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Basics of cryptocurrency: Risks and benefits

Should you buy in on the craze?

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For a while, cryptocurrencies became the talk of the town across the internet. People all over the world saw the potential of what is essentially “virtual money,” starting a frenzy of investments, theories, and yes, memes — particularly towards one of the more popular cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin.

But do we really understand the power these cryptocurrencies yield, and how such power can affect the whole world over?

What are cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies are virtual currencies that are exchanged online with no interference from anyone, not even the government. These currencies, through their language of cryptography, contain secured information and are exchanged through a recording system known as a blockchain.

No one regulates the exchanges and no one controls how much of the cryptocurrency should be out there, but the blockchain keeps all of the exchanges transparent and fair for everyone. Think of it as openly sharing your share of a pizza to a friend in exchange for money, with your other friends keeping track of the exchange. Your friends make sure that you have a slice of pizza to give, your friend has the money he promised you, and that these items are actually from each of you and not from someone else.

Because of the creation of numerous cryptocurrencies all over the internet, a virtual market has been created for people who are interested and invested in these virtual currencies to trade among themselves. Groups of people have also made an effort to produce their own cryptocurrencies from their computers through cryptomining. Cryptomining, much like regular mining, is creating cryptocurrency tokens (an online version of coins) and putting them into the blockchain to be traded; it’s printing your own money, except it’s done from a computer and shared online.

In Bitcoin, for example: People who want to contribute to its blockchain to earn some share of the cryptocurrency would go through activities such as cryptomining. Despite it being one of the primary activities for creating and gaining Bitcoin, it’s also one of the more expensive ways of doing so since most cryptomining setups require computers with the most up-to-date hardware and processing speeds. Any person who wishes to do cryptomining would spend a ton of money just for the necessary hardware — all just to mine their own Bitcoin.

Where did the hype come from?

The tailend of 2017 (October to December) saw people get into a frenzy towards cryptocurrencies and its perceived value — a frenzy driven by growing interest. People had started to not only be invested (pun intended) in learning about cryptocurrencies in general, but they also searched “Bitcoin” a whole lot.

With more people understanding cryptocurrencies, investments towards such virtual currencies (particularly towards Bitcoin) increased, thereby expanding the market by a whopping 1,200 percent. Imagine getting 15,000 shares on your Facebook post about your dog within two days – that’s how quickly it blew up.

Another phenomenon that contributed to the rise of cryptocurrencies is the creation of initial coin offerings (ICO). An ICO is a public, unregulated way of earning funds for cryptocurrencies and is widely used by startups to bypass the usual fundraising activities for capital; ICOs are much like crowdfunding (such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe), except no one controls how the funding goes.

ICOs are usually distributed in Bitcoins; these will be used to start projects or applications that people create but initially have no money to operate. Because people have new ideas and the Internet is one of the faster ways to have the idea develop and spread all over, more and more people would go through ICOs to fund their projects instead of getting bank loans or using their own money.

Effects of cryptocurrencies

The impact of these cryptocurrencies take on a grand scale, especially from an economic context. People continually join the hype towards cryptocurrencies, so much so that it drives demand for them. Participating in online trading for cryptocurrencies is faster than those in the stock market, and is easily accessible by people since it is unregulated.

As such, governments are pushing for cryptocurrencies as a means for payment to add convenience for customers, especially those with plans to go paperless with their money. The Indian government, for example, is learning to embrace Bitcoin within their monetary system after taking in measures against tax evasion in black markets; they are also looking into regulating Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as well in the near future.

The risk of partaking in cryptocurrencies lies in its greatest feature: an organic form of virtual currency. Because no entity has any control of cryptocurrencies — including governments — these virtual currencies are prone to online attacks (most common form of attack: hacking), which rapidly hamper their growth and reduce their value significantly. With a large number of people currently trading cryptocurrencies online, the risk of hackers increases significantly, causing these people to lose more money when worse comes to worst.

Another threat posed by its greatest feature is that people would abuse the high interest rates and entice new investors to purchase tokens. Because there is no body to regulate the trading online, people engage in scams to take advantage of new investors who are not guided properly in the virtual currency market — despite it being heavily secured by cryptography.

