Chinese search engine Baidu, the world's fifth most visited site according to one set of rankings, has announced it has started to accept the online currency, bitcoin, for its security service.
Jiasule, a Baidu division aimed at improving the security and performance of websites, started supported bitcoin payments on Monday to meet the needs of its users, the company said in a statement Tuesday.
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"Jiasule, as the innovator of the internet, has become the first cloud services vendor to support bitcoin, giving us richer payment methods and experience," the company said.
Bitcoin is a "virtual" currency that allows users to exchange online credits for goods and services. While there is no central bank that issues them, bitcoins can be created online by using a computer to complete difficult tasks, a process known as mining. Some 11.75 million bitcoins are believed to be in circulation, with a cap of 21 million-meaning no more bitcoins can created after that point. On Wednesday morning one bitcoin was worth just under $160, according to bitcoincharts.com.
"(Bitcoin) has already reached into our daily lives," Baidu said in the statement.
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"It can be used to buy a cup of coffee, or exchanged for gold and silver. In China, bitcoin is considered quite 'trendy'."
During the summer, predominant Chinese state television company CCTV broadcast a documentary detailing the digital currency and many analysts see that a key point at which interest in the bitcoin increased. Downloads of bitcoin wallets surged in the few days following the documentary, according to statistics from SourceForge, rising to second place in the global ranking behind the United States. Bitcoincharts.com has data that shows the Chinese yuan is now the second most traded currency pair with bitcoin after the U.S. dollar.
"It looks like the same trends we see with BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and CHina) nations doing currency swap deals outside of the USD as a way to hedge or outright avoid the dollar is now spilling over to bitcoin," Max Keiser, a broadcaster and advocate of the currency told CNBC, who now predicts the price of bitcoins could surge upwards to $300.
As for Google, speculation has been rife that the American search engine company might look to integrate the currency. Back in May, the company's investment arm, Google Ventures, opted to part-fund Ripple, a payment system using bitcoin and other currencies.
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Mike Hearn, a Google software engineer living in Switzerland is also working on micropayment systems that involve bitcoin, but confirmed to CNBC that the project was being conducted away from his professional duties.
In September, Jonathon Waller a developer at startup incubator BitcoinEAST in Japan received a response from Google indicating that Google Shopping Express were "looking into" using bitcoin as a payment method. However, this has since been denied by a Google spokesperson.
"The customer support rep in this instance was mistaken. All purchases on Shopping Express are made using Google Wallet, and we have no plans to use bitcoin as a payment method. As always, we're constantly listening to user feedback," the company told CNBC.
- CNBC.com's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81
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