The overwhelming majority of bitcoin transactions take place on a cryptocurrency exchange, rather than being used in transactions with merchants. Delays processing payments through the blockchain of about ten minutes make bitcoin use very difficult in a retail setting. Prices are not usually quoted in units of bitcoin and many trades involve one, or sometimes two, conversions into conventional currencies. Merchants that do accept bitcoin payments may use payment service providers to perform the conversions.
Now, let’s move on to an example of a forex trade using bitcoin. First, you open a forex trading account with a broker who accepts bitcoins (like AvaTrade, eToro or Liteforex). You then deposit 2 bitcoins from your digital wallet to the forex broker’s digital wallet. Assuming the current bitcoin to U.S. dollar rate is 1 bitcoin = $500, your deposit of 2 bitcoins is equal to $1,000. Now, assume that you want to take a position in British pounds. If the exchange rate is £0.5 = $1, you will receive £500. After some time, the GBP/USD rate changes to 0.45, and you square off your position to get $1,111.11 in your trading account. You have made a tidy 11.11% profit and you are ready to cash out. However, suppose by this time the bitcoin to U.S. dollar rate has changed to 1 bitcoin = $560. When you withdraw your money in bitcoins, you receive ($1,111.11/$560) = 1.984 bitcoins.
If the private key is lost, the bitcoin network will not recognize any other evidence of ownership; the coins are then unusable, and effectively lost. For example, in 2013 one user claimed to have lost 7,500 bitcoins, worth $7.5 million at the time, when he accidentally discarded a hard drive containing his private key. A backup of his key(s) would have prevented this.
In late October, Brian Armstrong, the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange operator Coinbase, oversaw a financing round in which the company he cofounded raised $300 million at a valuation of $8 billion. At that valuation, Armstrong’s stake in Coinbase is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, after applying a customary discount for privately held companies. In January, Forbes had estimated that Armstrong’s net worth was between $900 million and $1 billion.
Lightweight clients consult full clients to send and receive transactions without requiring a local copy of the entire blockchain (see simplified payment verification – SPV). This makes lightweight clients much faster to set up and allows them to be used on low-power, low-bandwidth devices such as smartphones. When using a lightweight wallet, however, the user must trust the server to a certain degree, as it can report faulty values back to the user. Lightweight clients follow the longest blockchain and do not ensure it is valid, requiring trust in miners.
Exchanges, however, are a different story. Perhaps the most notable Bitcoin exchange hack was the Tokyo-based MtGox hack in 2014, where 850,000 bitcoins with a value of over $350 million suddenly disappeared from the platform. This doesn’t mean that Bitcoin itself was hacked; it just means that the exchange platform was hacked. Imagine a bank in Iowa is robbed: the USD didn’t get robbed, the bank did.