Participating in the schemes makes the trade unfair, even with efforts to make things equal for everyone. One example is the Bitcoin Savings and Trust Ponzi scheme in 2011, which was shut down in 2012 due to the perpetrator, Trendon Shavers, being accused of raising 700,000 BTC — all from new investors who didn’t know any better.

Cryptocurrencies at present

At the moment, Bitcoin remains to be the top-traded cryptocurrency within the market, valued at US$ 151.1 billion — in spite of its decline over the past few months. Countries are starting to either accept Bitcoin as part of their national economies or reject Bitcoin and its risks. Litecoin, which was dubbed as an alternative to Bitcoin, is not performing as well as Bitcoin within the past month, culminating in a so-far failing venture with digital wallet service Abra. Ethereum, one of Bitcoin’s closest competitors, has quickly risen due to its value to customers.

There are countries in the world that think that cryptocurrencies can bring them out of total economic collapse and keep the country afloat. Venezuela, for instance had released its own cryptocurrency, Petro, after its own national currency lost its value. Other struggling nations such as Iran and Turkey are looking to follow suit, but would need enough investment to get the necessary equipment for creating their own cryptocurrencies.

Should you be worried? Do your research, familiarize yourselves with terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, and always proceed with caution.

Even with the possibility of countries going paperless with their currencies, there are some that still fear its effects and have not wholeheartedly embraced cryptocurrencies. Despite the aforementioned efforts from the Indian government to shift to cryptocurrency-based payment methods, the Reserve Bank still finds engaging in cryptocurrencies illegal, to the point of barring banks from engaging in them. Reports of ransomware spreading in the United States, hacking computers used for mining Bitcoin raise security concerns for people investing in Bitcoin.

Should you be worried?

Whether you are currently investing in cryptocurrencies or not, the risks of such virtual currencies will remain to be there as long as other people keep increasing their investments towards them. The value of these cryptocurrencies continue to be unstable to this day, especially with the hype slowly dying down due to people learning more and more about cryptocurrencies and their possible (and real) dangers.

The call for people who wish to invest in these cryptocurrencies is to practice caution. Do some research, get to know more about the terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, look at news reports — with the internet at your disposal, it’s better to know what you’re getting into, should you want to get into it. Anyone who wishes to create their own cryptocurrency might want to start saving up as early as now for all the hardware.

Should you be worried? Yes, to an extent, but it helps to be prepared.

Illustrations by Yanni Panesa

Explainers

Here’s what you need to know about eSIM

The technology behind Apple’s first dual-SIM iPhone

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When Apple first revealed their new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, people were expecting something different. While on the outside nothing seems to have changed, the inside is a whole different story. The most notable change is the introduction of eSIM (embedded SIM) technology, something that they’ve done before with the Apple Watch.

But, what is this eSIM? How different is it from the SIM card that you know and love? And does using an eSIM change the game completely?

Let’s talk about the SIM and eSIM

One of the essentials for any phone in the market is a SIM card. Short for Subscriber Identity Module, a SIM card contains key identification and security features from any network carrier. It is used by these networks to identify their consumers and provide mobile connectivity for them — through calls, texts, and access to the internet. SIM cards also allow you to store information when you decide to switch devices every now and then.

eSIM technology, as the name implies, is embedded into the phone yet it still keeps the same functionalities as before. On devices that were designed with only one SIM card slot, adding an eSIM makes it a virtual dual-SIM machine. 

How have regions adopted eSIM?

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the first time Apple dealt with eSIM tech. The company had initially launched the eSIM for their Apple Watch Series 3 to give it better connectivity on the go. While Apples continues to incorporate eSIM in its newer Watch Series 4, they’ve decided to take it one step further with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

However, as of writing, only ten countries in the entire world currently support eSIM. This is mostly due to these countries having the proper infrastructure to support the use of it. While smartphone companies are looking to incorporate this new technology, the market for it seems to be relatively small.

The good and bad about eSIM

Like any other new technology, eSIM comes with its own set of benefits and difficulties — especially for those transitioning from the traditional SIM card. With eSIM installed in your phone, users will no longer have to go through the hassle of buying a specific SIM card.

