss Pinterest’s IPO, DoorDash’s big round and SoftBank’s upset LPs.

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#Blockchain Thailand Greenlights Japanese Exchange to Operate 4 Crypto Businesses

Thailand Greenlights Japanese Exchange to Operate 4 Cryptocurrency Businesses

The Thai government has issued four licenses to a new crypto exchange. Prior to this, only existing exchanges that were in business before the country’s crypto regulation took effect were approved. The first licensed new exchange in Thailand is a subsidiary of a regulated Japanese exchange, Bitpoint.

Also read: SEC Chair Explains Key Upgrades Needed for Bitcoin ETF Approval

New Crypto Exchange Licensed

Japanese corporation Remixpoint Inc. announced on Thursday that its Thai subsidiary, Bitherb Co. Ltd., has obtained four different crypto-related licenses to operate in Thailand. The announcement concurs with the information posted on the website of the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Remixpoint also operates Bitpoint Japan, one of 17 government-approved Japanese exchanges.

With the new licenses, Bitherb can legally operate as a crypto asset exchange, a digital token exchange, a crypto asset broker, and a digital token broker. Currently, it is the only company approved to operate as a digital token broker in the country.

Thailand Greenlights Japanese Exchange to Operate 4 Cryptocurrency Businesses

Bitherb is a crypto exchange and management company co-founded by Bitpoint Japan and Asia Herb Association Bangkok Co. Ltd. The latter owns 60.5552 percent of Bitherb while the former owns 39.4446 percent. The president of Bitpoint Japan, Oda Genki, also serves as an officer of the new Thai entity. Bitpoint also operates in other countries including Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Panama.

Japanese Exchange Approved to Operate 4 Cryptocurrency Businesses in Thailand

Four Licenses

The Thai SEC’s website lists all companies that have been approved to operate crypto-related businesses in Thailand. The country enacted its crypto regulation in May and subsequently approved four companies that had been in business before the regulation took effect. Two companies were rejected.

Licenses have been granted to companies in five categories to date: crypto asset exchanges, digital token exchanges, crypto asset brokers, digital token brokers, and crypto asset dealers. Four companies have been approved to operate both crypto asset and digital token exchanges: Bitcoin Co. Ltd., Bitkub Online Co. Ltd., Satang Corp. Co. Ltd. and now Bitherb. Licenses to operate as a crypto asset broker have been granted to Coins Th. Co. Ltd. and Bitherb. Meanwhile, only Bitherb has been approved as a digital token broker and only Coins Th has been approved as a crypto asset dealer.

Thailand Greenlights Japanese Exchange to Operate 4 Cryptocurrency Businesses
Licenses Bitherb has obtained from the Thail SEC and the finance ministry.

The Thai SEC launched a website last month called “Siang Soong” which means “high-risk” to help educate the general public about cryptocurrencies and tokens. Rapee Sucharitakul, Secretary-General of the Thai SEC, said that “Digital assets are useful as funding tools … and as a medium of exchange.” However, he added that it is a high-risk asset suited for people with the knowledge and understanding of the technology and not necessarily for general investors.

What do you think of Bitpoint getting four different crypto licenses to operate in Thailand? Do you think many more exchanges will follow suit? Let us know in the comments section below.


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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#Blockchain Digital Currency Donors and Crypto-Backed Endowments Fuel Higher Learning

Digital Currency Donors and Crypto-Backed Endowments Fuel Higher Learning

Digital asset holders and organizations have been donating funds to a number of well-known universities. These days a slew of popular colleges like Stanford, MIT, Cornell, Puget Sound, and Princeton all accept digital currency donations or have high-net-worth crypto backers funding these schools. On the flip side of higher education, many of the world’s prestigious universities also offer elective courses that teach blockchain technology.

Also Read: University of Michigan Endowment Backs Crypto Venture Capital Fund

Universities See an Increasing Trend of Cryptocurrency Donors

One growing trend has been the way in which the digital currency ecosystem is fueling education through cryptocurrency donations and backers. For instance, during the first week of January 2019, entrepreneur Mike Novogratz donated some of his cryptocurrency profits to Princeton’s Bridge Year Program. The initiative allows students to get sponsored by schools so they can live and study abroad for nine months in areas like China, Bolivia, Senegal, Indonesia, and India. The CEO of Galaxy Digital is a member of Princeton’s class of 1987 who earned a degree in economics.

“Proud to put some of our crypto winnings (2017) to a good cause. A year living in a different culture can change your life for the better. Build bridges, not walls,” Novogratz told his 114,000 followers on Twitter.

