Taco Bell Joins in on NFT Action as Non-Fungible Tokens Mani Goes Mainstream

Taco Bell Joins in on NFT Action as Non-Fungible Tokens Mani Goes Mainstream

The NFT space sees impressive growth with $91 million in crypto art sold last month, 8x of January.

Taco Bell, a popular fast-food chain, is the latest to join the non-fungible tokens (NFT) mania.

The restaurant chain created five different NFTs that were released late Sunday on the marketplace Rarible. The tokens were put on sale for 0.001 ETH worth just $1.79, with the highest bid on them going to 0.4 WETH ($700).

All profits were donated to the Taco Bell Foundation.

Taco Bell is the just latest one to join the digital art and collectibles ecosystem. Last week, the band King of Leons released its latest album with an NFT. The largest crypto collectible brand, NBA TopShot, has recorded $300 million in all-time sales. Currently, a Snoop Dogg Niftydudes NFT has bidding of $1.4 million.

Lindsay Lohan is particularly making use of NFTs, minting and selling her “Mean Girls” images for thousands of dollars. Musician Grimes, partner of Bitcoin fan and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban are also getting in on the action around NFTs.

Popular collectibles CryptoPunks, one of the earlier crypto art blockchain projects created by larva Labs in 2017, have also gone parabolic, surpassing 66k in all-time ETH sales ($105 million).

“There wasn’t a way to own things or know that you owned them online before this,” said Matt Hall, the co-founder of CryptoPunks. “The miracle of digital is that copying was perfect and free. This is reversing part of that — which is kind of weird.”

Another project is Hashmasks, whose index funds allow investors to get exposure without owning an entire NFT themselves, which are currently 825 in NFTX.

There are currently four artists with more than $10 million in artwork value.

According to Dune Analytics, one of the popular NFT marketplace Opensea’s monthly transaction volume in February reached a record-high of $93.9 million, about 11.68x of the volume recorded in the previous month. Its users have also exceeded 50k.

Overall, $91 million in crypto art was sold last month, 8x of January, as per CryptoArt.

“NFT projects are soaring! Since the beginning of the year, the combined market cap of the top NFTs has increased 5x, holding a whopping $4.4bil of value today!” notes The TIE.

NFTs are expected to drive crypto adoption as it gains so much of the mainstream attention.

“NFTs are a big statement on the longevity of blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies, and the monetization of content creation,” said Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth, a New York-based financial advisory firm.

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Author: AnTy

DeFi Ecosystem Acala Launches EMV for Polkadot-Ethereum Connection

Acala has stepped into the cross-chain functionality space with a new Polkadot-native EMV, as more blockchain projects seek to put a spin on cross-chain functionalities.

With the decentralized finance (DeFi) space seeing impressive growth, several blockchain developers have flocked into the industry, hoping to serve as viable Ethereum substitutes.

While Polkadot is one of the leading Ethereum competitors, a surprising new project is bringing the two rivals together.

Ethereum Developers Welcome

Polkadot stablecoin Acala has announced the launch of a native Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) that will bridge both the Ethereum and Polkadot blockchains.

The project explained that the Acala EVM had launched ahead of the ETHDenver 2021 hackathon in a tweet, bringing a surprising spin to the hopes of cross-chain interoperability.

According to the company’s announcement, the new EVM will allow Acala to provide full-stack developers’ tools using Substrate, Solidity, and Web3 to seamlessly integrate decentralized applications (dApps) and access the DeFi sector with a single wallet.

It will also provide protocol composability for EVM and Substrate runtime, allowing developers to deploy their applications on Acala without any tooling support.

All dApps developed will be able to use Polkadot-native and cross-chain assets like ACA, DOT, renBTCm, and more. They can also deploy ERC-20 tokens in the EVM and list them on decentralized exchanges to be used as gas fee tokens.

Acala’s developers dismissed the notion they were trying to steal some of Ethereum’s considerable market share in the DeFi space. Instead, they plan to empower project developers to access cross-chain functionalities. The statement read,

“We are firm believers in the power of Substrate and built the Acala EVM to optimize for Substrate’s full potential and longevity rather than simply redeploying Ethereum on Polkadot.”

Compound Finance Brings Cross-Chain Functionality

Cross-chain functionality is becoming more of a growing trend in the DeFi market. This feature allows Compound to provide its assets and DeFi projects to move freely across multiple blockchain platforms.

