Digital currency or digital money is an internet based medium of exchange (i.e., distinct from physical, such as banknotes and coins) that exhibits properties similar to physical currencies, however, allows for instantaneous transactions and borderless transfer-of-ownership. Both virtual currencies and cryptocurrencies are types of digital currencies, but the converse is incorrect. Like traditional money these currencies may be used to buy physical goods and services but could also be restricted to certain communities such as for example for use inside an on-line game or social network. Digital currencies such as bitcoin are known as “decentralized digital currencies,” meaning that there is no central point of control over the money supply.
Digital currency can be defined as an internet based form of currency or medium of exchange (i.e., distinct from physical, such as banknotes and coins) that exhibits properties similar to physical currencies, however, allows for instantaneous transactions and borderless transfer-of-ownership. Both virtual currencies and cryptocurrencies are types of digital currencies.
Origins of digital currencies date back to the 1990s Dot-com bubble. One of the first was E-gold, founded in 1996 and backed by gold. Another known digital currency service was Liberty Reserve, founded in 2006; it let users convert dollars or euros to Liberty Reserve Dollars or Euros, and exchange them freely with one another at a 1% fee. Both services were centralized, reputed to be used for money laundering, and inevitably shut down by the US government. Recent interest in cryptocurrencies, has prompted renewed interest in digital currencies, with bitcoin, introduced in 2009, becoming the most widely used and accepted digital currency.
A virtual currency has been defined in 2012 by the European Central Bank as “a type of unregulated, digital money, which is issued and usually controlled by its developers, and used and accepted among the members of a specific virtual community”. The US Department of Treasury in 2013 defined it more tersely as “a medium of exchange that operates like a currency in some environments, but does not have all the attributes of real currency”. The key attribute a virtual currency does not have according to these definitions, is the status as legal tender.
In July 2014, the New York State Department of Financial Services proposed the most comprehensive regulation of virtual currencies to date. Unlike the US federal regulators it has gathered input from Bitcoin supporters and the financial industry through public hearings and a comment period until October 21, 2014 to customize the rules. The proposal per NY DFS press release “… sought to strike an appropriate balance that helps protect consumers and root out illegal activity”. It has been criticized by smaller companies to favor established institutions, and Chinese bitcoin exchanges have complained that the rules are “overly broad in its application outside the United States”.