Competition is coming to Black Friday, that time of year when America’s near-religious love of materialism goes into hyper-drive. On November 29, the digital rights group Fight for the Future, together with bitcoin evangelist Jon Holmquist, are holding Bitcoin Black Friday. Think of it as some healthy free-market competition to the battered US dollar.Growing out of last year’s Bitcoin Friday event (organized by Holmquist), which featured 75 merchants, Bitcoin Black Friday hopes to attract a growing number of people to the virtual currency’s cause by offering discounts exclusive to bitcoin users. Fight for the Future expects “hundreds of merchants” to offer deals on everything from organic coffee and unlocked smartphones to underwear and solar panels.
Image via Flickr/CC
“Bitcoin Black Friday is an awesome way to bring the whole internet community together at a time when bitcoin needs as much mainstream attention as possible,” said Holmes Wilson, co-founder of Fight for the Future. “Even though it seems like bitcoin is going strong, it won’t be politically safe until it’s widely used by average internet users—that’s already happening, but we’re speeding things up with Bitcoin Black Friday, and making it fun in the process.”The day of bitcoin commerce comes at an interesting time, with the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee just two days ago showering bitcoin with unexpected praise. Fight for the Future and Holmquist see this as an opportunity to spread the bitcoin gospel. The cryptocurrency's skyrocketing valuation, fueled by both high-flying and amateur investors, doesn’t seem to phase Bitcoin Black Friday’s organizers.“Bitcoin is in an early stage and it needs more infrastructure to be able to serve a mainstream crowd,” said Fight for the Future’s Tiffiny Cheng, who would like to see funding for key projects to make bitcoin easier to use.Evan Greer, a co-founder of the organisation, doesn’t see a problem in venture capitalist investment in bitcoin either. “It’s true that there are a lot of monied interests looking at bitcoin,” said Greer. “But, in the end, what’s neat about it is that people or companies can invest in it, but they can’t corrupt it or control it in nearly the same way as, say, credit card companies or centralized banks.” Greer cautions that bitcoin is not a complete solution to the ills of the American and international financial system, but an exciting experiment that could lead to some interesting alternatives.
Although the Senate committee hearing was positive, Greer said that Fight for the Future learned from past battles over internet freedom that various governments and other powerful institutions will likely vie to control bitcoin. Doubly so after the US government’s take-down of virtual drug market Silk Road, which accepted payments in bitcoin. Some thought that stain would be hard to clean. Coming out of the Senate hearing, bitcoin enthusiasts and observers are whistling a much different tune.Defending bitcoin and keeping it cool, Greer argued, is the best way to grow the currency’s user base. “That way, if any player tries to turn it into something it wasn't intended to be, we'll have a strong community ready to speak out and keep it an awesome and secure alternative to other forms of online payment,” added Greer, who said there isn’t much that banks can do to stop bitcoin now. “It’s already spreading incredible quickly and more and more merchants are seeing it as a great alternative to paying lots of fees.”Of course, the organizers of Bitcoin Black Friday aren’t out to antagonize banks. In fact, Holmquist sees the recent Senate hearing as a positive first step in opening the doors for banks to get involved. Ultimately, he believes that they should be asked to join a participatory process in what he called a “massive innovation to the payments space.”
Image courtesy of Bitcoin Black Friday
“I think banks are resistant to any change,” said Holmquist, who added that banks are still using COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), one of the oldest programming languages, on their backemotnds. “This is the reason why the US payments system is so broken: Banks and currency regulators are extremely cautious about any change to the current system.” Holmquist believes that a math-based currency—as an “alternative financial payment rail”—is a way for banks to better serve customers; which, after all, is a major goal anyway. He pointed to the Federal Reserve’s call for industry assistance in fostering payments system improvements as evidence of an evolution in financial services thought.The organizers also partnered with BitGive Foundation in launching a charitable campaign to coincide with Bitcoin Black Friday. On November 29, all donations received by BitGive will be given to Save the Children for their Typhoon Haiyan Children's Relief Fund.“Giving with bitcoin is about more than just keeping your anonymity,” said Holmquist. He explained that this is the first time donations will be given completely to the charity of a donor’s choosing. Traditionally, donations made through Visa, Mastercard, and other payment processors and banks are skimmed with three-percent fees, resulting in $250 million in financial industry profits. “Bitcoin has no greedy middlemen taking away a percentage of the donation going to the causes that you support,” Holmquist said.And don’t forget the advantage bitcoin presents to the individual hoping to anonymously donate to dissident groups both in the US and across the globe. “For me, that is one of the coolest things about bitcoin,” said Greer. “People can potentially use it donate more anonymously to dissident groups and causes in a world where mass government surveillance threatens freedom of expression and certainly harms activists’ ability to fundraise for their work, when people are afraid they could be targeted by a government for donating to a worthy cause.”“Institutions with entrenched power are always afraid of new things,” said Greer. With any luck, Bitcoin Black Friday might ease some government and financial industry fears—as well as letting bitcoin users pick up some bargains.