Digital Currency Donors and Crypto-Backed Endowments Fuel Higher Learning
Cryptocurrency projects and colleges across the globe have a meaningful relationship. San Fransisco firm Coinbase says “students are flocking to classes on cryptocurrency and blockchain.”

Then there’s the list of Stanford’s corporate donors who help fund the school’s engineering section. Stanford’s endowed faculty chairs and fellowship organizations include the Ethereum Foundation, Vechain, and Omisego. During the first week of 2019, Holberton School in New Haven received $10,000 worth of BTC from the Scroll Network’s founder Nathan Pitruzzello. Back in November 2017, the Echolink Foundation donated $50,000 worth of BTC to UC Berkeley. In 2014, the co-founder and vice chairman of Blockchain, Nicolas Cary, donated $10,000 to the University of Puget Sound. Cary’s donation of 14.5 BTC used Bitpay to facilitate the transfer, which would be worth $58,000 today, but the gift was turned into fiat immediately.

Digital Currency Donors and Crypto-Backed Endowments Fuel Higher Learning
Many schools that have received donations or have endowments invested in crypto-related funds coincidentally have more than one class on cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

The Largest Endowment Funds in Higher Education Are Investing in the Cryptocurrency Ecosystem

Furthermore, universities with huge financial endowments are hedging with cryptocurrency funds as well. Last May, sources familiar with the matter explained that Ivy League school Yale had invested in the cryptocurrency fund Paradigm. Yale’s endowment is the second-largest in higher education and Paradigm is backed by Pantera Capital’s Charles Noyes and Coinbase cofounder Fred Ehrsam. Moreover, on Feb. 21, public documents revealed that the endowment of the University of Michigan has backed a cryptocurrency investment fund supervised by Andreessen Horowitz. Yale and the University of Michigan are not the only endowments investing in cryptocurrency related ventures, as MIT, Stanford and Harvard are knee-deep in digital asset funds as well.

Digital Currency Donors and Crypto-Backed Endowments Fuel Higher Learning
The Ethereum Foundation, Vechain, and Omisego have all backed Stanford University’s engineering school.

42 Percent of the Globe’s Top 50 Universities Offer Crypto Courses

Tech publication The Information’s research report says that many Ivy League schools are invested in at least one or more crypto related investments. Moreover, a great majority of the universities that have endowments invested in digital assets or have received digital asset donations offer cryptocurrency-related courses. Most of these schools also provide students with academic credits for courses on smart contracts and blockchains. Both the Holberton School in New Haven and Boston’s MIT offer students graduate certificates that are processed using the BTC chain.

Digital Currency Donors and Crypto-Backed Endowments Fuel Higher Learning
Cornell and Stanford lead the pack with more than 8 elective classes on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

Because of the level of innovation involved, higher education and crypto technology go hand-in-hand, and trends over the last few years have shown how they share a symbiotic relationship. This has led to 42 percent of the globe’s top 50 universities offering at least one accredited course that teaches blockchain-related research. A Coinbase research study details that because schools are offering these lessons, students are becoming interested in learning about the digital currency ecosystem. For instance, the report explains that David Yermack, the finance department chair at New York University Stern School of Business, created a blockchain course in 2014 and 35 students registered for the lesson, which is a few less people than many of the school’s traditional electives. The study reveals that by the spring of 2018, Stern had to move the class to the largest auditorium because students registering for the course spiked to 230.

What do you think about school endowments getting involved with cryptocurrency funds and backers donating large sums of digital assets to universities? Let us know what you think about this subject in the comments section below.


Image credits: Shutterstock, Stanford, Coinbase Reports, Twitter, and Pixabay.


Verify and track bitcoin cash transactions on our BCH Block Explorer, the best of its kind anywhere in the world. Also, keep up with your holdings, BCH, and other coins, on our market charts at Satoshi’s Pulse, another original and free service from Bitcoin.com.

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#Blockchain State Treasurer: Ohio Companies Now Paying Tax in BTC

Ohio Companies Now Paying Tax in BTC, Says State Treasurer

Treasurer in the U.S. state of Ohio Robert Sprague has revealed that at least two companies have paid their taxes using bitcoin since the state launched its cryptocurrency payment platform in December. Sprague did not disclose details pertaining to the amount or companies involved, citing confidentiality.

Also read: Liechtenstein Bank Creates Cryptocurrency Trading Platform for Institutional Investors

State to Review BTC Tax Payments

Speaking at a forum organised by the Ohio State Associated Press on Feb. 19, Republican politician Robert Sprague said: “We’re reviewing how [the program] might be either curtailed or might be expanded, and what our counter-party risk is with that vendor.”