In a world where Ethereum continues to experience scalability problems and rising gas fees, projects like Polkadot have presented viable alternatives. With cross-chain functionalities, the blockchain takes a significant step towards widespread adoption by providing one of DeFi protocol developers’ most glaring needs in cross-chain functionality.

Last December, Compound Finance, a top DeFi lending protocol, announced Compound Chain, a standalone blockchain that allows Compound to offer its services on multiple blockchain networks.

In a whitepaper, Compound noted that its new blockchain would support new developments in the general blockchain and crypto space. These include Ethereum 2.0 and possibly even Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). Thanks to its cross-chain integration, assets developed on the chain will be immediately available for lending on other platforms, allowing users to access more borrowing choices.

Speaking on support for other blockchains, Robert Leshner, Compound Finance’s founder, explained to industry news sources that the project’s community would vote on the blockchains to support. However, support for Ethereum will be a no-brainer. As long as a blockchain works with smart contracts, it is a viable candidate for Compound Chain support.

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Author: Jimmy Aki

Yield Farming & NFT’s Led 2020’s DeFi Boom; Boosting DApp Volume by 1178%: DappRadar

The decentralized finance (DeFi) space has arguably been the most impressive component of the entire crypto industry in 2020.

With Bitcoin rallying to record highs, total assets locked in DeFi protocols have reached record levels too. However, it now appears to be bringing in an influx of users to decentralized apps (dApps), again.

DeFi is Pulling DApps Use

This week, top DApp tracking platform DAppRadar published its 2020 DApp Industry Report, revealing that there has been over $270 billion in transaction volumes in 2020. The platform noted that a staggering 95 percent of these volumes came from the Ethereum-based DeFi ecosystem, marking a jump from $21 billion last year.

The report pointed out that the DeFi space had also contributed to Ether’s growth, with money flowing from Bitcoin to the asset all through the year. DAppRadar explained that this cash influx’s primary driver was the theoretical yields in DeFi, with renBTC and Wrapped Bitcoin (wBTC) allowing dApps to tap some of Bitcoin’s liquidity.

Moving on, DAppRadar explained that only ten DeFi dApps accounted for 87 percent of the total transaction volumes on Ethereum. The report echoed findings from November when DAppRadar’s rankings showed that dApps had attracted over a million users in 30 days.

At the time, the top three DApps – DeFi Swap, Uniswap, and Compound, respectively – accounted for over 930,000 users between them. None of the remaining dApps in the top ten rankings had over 30,000 users that month.

Data from Dune Analytics also found that a single DeFi user could have used multiple addresses to interact with several dApps on several occasions during a month. It would be challenging to accurately estimate the actual number of users from DAppRadar’s numbers. As Dune estimated, the total cumulative DeFi wallet addresses were about 901,000.

Even at that, the numbers seem pretty impressive, especially considering that the DeFi space was almost nowhere this time in 2019.

Problems Remain

While the report was positive, it also highlighted some of the challenges plaguing the DeFi space. As expected, it touched issues such as the apparent dependence on the Ethereum blockchain, which has led to challenges like network congestion and higher gas fees.

Hacks and security breaches have also become common, with crafty hackers capitalizing on security flaws in DeFi smart contracts to steal users’ funds. As DAppRadar estimates, hackers have stolen over $120 million across 12 hacks this year. The tracking platform adds that the industry should improve insurance in 2021, which will enhance user confidence.

In general, DAppRadar notes that the future is bright for DeFi. Issues like the coronavirus pandemic and more have brought decentralized platforms into the forefront, and dApps have benefited from that rise in prominence.

With DeFi set to play a more prominent role in the global economy, it should spread its benefits to components like gaming, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and dApps.

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Author: AnTy

Elliptic Report: Crypto Criminals Turn to Privacy Wallets to Launder Bitcoin

Privacy has been one of the hot buttons in the crypto space. In a new report, leading blockchain analytics firm Elliptic reviews the industry’s illegal activity levels this year.

On Wednesday, the firm released a study showing that criminals are now laundering Bitcoin using private wallets like Wasabi.

The Hunt for Privacy

Private wallets are known for their privacy features. They obfuscate funds and hide their origins from tracking mechanisms, through a process called coin mixing.

Mixing works by swapping coins between users. It creates a complex network of transactions designed to create a maze that throws trackers off a transfer over time.

Elliptic explained that 13 percent of Bitcoin crime proceeds are now being laundered through these services. The number is up from the 2 percent reported in 2019.