Ideally, having an eSIM also allows you to switch between networks easily. Apart from an eSIM-capable phone, it also comes with the needed software to make the switching process faster and easier. In essence, you will be able to free up the allocated SIM card slot for a physical SIM card if your device supports it. This is most helpful when you travel abroad, and you need a local number in that country to access their network.

However, there are some processes that prove to be difficult with eSIM, one of which is quickly transferring your phone number to another phone, especially if you frequently switch devices. Unlike traditional SIM cards wherein you just transfer the card, you’d have to contact your service provider to activate the number in your new phone. This could be cumbersome depending on your provider’s customer service.

Furthermore, if the eSIM in your phone becomes corrupted or gets damaged in any way, it’s possible that you would need to replace your whole phone. Because the eSIM is integrated inside your phone, it won’t be easy to pry it out when things go wrong. This wouldn’t be too big of a concern for traditional SIM cards, especially when the card gets destroyed.

Are smartphones ready for the eSIM?

The eSIM technology is still in its young stages, and only a handful of devices currently support it. There is potential for the tech to be implemented across more devices in the future despite only a few countries welcoming them. However, a lot of people still primarily utilize traditional SIM cards given the difficulties of using an eSIM.

In the case of the new iPhones, for example, you can’t create two instances of chat apps on iOS. So even if you have two numbers running at the same time, you’d need a separate phone for another WhatsApp or Viber number, until Apple comes up with a software patch for this.

In the end, the technology’s impact can only be measured once more devices embrace it. But, for now, let’s celebrate how the eSIM gave us the first dual-SIM iPhone and see where the future will take us.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

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All filters: Article 13 of the EUCD explained

Is this the end for memes everywhere?

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If you haven’t been on the web often lately, this may be something that has slipped past your radar. On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament voted to pass a directive that could change the way we approach the internet for years to come. But, consider first that it’s only the initial review, with a final vote happening next year.

What is this directive, and why is the internet involved? Why are people suddenly seeing #Article13 trend on Twitter a few hours after the decision was passed? What’s with this #SaveTheInternet nonsense?

Understanding the copyright directive

The directive at the forefront of this entire debacle is known as the European Union Copyright Directive, or EUCD. The EUCD hopes to streamline effective regulations towards the protection of intellectual property in the EU. It was first adopted in 2001, following the ruling during the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty. Earlier this year, another version of the directive was drafted with added articles and stipulations.

Basically, the EUCD seeks to create measures to protect one’s copyright on created content. The range of intellectual property that should be protected include music, videos, images, algorithms/codes, and even software. The directive calls for member countries to enact and implement laws that protect copyright owners. Eventually, such stipulations also reach big companies that operate within the EU.

You might be thinking why there is an outcry over it in the first place, especially when the directive’s purpose is clear. Well, there’s one particular part of the EUCD that a lot of people disagree on: Article 13.

The unlucky Article 13

Article 13 of the EUCD isn’t a lengthy piece of reading. The whole article contains three provisions for the implementation of copyright protection on websites that host user-generated content. The directive makes a note that these websites store large amounts of user-generated content, with the main purpose, if not one of its main purposes, of earning profit. Basically, any website that allows you to upload your own content and allows you to earn money from it is affected by the directive.

The article also cites that such websites should create measures such as “effective content recognition technologies,” complaint management systems, and tracking solutions. These measures should be readily available the moment users upload content on the website itself. With such measures taken into account, it allows content creators and service providers to properly engage in discussions should there be a dispute. It’s basically what YouTube Creators is all about.

Websites like YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as streaming apps such as Spotify, Apple Music, and IGTV (when monetization is available) are most likely the article’s main targets. The directive also explicitly states that non-profit service providers and online marketplaces will not be affected. So, Wikipedia and Shopee aren’t affected, don’t worry.

The ongoing debate towards copyright protection

For some people, the EUCD is inherently good for intellectual property protection. They argue that the primary goal of the directive is to protect users from piracy and copyright infringement. Through the EUCD, there will be systems in place that protect music labels, content creators, and publishers from any illegal use of their content online. For these people, users should be held liable for infringement of any kind (memes, remixes, and parodies are a few examples).