Ohio became the first U.S. state to accept cryptocurrency as a means of payment for taxes late last year. Sprague told journalists about his experiences with the BTC payment option on the state platform ohiocrypto.com, established in December by Josh Mandel whom he succeeded in January.

State Treasurer: Ohio Companies Now Paying Tax in BTC

According to the new treasurer, Ohio doesn’t actually receive or hold bitcoin, but Bitpay, the company hired by the state to process the bitcoin payments, converts the virtual currency into fiat money before it is sent to the Ohio treasury.

Bitpay takes 1 percent commission on the transaction as payment. Companies intending to pay taxes in crypto will typically have to register and create accounts on the state’s tax payment platform and submit details about their tax obligations, including tax period and the outstanding amount.

When the project was launched three months ago, Sprague indicated that the move would help to improve the ease of doing business in Ohio and attract new business. “We applaud the pilot that makes Ohio more business-friendly and sets us up as a leader in cryptocurrency. We will evaluate both currency and counter-party risk once we enter the office to see about the future,” Sprague was quoted as saying on cleverland.com. Lawmakers in Ohio are looking to turn the state into a major centre for cryptocurrency and the blockchain industry.

British Lawmaker Lobbies for Payment of Bills in Crypto

In the United Kingdom, member of parliament Eddie Hughes proposed in December that taxpayers should have the option to pay council tax and utility bills in cryptocurrencies such as BTC. The 50 year-old conservative legislator for the Walsall North constituency said the move would place the country at the forefront of digital currency adoption in Europe.

State Treasurer: Ohio Companies Now Paying Tax in BTC

“You’re either ahead of the curve or you’re behind the curve, and our country is in an interesting position right now – we need to be seen as a progressive country,” Hughes said at the time. “We are at a crossroads and we’re about to determine our future – one in which taking the lead in this field could prove very beneficial.”

Regulators throughout the world have complained that cryptocurrencies are risky, and repeatedly alleged that they help to fuel money laundering and terrorism while placing investor funds at the mercy of fraudsters. Their alarmist entreaties have ramped up pressure on governments to act, with many promulgating a series of regulations ostensibly designed to safeguard the public and prevent the risk of financial instability.

What do you think about paying taxes in BTC? Let us know in the comments section below.


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#USA Report: Zoom, the video conferencing company, may be a public company as early as April

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The video conferencing company Zoom is aiming to file a public S-1 by the end of March, according to a new report in Business Insider that adds the company could go public as soon as April.

Business Insider reported last month that Zoom had filed confidentially with the SEC to go public, just months after Reuters reported that the San Jose, Calif.-based company had chosen investment bank Morgan Stanley to lead its eventual IPO.

We’ve reached out to the company for comment.

Zoom was valued at $1 billion when it raised its last funding in 2017 in the form of a $100 million check from Sequoia Capital. Reuters sources have said they expect the company to be valued at several billion dollars at the IPO.

The company, founded in 2011, has raised $145 million altogether, including from Emergence Capital and Horizons Ventures. Its earliest backers include Qualcomm Ventures, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, WebEx founder Subrah Iyar and former Cisco SVP Dan Scheinman, who has been an active angel investor for years.

We had a chance to sit down with CEO Eric Yuan last year at a small industry event hosted by the venture firm NextWorld Capital. He talked about coming to the United States as a student from China and applying for a U.S. visa nine times over the course of two years before finally receiving it and arriving in Silicon Valley in 1997. We also talked about his experience as the 10th employee of WebEx, and his frustration that the company’s code remained stubbornly unchanged after it was sold for $3.2 billion to Cisco in 2007.

He wasn’t alone, clearly. When Yuan struck out on his own to found Zoom, fully 45 employees from WebEx joined him, a decision for which they’re likely thankful now. Financial rewards aside, Yuan was ranked at the top of Glassdoor’s annual list of best-rated CEOs last year.

We’ll be able to take a deeper dive into the health of Zoom once its reported S-1 is made public. In the meantime, you can check out our chat here.

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#Blockchain BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik Terminates His Hunger Strike

Alexander Vinnik Terminates His Hunger Strike

The alleged operator of the infamous BTC-e exchange, Alexander Vinnik, has terminated his hunger strike more than 80 days after he started the protest against his detention in Greece. Vinnik’s condition is serious and he needs specialized medical attention to recuperate.

