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Google Looks Into Accepting Bitcoin, But Realistically Its Options Are Very Limited


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By Ryan Whitwam on January 24, 2014 at 7:40 am
The first thing to know about Bitcoin has nothing to do with how it works or what the current value of one is — of primary importance is the fanatical devotion Bitcoin users have to the mother of all cryptocurrencies. Many fans of Bitcoin promote the anonymous internet money at every turn, encouraging others to use it as a way to combat everything from government overreach to unethical banking practices. This is why cryptocurrencies are still a thing. Bitcoin enthusiasts scored a major victory when Overstock and Zynga started accepting Bitcoins recently, and that prompted one fan to start asking other internet companies what their plans were. Surprisingly, the one organization he got anywhere with was Google.

Updated: Google has since issued a statement that it isn’t looking to incorporate Bitcoin — but as far as we can tell, the email conversation isn’t being contested. Basically, Google probably is investigating Bitcoin, but isn’t quite ready to publicly jump on the train.

It was an email to Google+ head honcho Vic Gundotra that got a response. Gundotra forwarded the message to the Google’s commerce team, and a manager there confirmed that the company is indeed investigating how Bitcoin could be incorporated. Mountain View has been careful to say that there are no immediate plans to accept Bitcoin, but Ariel Bardin, VP of Google Payments did request the original emailer start a Google Moderator discussion to see what users wanted Google to do with Bitcoin. The entire exchange was detailed on the Bitcoin section of Reddit.

Bitcoin has been on a steady rise over the last year, more than doubling in value over a few months. Even recent law enforcement actions against Tor network sites (where Bitcoin is very popular) and China’s crackdown on the currency haven’t dampened enthusiasm much — a single Bitcoin is still worth over $900. A year ago one Bitcoin could be exchanged for a mere $20.
The question remains, what would Google do with Bitcoins? The overwhelming majority of Google’s business comes from Adsense, so clearly taking payments for ads in Bitcoin would have the largest impact and would make Bitcoin fans extremely happy. However, Google has to police its Adsense content very well to keep scams and illegal goods out. Having a paper trail aids in accountability, but Bitcoin is anonymous by design. As such, Google’s involvement with Bitcoin, if any, is likely to be more modest.

Now that the word is out, though, I expect Google to do something if only to get brownie points from privacy advocates. Google sells various consumer digital goods like apps, music, and books through Google Play, and many of the suggestions pouring into the Google Moderator page are asking the company to enable Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in Google Wallet, and thus its entire content ecosystem. However, the act of paying 0.000012 BTC for an app lacks elegance, which is important in a consumer-facing venue like Google Play. Don’t expect a Bitcoin logo will be popping up in the Play Store any time soon.

A solution that satisfies all parties might be to allow Bitcoin transfers directly into Google Wallet. It would be a quick way for users to make Bitcoins “real” and only requires that Google change one of its systems to accommodate virtual money. The Google Wallet debit card might finally get some traction as the fastest way to spend Bitcoins in the real world.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I knew it! Google will be next to ride the bitcoin trend. Google Play will greatly benefit here. How about 0.01 BTC per app?

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