Nearly half of all Americans know what bitcoin is but most don't trust the virtual currency, according to a new survey.
Just 13 percent of all respondents to a Harris Interactive poll said they prefer bitcoin over gold. Bitcoin has been embroiled in a series of controversies over the past few months, including inappropriate use and the shuttering of its highest-profile exchange.
Those negative headlines have taken their toll: The survey, conducted on behalf of financial innovation platform Yodlee, found that the more people know about bitcoin the less they trust it. People in the more tech-savvy regions in the West were better acquainted with bitcoin than those in other regions, but only 7 percent said they would invest in it over gold.
Men also were more likely to be tuned in to the subject than women, and richer demographics were more in tune with what was happening. On the male side, 63 percent said they were acquainted with bitcoin. For females, it was just 35 percent.
The cryptocurrency's biggest fan base: Men in the 18-to-34 age group, 22 percent of whom said they would choose bitcoin over gold. Older Americans trusted bitcoin far less than younger, with only 8 percent in the 65-and-older group saying they would invest in it over gold.
"Bitcoin has addressed some major opportunities in the financial system, but the vulnerability of some bitcoin exchanges, along with the currency's overall volatility, are still serious issues," Tim O'Brien, Yodlee's senior vice president of operations and information security, said in a statement. "Bitcoin will be hard for consumers to understand and trust on a large scale until secure, user-friendly tools and services emerge to make it as convenient and safe as possible to use."
Bitcoins are "mined" by computer users who solve complicated math puzzles. Users get an identification number for their bitcoins, which are stored in online wallets and can be used as a system of payments at dozens of retail outlets.
In Tuesday morning trade, one bitcoin fetched about $579.