Also read: Cryptocurrency Exchange Exmo Opens Branch in Turkey

Russia’s Ombudsman Visits Vinnik in Hospital

The Russian-born IT specialist took the decision to temporarily stop the hunger strike after meeting with Russia’s ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova. She visited him on Thursday in a Greek hospital, where he is placed under doctors’ care, and later shared the news with journalists.

Moskalkova told Russian media that Vinnik looks absolutely exhausted by the hunger strike and requires professional medical care. “From the last conclusion of the doctors in February, it is quite clear that he needs emergency help, otherwise he may die,” she warned.

BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik Terminates His Hunger Strike
Alexander Vinnik and Russia’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova

Alexander Vinnik has been in detention since July 2017 when he was arrested in Thessaloniki on a U.S. warrant. Prosecutors in the United States believe he is one of the owners of BTC-e and accuse him of laundering between $4 billion and $9 billion through the crypto trading platform, including funds presumed stolen in the Mt Gox hack.

The Russian national went on hunger strike on Nov. 26, 2018 to protest prison conditions and violations of his rights to a fair trial as well as what he believes is an unlawful detention. The Greek constitution states that citizens should not be in preliminary detention for more than one year. As an exception, the court may extend the period by another six months.

Vinnik Kept in Prison Longer Than the Law Allows

Alexander Vinnik has been in prison for 18 months, waiting for the decision of the Greek judiciary on three extradition requests. Besides the Unites States, he is also wanted in his native Russia and in France, where he is accused of various other crimes.

Quoted in a press release, Tatyana Moskalkova promised to work with the Greek Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Healthcare towards his return to the Russian Federation. She believes there are both legal and moral grounds for such a decision.

BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik Terminates His Hunger Strike

“Firstly, because he is a Russian citizen, and secondly, because there’s a criminal case against him that’s being investigated in Russia. It is impossible to complete it with a fair decision if he is in another country,” Russia’s human rights commissioner said.

Another possible violation was exposed by Russian media in January. Greece has handed the U.S. phones and computers confiscated from Vinnik after his arrest, RIA Novosti reported, quoting documents issued by the prosecutor’s office in Thessaloniki. That happened despite a decision by the Supreme Court in Athens that the data storing devices, which were later returned to Greece, can be transferred only in the case of an extradition.

Where do you think Alexander Vinnik should be extradited? Share your thoughts on his case in the comments section below.


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#USA Fortnite goes big on esports for 2019 with $100 million prize pool

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Epic Games, maker of the ultra popular Battle Royale game Fortnite, is putting up another $100 million in prize cash for competitive tournaments in 2019.

The company made waves in the esports world last year, announcing $100 million prize pool for the 2018 competitive year, dwarfing every other competitive title in one fell swoop.

This year, a significant portion of the $100 million will be awarded to participants of the first-ever Fortnite World Cup. Each of the 200 players who qualify and compete will walk away with at least $50,000, with the winner taking home $3 million.

The Fortnite World Cup will take place July 26 – 28 in New York City, offering $30 million total in prizes. One-hundred of the top solo players will be invited, along with the top 50 duos teams.

So how do you get in on this?

Fortnite is holding weekly open online qualifiers, each worth $1 million, from April 13th to June 16th. Eligible players who consistently place well will have a shot at being one of those top 200 players.

This announcement comes at an interesting time for Fortnite. While the game still reigns supreme in terms of popularity, other Battle Royale games are picking up traction. Apex Legends (an EA and Respawn title), in particular, is growing in popularity. Several of the top Twitch streamers, including Ninja, Shroud, Timthetatman, High Distortion and Annemunition have started playing more Apex and participated in the first Apex Legends Twitch Rivals tournament.

Keeping the attention of these streamers is surely a priority for Fortnite, and for a game that pulls in some $300 million a month in in-game purchases, spending $100 million a year is a small price to pay.

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#USA Pinstagram? Instagram code reveals Public Collections feature

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Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public “Collections” to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest.

Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items, or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that’s caused backlash against meme “curators” like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people’s stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love — even if you didn’t photograph them yourself. And if that sounds familiar, you’ll understand why this could be problematic for Pinterest’s upcoming $12 billion IPO.

The “Make Collection Public” option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Machun Wong. It’s not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagaram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016.

Instagram told TechCrunch “we’re not testing this” which is its standard response to press inquiries about products that aren’t available to any public users, but that are in internal development. It could be a while until Instagram does start experimenting publicly with the feature and longer before a launch, and the company could always scrap the option. But it’s a sensible way to give users more to do and share on Instagram, and the prototype gives insight into the app’s strategy. Facebook launched its own Pinterest -style shareable Sets in 2017 and launched sharable Collections in December.

