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Gab Seeks $10M to Decentralize and Use ‘Free Speech Money’ Bitcoin

Gab has made a bid to seal $10 million in a Series A crowdfunding round that will enable it to decentralize and integrate bitcoin.

Social media platform Gab has made a bid to seal $10 million in a Series A crowdfunding round that will enable it decentralize its infrastructure and integrate bitcoin (BTC) and Lightning Network payments. 

Founded in 2016, Gab has risen to notoriety due to a perception that it serves as an “echo chamber” for “extremist,” alt- or far-right views as it welcomes users who have been banned from sites like Twitter and Facebook for their alleged violations of hate speech rules.

More broadly, the site targets a user base of libertarian, nationalist, populist or conservative leanings — or anyone who dissents from the content filtration, anti-disinformation, and data harvesting measures enforced by mainstream platforms or “Big Tech.” 

Gab has long presented its support of crypto as one of the company’s three pillars — these being unapologetic maximalism in regard to free speech, bitcoin and freedom.

In its campaign announcement, Gab notes that it has accepted bitcoin donations — characterized as “free speech money” — since 2016, yet has meanwhile been “no-platformed” by payment processors that include Paypal, Stripe, Coinbase, Square, Bitpay, and others:

“Our plans […] are to integrate Bitcoin and Bitcoin’s Lightning Network tooling into our line of free speech products to empower our users to facilitate commerce, tip one another, and be more free from corporate censorship and control.”

Should it succeed to raise the funds, Gab will launch an open source social networking architecture, which is fully decentralized, meaning that anyone can participate in a group of federated web publishing servers.

A new “open source, free speech-oriented” Dissenter Web Browser has also been released, complete with a native ad blocker and a Comment Extension. As well as coming with integrated bitcoin and Lightning Network wallet functionality, Gab claims Dissenter can prevent the “Big Tech” tracking that happens on the mainstream web.

According to its crowdfunding campaign, Gab.com has almost 1 million registered users, with its top five markets in the United States (51%), Brazil (10%), the United Kingdom (6%), Canada (6%), and Germany (6%) as of 2019. 

The Gab app has notably been banned both by the Apple and Google App stores.

As recently reported, Gab was reported to be using the Cash App from United States-based payments firm Square in January 2019 to transact and receive Bitcoin (BTC) donations — ahead of its reported exclusion from the service. 

As well as reportedly terminating the personal account of Gab co-founder Andrew Torba, Coinbase also shuttered the merchant account merchandise shop of the anonymous international publishing nonprofit WikiLeaks this April, allegedly due to a terms of service violation.

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Binance DEX: Navigating Country-Specific Cryptocurrency Trading Restrictions

Binance blocks traders in 29 other countries from its DEX website but say affected users can utilize supported wallet apps or VPNs to bypass the restriction.

At the start of June 2019, reports emerged that Binance DEX’s website was blocking users with IP addresses from 29 countries. This news immediately caused confusion with some commentators, using it as an opportunity to reaffirm their stance that Binance DEX is not truly a decentralized exchange (DEX).

However, as it turned out, the initial reports were somewhat inaccurate, as the geoblocking only applied to Binance.org — the website for the DEX platform. Traders could still access the DEX via some supported wallet apps, bypassing the need to go through the website to reach the DEX service.

Responding to the issue, Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of Binance, advocated for the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass such restrictions. However, some commentators say using VPNs increases the burden for traders who might prefer to utilize other platforms that do not come with such encumbrances. Also, there is the little matter of VPNs being against the Binance DEX terms of service (ToS).

From the perspective of United States-based traders, being geoblocked from Binance.org might see them move to U.S.-regulated trading avenues, which seem to be shrinking by that day. Back in May 2019, Poloniex had to block trading for its U.S. customers on nine cryptocurrency tokens, including ardor (ARDR), augur (REP) and NXT.

29 nations geoblocked from Binance.org

Traders from the U.S. and 28 other countries will, as of July 1, 2019, be unable to access the Binance DEX platform via its website — Binance.org. This restriction, according to a pop-up that appears on the website, covers users whose IP addresses are from the affected countries.

Picture 1

With the impending restriction, Binance has advised traders in the 29 countries to consider using wallet apps that support access to the DEX without having to go through the website. These wallets include Trust Wallet, Coinomi, Atomic Wallet and the Ledger hardware wallet, to mention a few.

While the company does offer alternatives to traders in the geofenced countries, it provides yet another worry for traders in jurisdictions like the U.S., where trading avenues seem to be shrinking.

Related Story: Crypto Exchange Bittrex to Block US Users From Trading in 32 Cryptos

The lack of clarity from U.S. regulators as to whether ICO tokens are to be considered as securities means that exchanges listing such tokens might have to blacklist American traders. Already, the Poloniex exchange announced back in May 2019 that U.S. traders would no longer be able to trade nine tokens on its platform.

Announcing via Twitter on June 7, 2019, Bittrex, another cryptocurrency exchange, said it would be geofencing as many 32 assets from its U.S. customer base. The Seattle-based platform also identified regulatory uncertainties in the country as the reason for its decision.

Just like Bittrex, it seems Binance is also seeing the results of trying to offer services to U.S.-based traders in this current regulatory landscape. As part of its Twitter announcement, Bittrex declared:

“International markets provide the greatest opportunity for growth and the lowest risk of regulatory uncertainty. We will continue to advocate for laws and regulations that foster innovation.”