Furthermore, the directive not only affects users but also the companies that run these websites. It basically mandates companies to create better content recognition systems, or change their already existing system for stricter copyright protection. If they don’t make adjustments, they will be held liable for any infringement-related issues. What Article 13 does, for those who are for the EUCD, is simply a suggested improvement.

However, there are others who believe that the directive is a little too extreme and could potentially do more harm than good. Leading institutions and companies in the tech industry think that the provisions are too vague, leaving it open for interpretation. This has the potential for companies to abuse copyright claims without effective ways of intervention. Furthermore, any significant changes to already-existing systems would require heavy costs to implement.

The bigger picture here is how the directive affects the internet as a whole. Big names in the tech industry argue that it’s an attack on the creative freedom of users. Instead of allowing the internet to be an open space for the right way of creativity, it simply adds more filters and restrictions in the process. Basically, you can’t put up an Avengers meme without having the approval of Disney and Marvel Studios first.

So, what happens now?

The EUCD was put in place to protect copyright — a simple and basic goal. There is recognition that there are measures that must be in place to uphold copyright. There is no denying that big companies have to abide by intellectual property rules, or suffer severe consequences for infringement. However, a lot of people are clamoring that these measures are both vague and sound extreme. Not only does the directive infringe one’s creative freedom in providing quality content, but it also makes the whole process costly and rigid.

At the end of the day, everybody wants to protect copyright. The argument for or against the EUCD is already past the debate on whether protecting copyright is right or wrong. The debate now is whether or not a open source like the internet should be kept that way or be strictly protected at all costs.

All of these will come into play in January 2019, when the European Parliament casts its vote for or against the directive. If you have the time to read the EUCD, you can access the full document here.

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Play more, charge less: Huawei’s GPU Turbo explained

Better visuals without sacrificing battery life?

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Aside from using your phone to call, text, and take pictures, you now have the power to access the internet and play games with others. Instead of limiting yourself to Snake and Bounce, you now have online games such as PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends.

There’s just one problem: Not all games are playable across all smartphones. With the gaming world now expanding to the mobile scene, you would need a smartphone with the latest hardware and software inside it. Even if that’s not the case, you would need a smartphone that can handle long hours of gaming, as well. It’s an intense fight over what matters to you the most: performance versus efficiency.

Fortunately, the choice shouldn’t be very difficult thanks to Huawei’s latest mobile advancement: GPU Turbo.

What’s GPU Turbo all about?

GPU Turbo processing technology aims to enhance the gaming experience across Huawei’s smartphones. Executives promise that the tech will boost gaming performance while maintaining the phone’s efficiency. This means you can play games on your smartphone without sacrificing much — like battery life, for example.

The technology looks at the graphical capabilities of your phone and adjusts it accordingly, especially for gaming. With GPU Turbo, technologies such as 4D gaming and both augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are taken care of. Huawei believes that GPU Turbo will boost graphical performance by 60 percent, and can make even budget phones play graphically intensive games.

Apart from boosting visual performance, GPU Turbo also enables smartphones to maximize efficiency. One common problem across all smartphones is that the battery depletes relatively fast while you’re gaming. Partner that with a non-effective cooling solution within the phone, and it’s basically device overkill when playing games. What GPU Turbo does is extend your phone’s battery life by 30 percent and keep your device relatively cool while playing.

Implications on Huawei Smartphones

One of the key insights Huawei executives received was about consumer demand for a smoother mobile gaming experience. Because people want to play the latest mobile games seamlessly, they would want to buy smartphones that are capable of doing so. Graphical performance should not suffer in the slightest, especially for multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) and battle royale games.

The fun doesn’t stop there: With Huawei smartphones supporting GPU Turbo, other technologies such as AR and VR get a chance to truly shine. Huawei executives claim that GPU Turbo opens up opportunities for innovations like online shopping through AR or telemedicine through VR. At this rate, in theory, you could have a truly complete smartphone experience on your hands.

As of writing, GPU Turbo will take effect Huawei’s latest smartphones like the new Huawei Nova 3 series. However, older smartphones supported by the latest EMUI will experience the upgrade, as well. (View the list here.)

If you’ve been dying to have the full mobile gaming experience, GPU Turbo is definitely something to watch out for.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

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