It's been used to anonymously buy naked pictures of celebrities but it seems bitcoin also has a more charitable use. As Ciara Lee reports the UK's RNLI, a lifeboat charity, is now accepting cyber currency donations.
It's known for these dramatic sea rescues. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is one of the UK's oldest charities. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS REPORTER, CIARA LEE, SAYING: The RNLI is made up almost entirely from volunteer rescue crews operating out of over two hundred stations around the UK and Ireland. On average they rescue twenty three people a day, and lifeboats like these are launched over two thousand times a year. But along with its deep history, this charity is embracing modern technology. It's the first major UK charity to accept donations... in Bitcoins. Luke Williams is part of the charity's social media team and came up with the idea. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RNLI SOCIAL MEDIA INNOVATIONS OFFICER, LUKE WILLIAMS, SAYING: "The RNLI has been innovative for its whole history. We were the first charity to accept street donations in 1891 and I think it's part of a bigger piece of us innovating generally." Unlike conventional money, bitcoin is independent of control or backing by any government. That's led to calls for more oversight and raised questions over tax implications. Bitcoin started circulating five years ago and is accepted as payment by a small but increasing number of companies. But huge swings in its value, and incidents where clients lost millions of dollars have hurt its reputation. And that was a concern for some internal stakeholders at the RNLI. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RNLI SOCIAL MEDIA INNOVATIONS OFFICER, LUKE WILLIAMS, SAYING: "I think the main concern was about volatility or the price changes. But actually it was decided that anyone who makes a donation in Bitcoin is familiar with that so it wouldn't be a worry." For the RNLI, the online attention is also helping it appeal to a young tech-savvy generation of supporters. And the project has already banked the charity around two thousand pounds. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RNLI SOCIAL MEDIA INNOVATIONS OFFICER, LUKE WILLIAMS, SAYING: "Personally one of the ways I see bitcoin being used is for international aid charities particularly. The cost of moving money internationally is reduced using bitcoin because one wallet is a wallet regardless of where it is in the world." Mainstream use may be a long way off, but with some individual bitcoin donations equating to around £300, exploring new waters may well pay off.