GNU and an outfit called “Inria” have released Alpha code – version 0.0.0 to be precise – of an anonymous-but-taxable electronic payments system they say is “a currency for the mainstream economy, and not the black market.”
“Taler”, as the effort is dubbed, looks to be an attempt to build on the concepts behind Bitcoin. So while Taler lets you use encrypted “coins” as a means of exchange, it is explicitly not a new currency. Instead, it “... uses an electronic exchange holding financial reserves in existing currencies.”
“This means that Taler is not a new currency with the inherent currency fluctuation risks, but instead the cryptographic coins correspond to existing currencies, such as US Dollars, Euros or even BitCoins.”
The technology is also designed to be open enough that governments can peer inside, levy “sales, value-added or income taxes”.
As a GNU project, the code is of course freely-available.
For now, the effort is in its very early stages. GNU even warns, in the announcement of the project's debut, that “There is no auditor, and hence components do not properly support auditors either. As a result, a dishonest exchange could embezzle funds.” There's also no real-world integration at present, “so only toy currencies are available for now.”
If you're interested regardless of those foibles, the 0.0.0 code does include “key components providing logic for running a bank, exchange, merchant and wallet.” That code is described as follows:
- Exchange implements the full Taler protocol, but does not integrate with traditional banking systems (only with Taler's own "bank").
- Wallet can withdraw and spend coins, but does not yet handle refreshing, refunding, synchronizing, or export of cryptographic proofs. Some error handling may be insufficient. The wallet was only tested with Chrome/Chromium.
- Merchant backend can generate contracts and handle payments, but does not yet offer full back-office support for tracking payments received. Frontend examples are available in Python and PHP.
- The bank can manage accounts, allows the wallet to withdraw funds and can receive payments from the exchange.
Inria and GNU hope to have more advanced versions of Taler to share by year's end.
When they do, it may well be game on in the cryptocurrency space: Taler's already used fighting words with its “mainstream, not black market” talk. Bitcoin's many admirers may take offence at that kind of language and point to strong adoption. Sceptics can point to security woes among Bitcoin exchanges, governance woes and the cryptocurrency's volatility as evidence that different approaches to electronic currencies probably won't hurt their evolution. ®