Currently there’s nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other’s Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step. Instagrammers can already follow hashtags to see new posts with them routed to their feed. Offering a similar way to follow Collections could turn people into star curators rather than star creators without the need to rip off anyone’s content.

Instagram lets users Save posts which can then be organized into Collections

Public Collections could fuel Instagram’s commerce strategy that Mark Zuckerberg recently said would be a big part of the roadmap. Instagram already has a personalized Shopping feed in Explore, and The Verge’s Casey Newton reported last year that Instagram was working on a dedicated shopping app. It’s easy to imagine fashionistas, magazines, and brands sharing Collections of their favorite buyable items.

It’s worth remembering that Instagram launched its copycat of Snapchat Stories just six months before Snap went public. As we predicted, that reduced Snapchat’s growth rate by 88 percent. Two years later, Snapchat isn’t growing at all, and its share price is at just a third of its peak. With over 1 billion monthly and 500 million daily users, Instagram is four times the size of Pinterest. Instagram loyalists might find it’s easier to use the ‘good enough’ public Collections feature where they already have a social graph than try to build a following from scratch on Pinterest.

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#Blockchain Report: ‘The State of Stablecoins’ Maps the Growth of Fiat-Pegged Cryptocurrency

Report: The State of Stablecoins Maps the Growth of Fiat-Pegged Cryptocurrency

A new report published this week shines a light on the stablecoin ecosystem. Authored by George Samman and Andrew Masanto in conjunction with Amazix, the report traces the rise of digital currencies against a backdrop of high inflation in 16 countries. The report claims these conditions will create a need for fiat-pegged digital currencies that aren’t beholden to the volatility of local currency in inflation-hit nations.

Also read: Company Evades SEC Penalty Despite Illegally Issuing Security Tokens

Making the Case for Stablecoins

“Sixteen countries today face annual inflation rates of more than 20%, whereas other economies face hyperinflation – like Venezuela, where inflation hit 80,000% in 2018,” begins the report by Samman and Masanto. It continues: “The high volatility of today’s cryptocurrencies hinders their usefulness. Average citizens need a way to protect their money, a way to send money to/receive money from their families in other countries, and merchants need a stable means of exchange in which to do business. The stablecoin market emerged to fulfill those needs.”

40 cryptocurrency and stablecoin companies were surveyed during the creation of “The State of Stablecoins 2019.” The wide-ranging report makes a number of conclusions regarding the nascent stablecoin economy:

  • Developed nations with “stable” fiat currencies will not be early adopters of stablecoins – instead developing nations with high inflation will drive adoption.
  • While most stablecoins are currently tethered to the USD, in the future it is expected that a diversified basket of tokenized assets will become the norm.
  • The next step in stablecoin evolution is for them to be integrated into decentralized banks that will serve the needs of people in emerging markets, especially authoritarian regimes .

Ethereum Dominates the Stablecoin Trade

The 82-page report reveals the extent to which the Ethereum network dominates for stablecoin issuance and trade volume. 68.4 percent of the stablecoin projects surveyed are built on Ethereum, although some expressed a desire to migrate to another blockchain or to their own native network. Ethereum-based coins include DAI and USDC. Stellar ranked a distant second in the survey, with just 7.9 percent of projects built on its chain.

Demonstrating the extent to which most stablecoins are highly centralized, more than one third of the projects surveyed viewed regulations favorably. Just 13.2 percent of projects did not view regulations favorably, insisting that self-governance and complete decentralization were more important.

Amazix, the community management firm that co-sponsored the report, quotes Reserve CEO Nevin Freeman as saying: “The stablecoin market has made significant strides in the past year, but there is still much work to be done. What’s needed is greater coordination amongst projects, and greater focus on the application of stablecoins to solving real-world problems in the places where they are needed the most.”

Report: ‘The State of Stablecoins’ Maps the Growth of Fiat-Pegged Cryptocurrency
Countries that have suffered a currency crisis at some stage

While focused on digital currencies, “The State of Stablecoins” also highlights the dangers of reliance on fiat currency, listing dozens of countries that have experienced a currency crisis since the 1980s. The report signs off with no less than 24 findings, including the assertion that “The holy grail of stablecoins is to become the decentralized central bank for the internet. However, in order for this to be achieved and for a global reserve currency to emerge the internet needs to be truly decentralized.”

Do you think citizens of inflation-hit nations might turn to stablecoins? Let us know in the comments section below.


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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