Alibaba to forbid Bitcoin sales on its Web site

China's e-commerce giant says selling the virtual currency will be banned on its site "in the interest of consumer protection."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

People can buy almost anything on China's largest e-commerce site Alibaba. They can snap up pirate themed shower curtains, weight loss slippers, and even bags of cement. But one thing they won't be able to buy are Bitcoins.

Alibaba Group announced on Wednesday that the sale of Bitcoins on its Web site will be banned starting on January 14, according to The New York Times. While the majority of site's sales are made via Taobao's Alipay system, a handful of merchants accept Bitcoin payments or sell the digital currency.

"In the interest of consumer protection, Taobao Marketplace has banned the listing or sale of Bitcoins over the platform," Alibaba spokeswoman Florence Shih told the Times.

This announcement comes on the heels of the Chinese government announcing that the country's banks are forbidden to trade Bitcoins. The government claimed Bitcoin poses a potential risk to the financial system.

China isn't the only country to be wary of the virtual currency. Financial authorities around the world -- including the European Banking Authority and US Department of Treasury -- are taking a hard look at the currency and whether it should be allowed.

Digital currencies aren't regulated, which is what worries government regulators. The virtual money can be manipulated or used to launder other types of money. They are also anonymous, susceptible to hacking and allow people to evade currency controls with ease.

Despite the skepticism over Bitcoin, the currency seems to be doing well on the market. It's been around since 2009, but didn't really get going until 2011 when it was worth $2 per coin. By 2013, the currency had climbed to $20 per coin, and then jumped to $266 last April. Within the past couple of months, it had another price jump and is now hovering around $1,000.

For its part, Alibaba is said to be considering an initial public offering in the US sometime this year. The company is wildly successful. In November, Alibaba broke online sales records during the country's biggest shopping holiday by reaching $5.75 billion in sales in one day. For comparison, Cyber Monday sales in the US in 2013 brought in an estimated $1.75 billion in sales.