Tom Robinson, Elliptic’s Chief Scientist, explained that the use of privacy wallets had grown primarily due to the increased identity verification standards operated by exchanges and traditional wallet providers.

While the general use of these privacy wallets has increased, there is a noticeable uptick in criminal applications.

Blame the Government and Analysis Firms

Mixers have also grown in prominence thanks to increased tracking technologies and procedures from firms like Elliptic.

Chainalysis and CipherTrace, two of the foremost analytics firms in the blockchain space, have worked extensively with regulators to crack down on illegal activity this year. Seeing nowhere else to turn to, criminals are now being inventive and using mixers.

CipherTrace has been incredibly effective in cracking down on privacy-related activities in the crypto space.

In August, the firm announced a new tool to track Monero transactions, the most popular privacy coin. It has even filed two patents to improve tracking for Monero.

In a blog post, CipherTrace stated that the patents would include forensic tools to explore transaction flows in Monero and assist financial investigations. They will also have probabilistic and statistical methods to score transactions and cluster possible wallet owners, as well as visualization tools and techniques to track stolen or illegally used assets.

“CipherTrace’s Monero tracing capabilities will allow [Virtual Asset Service Providers] to identify when inbound XMR may have criminal origins, allowing them to adequately risk rate customer transactions per any required regulations.”

CipherTrace added that it aimed to improve criminal users’ detection and improve the safety and sustainability of privacy coins.

The development follows an earlier $625,000 bounty program set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for anyone who can develop Monero tracking tools. As privacy becomes more of a luxury in the crypto space, it is understandable that criminals would want to get inventive and use privacy wallets.

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Author: Jimmy Aki

Circle Secures Major Partnership With Visa to Provide Seamless USDC Payments

Payment processor VISA is improving its presence in the crypto space. The firm has partnered with Circle Internet Financial to facilitate USDC payments for select VISA users.

Easy Payments for Individuals and Businesses

VISA’s partnership with USDC will initially start with selected users, the firm’s Head of Crypto Cuy Sheffield explained on Twitter. The end game is to help users make seamless USDC transactions.

Businesses will also be able to make cross-border payments using their USDC balances.

USDC’s operator Circle would also join the Fast Track program, VISA’s launchpad initiative that allows businesses to leverage its network’s speed to get up and running quickly. VISA estimates that Circle will graduate from the program sometime next year, following which the former will issue a credit card that allows businesses to send and receive USDC-based payments directly.

Speaking on the initiative, Sheffield, said that the firm is looking to become a “network of networks.” He added:

“We see significant potential for stablecoins like USDC to help our clients enable new payment flows and are committed to helping them become integrated into the payments ecosystem in a secure and convenient way”

VISA Strengthens Crypto Ties

The news follows another significant partnership from VISA. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that the credit card manufacturer had partnered with BlockFi, one of the top crypto loans and savings providers, to launch a Bitcoin rewards card.

As the report explained, the new credit card will reward buyers with Bitcoin, instead of cashback rewards, airline miles, or other conventional channels. Cardholders can get up to 1.5 percent of their purchases in Bitcoin.

The cards will carry a $200 annual maintenance fee, and they will be issued by the Evolve Bank & Trust. It is expected to be available to the public in early 2021, although BlockFi users can sign up for it before then. Like the Circle partnership, this is also a part of VISA’s Fast track program.

The payment processor appears to be gearing up for more crypto partnerships, especially since regulators have put a snag on its acquisition of financial services firm Plaid. Last Thursday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against VISA, alleging that it was committing antitrust violations in its Plaid acquisition.

In part, the complaint alleged that VISA was looking to purchase Plaid as an “insurance policy” to neutralize any threats to its U.S. debit business. The DOJ added that the acquisition could see VISA easily eliminate nascent competitive risks that could help customers at the detriment of its market share.

VISA announced its blockbuster $5.3 billion Plaid acquisition in January. Since then, however, the latter had been embroiled in several lawsuits over its misuse of data. With the DOJ complaint not putting a hold on things, this deal looks dead in the water.

A few of the other Crypto to VISA connection in recent months includes ZenGo, Binance, Coinbase, and Paxful. This list also included crypto lender Cred, which filed for bankruptcy last month.

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Author: Jimmy Aki

PayPal CEO Explains Company’s Mission to Improve Bitcoin’s Payment Functionality

PayPal’s entry into the crypto space has been one of the most anticipated events of 2020 in the cryptocurrency sector. Besides increasing customers’ access to Bitcoin, the payment processor appears bent on improving its functionality for transactions.

