Bitcoin wallet app in the works at University of British Columbia

UBC Bitcoin Club aims to promote use of cryptocurrency on Vancouver campus

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      Political-science student Parmida Esmaeilpour wants to see the University of British Columbia become a hotbed of research on Bitcoin.

      She’s the director of the cryptocurrency research initiative at the UBC Bitcoin Club. In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, Esmaeilpour said she hopes to learn more about the demographics of users of Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency that isn’t issued by a government and doesn’t require banks to operate.

      “Is it people from a higher socioeconomic background who are more likely to adopt cryptocurrencies?” the Burnaby resident asked. “Because when you don’t come from economic security, how likely are you to adopt something?”

      Founded in September 2014, the club aims to raise awareness and promote the use of Bitcoin on UBC’s Point Grey campus. A key to achieving its goals is the development of a Bitcoin wallet app for UBC students.

      Bitcoin wallets are used by their owners to organize their funds and make payments. In the new book Bitcoin for the Befuddled (No Starch Press), authors Conrad Barski and Chris Wilmer explain that a wallet is a collection of addresses and their corresponding private keys.

      Similar to a bank account number, a Bitcoin address is a string of letters and numbers. Once you share your address with others, they can send you money.

      Likewise, a private key is akin to a personal identification number (PIN). It’s a code needed to authorize the spending of money associated with an address.

      Bitcoin wallets can be divided into those using hot storage and those using cold storage. In hot storage, the private keys exist on an Internet-connected computer or device for ease of use. Cold storage sees the private keys kept on an offline computer or even on paper for greater security.

      As Barski and Wilmer note, people use wallet programs to manage their addresses and private keys. There are many programs available, each boasting different levels of safety, security, and convenience.

      “Bitcoin allows you to be your own bank,” the authors write. “But being your own bank comes with great responsibility and requires you to take serious security precautions.”

      Bitcoin for the Befuddled explains wallets and other key concepts.
      Courtesy No Starch Press

      In a joint interview, computer-science students Walter Cavinaw and Albert Kim, who are members of the UBC Bitcoin Club’s technology committee, revealed that they are working with the company Love Will, creator of the Pheeva wallet app for Android, Chrome, and iOS. In September 2014, Love Will launched a Georgia Institute of Technology–branded Bitcoin app for the iPhone.

      Cavinaw noted the club would like to see the Alma Mater Society and businesses at UBC accept and offer incentives for using Bitcoin payments. They also hope to gain approval from university administrators to use the school’s branding in a UBC version of the Pheeva app, which could be rolled out later this year.

      “I don’t expect there to be a whole lot of actual use,” Kim, a Richmond resident, said at the Straight office. “I don’t expect there to be a lot of dollar transactions. But it will be one of the most effective ways of getting the word out on campus, particularly if it’s UBC–branded.”

      Computer-science students Albert Kim and Walter Cavinaw are working to bring a Bitcoin wallet app to UBC.
      Stephen Hui

      Meanwhile, Michael Vogel advises everyone who’s considering using a Bitcoin wallet program to look at the mobile, desktop, hardware, and web options listed on the community-run site The Port Coquitlam resident is the cofounder and CEO of Netcoins, a Vancouver-based startup developing a web app that will make it easy for stores to sell bitcoins to their customers.

      Vogel told the Straight he uses the Bitcoin Wallet app, which features a “simple, clean interface”, on his Android smartphone. While this mobile app gives you full control over your money, there are web wallet services, such as Coinbase, which require you to trust a third party.

      According to Vogel, newcomers should be aware that their bitcoins may not be secure in the wallet program of their choosing.

      “I think diversifying and keeping bitcoin on multiple platforms—keeping it in multiple wallets—at least protects you from any kind of major failure,” Vogel said at the Spring incubator’s Chinatown office. “That’s probably the best advice.”

      Netcoins CEO Michael Vogel warns that Bitcoin wallet programs are susceptible to hacking.
      Stephen Hui

      In December 2014, Blockchain disclosed that a “few hundred” addresses held by users of its popular online wallet service had been compromised by a development error. A white-hat hacker withdrew hundreds of bitcoins from these addresses, later returning the funds to their rightful owners.

      On January 5, leading Bitcoin exchange Bitstamp suspended service, saying that some of its wallets had been compromised. The following day, Bitstamp announced that “less than” 19,000 bitcoins had been stolen. (As of January 16, one bitcoin was valued at about US$210.)

      The UBC Bitcoin Club is organizing a January 27 panel discussion entitled UBC Bitcoin 101, which will introduce attendees to the six-year-old cryptocurrency. The speakers will be Vanbex Group CEO Lisa Cheng, Digital Finance Institute chair Manie Eagar, and Quadriga CX director Michael Patryn.

      Cavinaw asserted that UBC is an opportune place to launch a wallet app because its students are among the “most intelligent” people around.

      “If we were to go just out on the street, you know, we might not get people who are passionate about changing the world or whatever,” Cavinaw said. “But UBC students definitely fall into that category. They want to change the way things work. Bitcoin is important for the future, because it allows people to do things that they haven’t been able to do in the past.”

      The UBC Bitcoin Club presents UBC Bitcoin 101 at the Sauder School of Business on Tuesday (January 27) at 6 p.m.