Bitcoin is a pseudo-anonymous payment system that uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority or banks; managing transactions and the issuing of bitcoins is carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is open-source; its design is public, nobody owns or controls Bitcoin and everyone can take part. Through many of its unique properties, Bitcoin allows exciting uses that could not be covered by any previous payment system.
Bitcoin has several important features that set it apart from government-backed currencies.
The bitcoin network isn’t controlled by one central authority. Every machine that mines bitcoin and processes transactions makes up a part of the network, and the machines work together. That means that, in theory, one central authority can’t tinker with monetary policy and cause a meltdown – or simply decide to take people’s bitcoins away from them, as the Central European Bank decided to do in Cyprus in early 2013. And if some part of the network goes offline for some reason, the money keeps on flowing.
It’s easy to set up
Conventional banks make you jump through hoops simply to open a bank account. Setting up merchant accounts for payment is another Kafkaesque task, beset by bureaucracy. However, you can set up a bitcoin address in seconds, no questions asked, and with no fees payable.
Well, kind of. Users can hold multiple bitcoin addresses, and they aren’t linked to names, addresses, or other personally identifying information. However…
It’s completely transparent
…bitcoin stores details of every single transaction that ever happened in the network in a huge version of a general ledger, called the blockchain. The blockchain tells all.
If you have a publicly used bitcoin address, anyone can tell how many bitcoins are stored at that address. They just don’t know that it’s yours.
There are measures that people can take to make their activities more opaque on the bitcoin network, though, such as not using the same bitcoin addresses consistently, and not transferring lots of bitcoin to a single address.
Transaction fees are miniscule
Your bank may charge you a £10 fee for international transfers. Bitcoin doesn’t.
You can send money anywhere and it will arrive minutes later, as soon as the bitcoin network processes the payment.
When your bitcoins are sent, there’s no getting them back, unless the recipient returns them to you. They’re gone forever.
So, bitcoin has a lot going for it, in theory. But how does it work, in practice? Read more to find out how bitcoins are mined, what happens when a bitcoin transaction occurs, and how the network keeps track of everything.
Is Bitcoin anonymous?
Bitcoin is often perceived as an anonymous payment network. But in reality, Bitcoin is probably the most transparent payment network in the world. At the same time, Bitcoin can provide acceptable levels of privacy when used correctly. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your privacy.
Bitcoin is designed to allow its users to send and receive payments with an acceptable level of privacy as well as any other form of money. However, Bitcoin is not anonymous and cannot offer the same level of privacy as cash. The use of Bitcoin leaves extensive public records. Various mechanisms exist to protect users’ privacy, and more are in development. However, there is still work to be done before these features are used correctly by most Bitcoin users.
Some concerns have been raised that private transactions could be used for illegal purposes with Bitcoin. However, it is worth noting that Bitcoin will undoubtedly be subjected to similar regulations that are already in place inside existing financial systems. Bitcoin cannot be more anonymous than cash and it is not likely to prevent criminal investigations from being conducted. Additionally, Bitcoin is also designed to prevent a large range of financial crimes. 
Understanding bitcoin traceability
Bitcoin works with an unprecedented level of transparency that most people are not used to dealing with. All Bitcoin transactions are public, traceable, and permanently stored in the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin addresses are the only information used to define where bitcoins are allocated and where they are sent. These addresses are created privately by each user’s wallets. However, once addresses are used, they become tainted by the history of all transactions they are involved with. Anyone can see the balance and all transactions of any address. Since users usually have to reveal their identity in order to receive services or goods, Bitcoin addresses cannot remain fully anonymous. For these reasons, Bitcoin addresses should only be used once and users must be careful not to disclose their addresses.
Use new addresses to receive payments
To protect your privacy, you should use a new Bitcoin address each time you receive a new payment. Additionally, you can use multiple wallets for different purposes. Doing so allows you to isolate each of your transactions in such a way that it is not possible to associate them all together. People who send you money cannot see what other Bitcoin addresses you own and what you do with them. This is probably the most important advice you should keep in mind.
Use change addresses when you send payments
You can use a Bitcoin client like Bitcoin Core that makes it difficult to track your transactions by creating a new change address each time you send a payment. For example, if you receive 5 BTC on address A, and you later send 2 BTC to address B, the remaining change must be sent back to you. Some Bitcoin clients are designed to send the change to a new address C in such a way that it becomes difficult to know if you own Bitcoin address B or C.
Be careful with public spaces
Unless your intention is to receive public donations or payments with full transparency, publishing a Bitcoin address on any public space such as a website or social network is not a good idea when it comes to privacy. If you choose to do so, always remember that if you move any funds with this address to one of your other addresses, they will be publicly tainted by the history of your public address. Additionally, you might also want to be careful not to publish information about your transactions and purchases that could allow someone to identify your Bitcoin addresses.
Your IP address can be logged
Because the Bitcoin network is a peer-to-peer network, it is possible to listen for transactions’ relays and log their IP addresses. Full node clients relay all users’ transactions just like their own. This means that finding the source of any particular transaction can be difficult and any Bitcoin node can be mistaken as the source of a transaction when they are not. It is recommended that you consider hiding your computer’s IP address with a tool like Tor or a VPN so that it cannot be logged.
Limitation of mixing services
Some online services called mixing services offer to mix traceability between users by receiving and sending back the same amount using independent Bitcoin addresses. It is important to note that the legality of using such services might vary and be subjected to different rules in each jurisdiction. Such services also require you to trust the individuals running them not to lose or steal your funds and not to keep a log of your requests. Even though mixing services can break traceability for small amounts, it becomes increasingly difficult to do the same for larger transactions.
Some things you need to know
Some effort is required to protect your privacy with Bitcoin. All Bitcoin transactions are stored publicly and permanently on the network, which means anyone can see the balance and transactions of any Bitcoin address. However, the identity of the user behind an address remains unknown until information is revealed during a purchase or in other circumstances. This is one reason why Bitcoin addresses should only be used once. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your privacy. Read more about protecting your privacy [ Clearnet link! ].