As technology innovation continues, the digital marketplace continues to evolve as well. The challenge however is that technology is agnostic: good guys and bad guys all have access to the same tools, and they dictate how it is used – for good or for bad – raising concerns and plenty of anxiety over the emerging virtual economy.

Thomson Reuters and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children co-hosted a first-of-its-kind conference recently in Washington, D.C. The event, The Virtual Economy: Potential, Perplexities and Promises, was created to explore the issues, opportunities and challenges surrounding virtual economies.

Consider the many people in the world who do not have access to mainstream financial resources such as banks or credit cards. Virtual economy technologies can allow people to do business and build or improve an economic system.

That flexibility comes with some risk: Major issues are centered around anonymity, and policymakers, businesses and individuals are all working to better understand how to regulate, monitor and manage this digital landscape.

The virtual economy promises changes to emerging and established economies, including ease of payments through mobile devices, as well as fluid and easily transferable currencies. But it also is fast emerging as the venue of choice for criminal activity.

Renowned author and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh concluded the conference by exploring similarities between underground and virtual economies. Venkatesh discussed how justice, regulation and safety – which may not be prevention, but intervention – can be very different in these economies.

Venkatesh spoke with Legal Current about the similarities of these respective economies.

Additional coverage of the event is below.

FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery gave the keynote address at the conference. Her prepared remarks are available on FinCEN’s Web site at

Jerry Brito, one of the panel moderators at the conference, on the highlights of the conference.

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