Image via Youtube/Rob Boudon
When the Bank of America announced earlier this month that Bitcoin had “clear potential for growth,” it's fair to say it was stating the obvious. After all, eBay president John Donahoe had already hinted that PayPal might accept Bitcoin in the future, the Robocoin Bitcoin ATM machine in Canada has already taken over one million Canadian dollars since it launched at the end of October, and the digital currency is being accepted everywhere from Subway stores to Snoop Dogg's next album.
But not everyone has been so eager to give their approval, and one company in particular has stubbornly refused to get as excited as the rest of the world. It seems that tech giant Apple doesn’t want to play nicely with the other children.
Apple first gave Bitcoin a taste of the cold shoulder in mid-November by removing the Coinbase iOS app from the app store. For the unacquainted, Coinbase is a startup that provides consumers with a platform for buying and trading the currency, and the app tracked this activity. In short, it was a simple online wallet that let users buy, store, monitor and receive bitcoins. Brian Armstong, the CEO and founder of Coinbase, explained that he was “not sure why it was taken down” and that Coinbase had reached out to Apple to request “clarification” on its removal. Our own calls to Apple on the matter went unanswered.
That wasn’t the first time that Apple have confiscated Bitcoin users’ toys without warning or explanation. Jon Matonis, executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, has spoken out about how other Bitcoin wallet apps such as Blockchain Wallet and Bitpak have also been “unceremoniously evicted” from the app store.
Rob Sama, the creator of BitPak, is one of the only app store rejectees within the realms of Bitcoin to have received anything approaching an explanation from Apple. Don’t get your hopes up, because it might just be the most vague explanation of the year. He explained on the company website that when he called and asked why his app had been removed, he was told it was because “that Bitcoin thing is not legal in all jurisdictions for which BitPak is for sale”.
He went on, "I inquired as to which jurisdictions bitcoin was deemed to be illegal in, and he told me 'that is up to you to figure out'. I asked him which laws Bitcoin violated, and again, he replied that 'that is up to you to determine.'" Curious.
More recently, Apple made the mobile messaging service Gliph delete the Bitcoin-related part of its app, which meant users would only be able to send bitcoins via Safari, rendering the app itself a bit redundant. On the Gliph company blog the company informed customers that they fought to keep the Bitcoin function of the app, but were ultimately forced to remove it by Apple.
The firm also recognized that, “if either Apple or Google block useful Bitcoin apps from their app marketplaces, they hinder the practical use of the currency and thus indirectly reduce the value of Bitcoin”—although Google Play still supports the majority of the apps that were removed by Apple. Android users are still attaching bitcoins to their Gliph messages, too.
So what's the deal behind Apple’s constant hindrance of the progression of Bitcoin? Speaking to Tech Crunch, Rob Banagale, the co-founder of Gliph, hinted at one potential reason for Apple's hesitation: the company might be planning on getting into the payments market itself, in which case Bitcoin, with its enormous potential for growth, would be a threatening competitor.
It's a nice theory, but that's all it is for now. It's a lot more likely that Apple is simply playing safe with regard to Bitcoin's limbo-like legal status. In their guidelines the company states that any app must "comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users." But at the time of the apps’ removals there weren’t actually any Bitcoin-specific laws; there still aren't. And if the currency were somehow illegal (apparently without anyone else noticing), it seems unlikely that it would still be supported on Android devices, or set to be accepted by Paypal.
That said, while Bitcoin isn't illegal, it's also not legally recognized as a currency—and it's not exactly got an entirely clean record what with its association with things like deep web drug markets and rampant heists. For Apple, it could simply be a matter of image: They don't want to have any link to the seedier aspects of the digital currency's history.
Just as talk of Bitcoin legislation is heating up, it seems the tech giant has simply decided to be its own regulator, and it's not taking any chances.