IMAGINE IF YOU WERE TO WALK INTO A DELI, ORDER A CLUB SANDWICH, throw some dollar bills down and have the cashier say to you, “That's great. All I need now is your name, billing address, telephone number, mother's maiden name, and bank account number.” Most customers would balk at these demands, and yet this is precisely how everyone pays for goods and services over the Internet.
There is no currency on the Web that is as straightforward and anonymous as the dollar bill. Instead we rely on financial surrogates such as credit-card companies to handle our transactions (which pocket a percentage of the sale, as well as your personal information). That could change with the rise of Bitcoin, an all-digital currency that is as liquid and anonymous as cash. It's “as if you were taking a dollar bill, squishing it into your computer and sending it out over the Internet,” says Gavin Andresen, one of the leaders of the Bitcoin network.