Easy Payments Anytime

Earlier today, PayPal chief executive Dan Schulman spoke to CNBC’s Squawk Box. He explained that the company’s entry into the Bitcoin market was fueled by a desire to capitalize on digital payments growth. Schulman said that PayPal’s objective is to improve peoples’ ability to utilize crypto as a funding source, hence their mode of operation.

Schulman was incredibly bullish on Bitcoin in his interview. He explained that while it is challenging to give Bitcoin price projections, he believes the asset will increase in utility.

“When you start to move crypto as a potential funding instrument, I think that bolsters its utility and stabilizes it as well–because it can be used every day in your purchases.”

The CEO added that increased adoption could also improve Bitcoin’s stability. Detractors have often bashed Bitcoin for its volatility. Addressing this problem can be a game-changer for Bitcoin – both as an investment vehicle and a currency.

PayPal’s customers in the U.S can now buy, sell, and hold Bitcoin through its new crypto feature. The service will also provide compatibility with existing merchant platforms, allowing businesses to accept digital payments. Schulman told CNBC that business integration would be open to about 28 million merchants.

Co-Existing with CBDCs

Schulman also spoke on Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC), explaining that many of these will grow as fiat loses prominence.

CBDCs have been a hot-button issue this year. Many countries have announced their intention to digitize their currencies, with most of them hoping to bolster their digital payment infrastructures. However, there have also been questions about what this could mean for top digital assets like Bitcoin.

For Schulman, CBDCs’ entry into mainstream finance could benefit Bitcoin. In part, he believes the dissipation of fiat from daily transactions could force central banks to find replacements. These replacements will ideally be the digital forms of their fiat currencies.

Many believe that increased fiat digitization could lead governments to take harsher stances against legacy cryptos – a reality that could hurt PayPal’s business.

However, Schulman explained that CBDCs’ proliferation wouldn’t negatively affect traditional cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. As he explained, cryptocurrencies’ underlying structures like smart contracts could improve CBDCs and their operational efficiency when they get launched.

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Author: Jimmy Aki

Mimblewimble Blockchain Platform to Bring Privacy to DeFi With BeamX Launch on Nov 19

Beam, the privacy-oriented crypto project, is finally set to debut into the booming DeFi space with a product dubbed ‘BeamX.’ This platform will enable DeFi developers to build financial applications based on fundamental factors that define the Beam ecosystem; at the very core is confidentiality. BEG had earlier reported Beam’s intention to provide privacy solutions for the DeFi space; it now seems that the project is ready with its value proposition.

The BeamX DeFi Platform

According to the announcement, BeamX is scheduled for launch on Nov 19, with the initial iteration being a test network that aims to ‘flesh out the infrastructure, documentation, and developer tools.’ The Mainnet is set to be activated sometime in Q1, 2021, after the Beam hardfork. Prospectus apps include lending, stablecoins, and decentralized exchanges, which leverage the concept of Automatic Market Making (AMM) to create liquidity.

This innovation is set to benefit from an underlying set of tools, including Confidential Assets, Laser Beam, and Atomic swaps. Developers will be able to build DeFi apps through smart-contract like functions dubbed Beam Shaders.

These contracts will be compiled from various programming languages into WebAssembly (WASM) with execution delegated to the Beam Virtual Machine, which runs in the platform’s nodes. As for the integration with Beam wallets, BeamX apps will be embedded via a web-based framework.

Privacy Coming to DeFi

Beam, which leverages the mimblewimble blockchain for enhanced privacy, saw it fit to introduce confidentiality in DeFi as well. Currently, this is an issue given that most DeFi apps run on the Ethereum public blockchain, which means that their activity is exposed. This includes crucial information, such as bot trading strategies, on-chain lending, and margin trades. The blog post reads,

“The only way to resolve any such issues is by adding privacy to DeFi, which is exactly what the BeamX platform is targeting.”

Some infrastructure upgrades that BeamX will feature oracles and interoperability with other blockchains such as Polkadot (DOT) and Ethereum (ETH).

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Biggest Challenges Ahead for Crypto as Regulators Declare War on Privacy & Self-Custody

The start of the new quarter saw a slew of regulatory moves targeting the cryptocurrency space – “we’ve made the world stage,” which Fundstrat Global Advisors LLC believes is good for the overall crypto market because it’s just regulators “clearing up bad actors.”

