The following are some of the major advantages of using Bitcoin versus other currency systems:
No Third-Party Seizure
Since there are multiple redundant copies of the transactions database, no one can seize bitcoins. The most someone can do is force the user, by other means, to send the the bitcoins to someone else. This means that governments can’t freeze someone’s wealth, and thus users of Bitcoins will have complete freedom to do anything they want with their money.
There is no way for a third party to intercept transactions of Bitcoins, and therefore there is no viable way to implement a Bitcoin taxation system. The only way to pay a tax would be, if someone voluntarily sends a percentage of the amount being sent as tax.
Unless users publicize their wallet addresses publicly, no one can trace transactions back to them. No one, other than the wallet owners, will know how many Bitcoins they have. Even if the wallet address was publicized, a new wallet address can be easily generated. This greatly increases privacy when compared to traditional currency systems, where third parties potentially have access to personal financial data.
No Transaction Costs
Sending and receiving Bitcoins requires users to keep the Bitcoin client running and connected to other nodes. Essentially, by using bitcoins users will be contributing to the network, and thus sharing the burden of authorizing transactions. Sharing this work greatly reduces transaction costs, and thus makes transaction costs negligible.
No Risk of “Charge-backs”
Once Bitcoins are sent, the transaction cannot be reversed. Since the ownership address of Bitcoins will be changed to the new owner, once it is changed, it is impossible to revert. Since only the new owner has the associated private key, only he/she can change ownership of the coins. This ensures that there is no risk involved when receiving Bitcoins.
Bitcoins Cannot be Stolen
Bitcoins’ ownership address can only be changed by the owner. No one can steal Bitcoins unless they have physical access to a user’s computer, and they send the bitcoins to their account. Unlike convential currency systems, where only a few authentication details are required to gain access to finances, this system requires physical access, which makes it much harder to steal.
Like any currency, there are disadvantages associated with using Bitcoin:
Bitcoins Are Not Widely Accepted
Bitcoins are still only accepted by a very small group of online merchants. This makes it unfeasible to completely rely on Bitcoins as a currency. There is also a possibility that governments might force merchants to not use Bitcoins to ensure that users’ transactions can be tracked.
Wallets Can Be Lost
If a hard drive crashes, or a virus corrupts data , and the wallet file is corrupted, Bitcoins have essentially been “lost”. There is nothing that can done to recover it. These coins will be forever orphaned in the system. This can bankrupt a wealthy Bitcoin investor within seconds with no way form of recovery. The coins the investor owned will also be permanently orphaned.
Bitcoin Valuation Fluctuates
The value of Bitcoins is constantly fluctuating according to demand. As of June 2nd 2011, one Bitcoins was valued at $9.9 on a popular bitcoin exchange site. It was valued to be less than $1 just 6 months ago. This constant fluctuation will cause Bitcoin accepting sites to continually change prices. It will also cause a lot of confusion if a refund for a product is being made. For example, if a t shirt was initially bought for 1.5 BTC, and returned a week later, should 1.5 BTC be returned, even though the valuation has gone up, or should the new amount (calculated according to current valuation) be sent? Which currency should BTC tied to when comparing valuation? These are still important questions that the Bitcoin community still has no consensus over.
No Buyer Protection
When goods are bought using Bitcoins, and the seller doesn’t send the promised goods, nothing can be done to reverse the transaction. This problem can be solved using a third party escrow service like ClearCoin, but then, escrow services would assume the role of banks, which would cause Bitcoins to be similar to a more traditional currency.
Risk of Unknown Technical Flaws
The Bitcoin system could contain unexploited flaws. As this is a fairly new system, if Bitcoins were adopted widely, and a flaw was found, it could give tremendous wealth to the exploiter at the expense of destroying the Bitcoin economy.
Built in Deflation
Since the total number of bitcoins is capped at 21 million, it will cause deflation. Each bitcoin will be worth more and more as the total number of Bitcoins maxes out. This system is designed to reward early adopters. Since each bitcoin will be valued higher with each passing day, the question of when to spend becomes important. This might cause spending surges which will cause the Bitcoin economy to fluctuate very rapidly, and unpredictably.
No Physical Form
Since Bitcoins do not have a physical form, it cannot be used in physical stores. It would always have to be converted to other currencies. Cards with Bitcoin wallet information stored in them have been proposed, but there is no consensus on a particular system. Since there would be multiple competing systems, merchants would find it unfeasible to support all Bitcoin cards, and therefore users would be forced to convert Bitcoins anyway, unless a universal system is proposed and implemented.
No Valuation Guarantee
Since there is no central authority governing Bitcoins, no one can guarantee its minimum valuation. If a large group of merchants decide to “dump” Bitcoins and leave the system, its valuation will decrease greatly which will immensely hurt users who have a large amount of wealth invested in Bitcoins. The decentralized nature of bitcoin is both a curse and blessing.