updated 01:25 am EST, Thu February 6, 2014
Company allows price-tracking Bitcoin apps, but no transactions
Maintaining a reasonably-consistent policy it has introduced in dealing with Bitcoin- and other virtual currency-related apps, Apple on Wednesday removed the Bitcoin "wallet" app Blockchain from the iOS App Store, citing only "unresolved issues" -- probably referring to the quasi-legal status of the digital currency -- as the reason for the ban. The app's developer claims over one million users across various platforms, but the app was the last remaining Bitcoin-related program that continued to offer trading of Bitcoins on iOS, where it claimed 120,000 users.
Apple has allowed Bitcoin-related apps that do not feature trading, such as price-trackers Bitcoin Tracker and Coinbits. It has consistently removed apps that allowed Bitcoin (or similar digital currencies) to be traded in recent weeks. While the US and many other countries do not yet have specific laws barring Bitcoin as a currency, most governments have not recognized the virtual monetary units as legitimate, leaving a high probability of fraud and money laundering as a risk -- and no official oversight of the security of transactions. A number of exchanges have landed in legal trouble due to improper licensing and other illegal activities.
Blockchain refers to itself as the world's "most popular" wallet service for Bitcoins, but a growing number of countries and companies fear that when the Bitcoin market inevitably collapses (it has suffered several catastrophic drops in its short life already) that services that allowed trading apps will be sued for implicitly endorsing the system. Some countries, such as China, have banned Bitcoin and other digital currencies from being traded by banks and other lenders.
Apple had previously barred another Bitcoin wallet called Coinbase, and forced another Bitcoin app to disable transactions in order to remain on the App Store. Bitcoins can currently be exchanged for more traditional forms of currency, but are not backed up with any government's promise to repay or other instrument of value.
This has not stopped it from growing in popularity, in part due to the rise of in-game currencies that evolved into instruments valuable enough to players to exchange them for real-world currencies, and in part due to the 2007-2008 collapse of the western banking system, led by US banks abusing speculative ventures and lending laws.
The growing distrust of traditional banks has led computer users to believe that an independent and open-source currency like Bitcoin might prove a viable alternative. Blockchain has set up a petition on change.org to get Apple to reverse its position on Bitcoin wallet and trading apps.