While the “prevailing bull market trend is intact,” the ideological war over self-custody & privacy means “our biggest challenges still lie ahead,” said Jake Chervinsky, general counsel at Compound Finance.

As the crypto market continues to grow, the change is now coming.

Policymakers have taken a stern approach to KYC and AML on a global scale intended to prevent criminals from abusing the financial system.

With the goal that “crime doesn’t pay,” AML regulations deputize the “gatekeepers” financial institutions to act as government agents such as identify customers, surveil transactions, and file reports with the government.

Although AML regulations break down in the context of cash, which govt. are trying to get rid of it, it has its limitations because cash works only in-person and isn’t easy to move in large amounts over long distances.

As such, regulators are much more concerned about digital transfers.

Pursuing Crypto Aggressively

Up until now, they weren’t concerned much because, in their belief, crypto’s main utility comes from conversion into fiat, they can track crypto transfers via blockchain fairly easy, and there isn’t much criminal activity in crypto.

But, over the last year, as bitcoin gained geopolitical significance & fiat-pegged stablecoin volume exploded upwards, governments are now concerned about both illicit activity & the threat to their monetary sovereignty, noted Chervinsky.

Now, they’re enforcing AML regulations more aggressively.

As we saw in the case of BitMEX, which not only got tagged by CFTC for unregistered derivatives trading as expected, but DOJ also turned the case criminal, which “doesn’t happen often.”

The key takeaways from this action are that not only law enforcement and the regulators are paying attention to what you do, but those non-U.S. entities may also be subject to U.S. laws and willful ignorance or violation of US AML laws is serious, said Phil Liu, chief legal officer at Arca.

The Main Challenge

Last week, DOJ released a framework to cryptos where it described anonymous transactions as “a high-risk activity…indicative of possible criminal conduct” and an ominous warning in the form of “anonymity enhanced cryptocurrencies” for exchanges.

This war over privacy and restricting access to crypto is global as the international standard-setting body for AML regulation FATF said in June that the “lack of explicit coverage of peer-to-peer transactions…was a source of concern.”

“Swiss Rule” is already prohibiting self-custody “in the guise of verifying the owner of a private key.” And just last week, BIS said in its report on CBDCs that “full anonymity is not plausible.”

With FATF red-flagging hardware wallets, Europol prioritizing privacy wallets, and UK’s FCA banning crypto derivatives, the situation is serious.

“I fear we’re heading for a world where withdrawing crypto from exchanges to self-custody is restricted as a means of attacking privacy,” said Chervinksy, which according to him, is the main challenge for the crypto market for years to come.

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Author: AnTy

Binance Smart Chain (BSC) Is Gradually Changing DeFi On-Ramp Dynamics

Binance, the leading crypto exchange, is gradually challenging the DeFi space with its newly launched Binance Smart Chain (BSC) and yield farming launch pool. BSC was launched at the beginning of this month as the CZ headed crypto exchange looks to onboard more people to the DeFi world. It has since gained traction despite strong criticisms at its debut; latest stats show that the transactional volume on Binance Smart Chain (BSC) is 14% of ETH while the platform’s native token ‘BNB’ market cap is 10% of ETH.

In a recent tweet, the CEO of Binance, Chao Zhao, welcomed more DApp developers to leverage BSC given it is Ethereum compatible.

According to CZ, high transaction fees and congestion on Ethereum will only make users flee projects built on the platform as opposed to mainstream adoption.

“If you are a DApp developer, do you think you will get more or fewer users/adoption when the transactions fees are 20x higher? #BNB100% EVM compatible, no extra work – for developers 20x lower fees, no congestion – for your users.”

CZ has, however, stressed in the past that BSC is not a competitor of Ethereum but an avenue to scale DeFi on-ramping. So far, the Binance launch pool features BNB, BUSD, and ARPA as the digital assets where users can earn income from staking within BSC.

The latest innovations by Binance are now disputing what most thought would be a short-lived future for centralized crypto exchanges when the Uniswap DEX came up. With Binance ahead of the pack, CZ had expressed confidence in an earlier tweet where he noted that ‘CeFi is about to give DeFi a run for its money.’ Well, a conclusive review of the progress would be a bit too early. Still, it seems the Binance founder might have hinted the future of DeFi adoption with the introduction of ‘CeDeFi.’

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Author: Edwin Munyui