Overstock.com hopes to decentralize the stock market using Bitcoin technology


Overstock.com, one of the largest e-commerce sites currently accepting bitcoin, recently expressed an interest in using Bitcoin’s underlying public ledger technology – the blockchain – to manage, issue and trade company stock. And they’re encouraging input from cryptoenthusiasts.

The company published a webpage Tuesday that serves to explore how exactly cryptosecurities could function, along with detailing potential hurdles, and various decentralized asset exchange platforms currently under development. The page is designed in the form of a “wiki” that anyone can edit, and Overstock encourages others to contribute their ideas.

In this case, cryptosecurities would use peer-to-peer decentralized blockchain technology to essentially eliminate the need for third party stock exchanges like the NASDAQ, the New York Stock Exchange, or even a stock broker. The general public would have direct control of their stock trades, all trades would be mathematically verified by an open-source code and stored in a public ledger viewable by anyone. It’s a system that requires very little trust compared to the current stock exchange platforms. Such a decentralized cryptosecurity public ledger system could bring much needed transparency to an industry with highly questionable integrity.

“How a public company would issue a cryptosecurity has yet to be established,” reads Overstock’s page. “So as to reduce regulatory opposition a cryptosecurity should, at least initially, mimic as closely as possible the economic and legal rights of common stock, but because the characteristics of and methods of issuing a cryptosecurity may be novel, how such a security may be issued and traded, and the risks associated therewith, deserves careful thought. In sum, if these platforms are to become commonplace for the issuance or trading of financial assets, there are questions that need answers from cryptoenthusiasts knowledgeable in such matters.”

Hoping for input from industry enthusiasts, the Overstock cryptosecurity page proposes a number of questions regarding issues such as securities registration and insurance, record keeping, and cryptosecurity exchange.

Questions like: Do cryptosecurities of necessity create a different set of shareholder rights or, of necessity, a different class of shares? Or can they simply be common stock such as that which a company has already issued? In the cryptoworld, how does the system of stock transfer work and what becomes the stock transfer agent’s function? Is there even a stock transfer agent? Shareholders will be exchanging their cryptosecurities on a peer-to-peer distributed exchange. How should that work? Firms put various issues to owners to decide. There must be a mechanism to allow owners whose ownership is denominated in cryptosecurity to vote, and for those votes to be counted. How should that work?

Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne is an outspoken critic of Wall Street, big banks, and big government, but told Wired that before he decides if Overstock will issue cryptosecurities, he wants to figure out of it’s possible. And if they do decide to implement cryptosecurities, Byrne says that he will do so in a open-source fashion, allowing other companies to make use of it too. Overstock has reportedly engaged in extensive talks with the founders of one particular cryptoasset exchange program, Counterparty.

According to Wired:

“Byrne has long complained about investors using various loopholes in the financial markets to improperly boost profits at the expense of public companies and the overall economy—with Overstock even going so far as to sue some of the biggest names on Wall Street—and he believes that a new system based on the mathematics of bitcoin can eliminate these holes.”

The idea of issuing cryptosecurities and other sensitive assets through the blockchain, while revolutionary and paradigm shifting in itself, isn’t necessarily a new idea. But Overstock is the first major e-commerce company to display interest in cryptosecurities, and having the outspoken encouragement and support of a company who nets $1.3 billion a year in sales is a huge step towards decentralizing the stock market.

As we’ve seen over the past couple years, Bitcoin technology not only has the potential to overhaul the financial and banking industries, putting the power back into the hands of the people, but also has at least 80 more documented potential uses – each one revolutionary in its own right.

Possible uses of blockchain include the open-source decentralization of political voting, wills, escrows, patents, passports, court records, regulatory records, car keys, derivatives, and even the internet itself.

And decentralized stock trading is one whose time has come.

“Decentralize everything,” as the saying goes.

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