Despite concerted efforts from many stakeholders, the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hasn’t loosened its strict stance on what constitutes a security with regard to cryptocurrencies. Some members of the country’s legislature are currently working on the modalities for a bill to provide an exemption for digital tokens from securities regulation.

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In the meantime, traders from the U.S. and all the other affected countries would have to try their hands on the suggested wallets. Some may yet switch to U.S.-regulated platforms, even if it means having fewer trading options.

The other alternative for such traders is to use a VPN service to bypass IP restrictions. Even Zhao encouraged users to consider this, calling them a necessity in a tweet published on June 3, 2019:

Binance DEX ToS: VPNs and the decentralization debate

VPNs allow users to establish secure connections to a server, which can be useful for shielding one’s digital footprint from prying eyes. However, the most popular use case for VPNs is arguably to bypass geoblocked websites and other forms of internet censorship.

Thus, it doesn’t appear out of order to consider using VPNs to circumvent such restrictions as imposed by Binance. However, there is a slight wrinkle, as the use of VPNs is prohibited in the Binance DEX ToS. Article 6.8 and 6.9 of the document under section 6, which deals with “prohibited uses,” reads:

“You may not: […] where you are a resident or national of a Prohibited Jurisdiction or a U.S. Person, access the Site or any Services using any virtual private network, proxy service, or any other third-party service, network, or product with the intent of disguising your IP address or location.”

The Binance DEX document goes on to state that if the platform determines that a user has flouted such a rule, it reserve the right to address such prohibited use. So, why then would the likes of Zhao encourage the use of VPNs when they are clearly forbidden by the ToS?

Cointelegraph reached out to Binance for clarification on the matter but is yet to receive any response as of press time.

What happens when traders in the 29 countries who prefer to use VPNs rather than access the DEX via supported wallet apps begin doing so? Would they face any negative repercussions in the form of account suspensions or bans?

Perhaps traders from the affected countries would do well to tread cautiously in this regard and maybe stick with platforms regulated in the country, or avail themselves by using one of the suggested wallet apps.

Examining the ToS document also throws up some other issues, chief of which lies in article 2 — “liquidity and listing risk” under the “risk disclosure” portion. This particular portion of the ToS reads:

“Markets for Digital Tokens have varying degrees of liquidity. Some are quite liquid while others may be thinner. Thin markets can amplify volatility. There is never a guarantee that there will be an active market for one to sell, buy, or trade Digital Tokens or products derived from or ancillary to them. Furthermore, any market for tokens may abruptly appear and vanish. Binance makes no representations or warranties about whether a Digital Token that may be traded on or through the Site may be traded on or through the Site any point in the future, if at all. Any Digital Token is subject to delisting without notice or consent.”

The most important part from this is the final sentence, which says tokens can be “delisted without notice or consent.” Such a proviso hardly signals decentralization and calls into question the validity of the assertion that Binance DEX is truly decentralized.

Presently, centralized platforms dominate the cryptocurrency exchange space. Some commentators point to the difficult user interface employed by decentralized platforms as part of the reason why they have yet to see widespread adoption.

Cryptocurrency purists will, however, continue to advocate for decentralized exchanges for a number of reasons, such as their robust security and censorship resistance. A well-realized DEX network could also result in far cheaper trading than currently offered by their centralized counterparts due to the absence of any third party.

Related Story: What Crypto Exchanges Do to Comply With KYC, AML and CFT Regulations

One other major pain point of cryptocurrency trading is the increasing insistence on Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) protocols by regulators in different jurisdictions, which Binance has seemingly been incorporating on its DEX platform. However, as DEX platforms usually do not support conversions to fiat currency, it should not be the case that such a proviso is relevant to their operations.

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Binance DEX Will Geoblock Users From 29 Countries, Including the US

The decentralized exchange developed by Binance warns that it will block access from 29 countries.

The decentralized exchange (DEX) developed by major cryptocurrency exchange Binance will block access to users based in 29 countries. The DEX informs potential users of the restriction via a message that appears when accessing the platform from one of the regions.

The message appearing on the platform states:

“It seems you are accessing www.binance.org from an IP address belonging to one of the following countries:

USA, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Burma, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cote D’Ivoire, the Crimea region of Ukraine, Croatia, Cuba, Herzegovina, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, or Zimbabwe.”

Pop-up when accessing the platform from within the U.S.

Pop-up when accessing the platform from within the U.S. | Source: binance.org

The pop-up also warns about how trading and accessing the wallet interface through the website will be blocked for users with IP addresses from the aforementioned countries.

Lastly, the message also links to a list of wallets supporting the Binance Chain (BNB) mainnet, suggesting them as alternatives for holding and managing the assets.

Binance has not replied to Cointelegraph’s request for comment on the move at press time.

Many in the crypto community characterized the finding as an indication that the DEX is in fact not decentralized. A Twitter user well known among crypto enthusiasts, Whale Panda, commented:

“Reminder that it was never a DEX so stop calling it a DEX. It’s just a word they used to pump $BNB, it was never meant to be decentralized.”

A Steemit post dedicated to the topic links to a list of suggested crypto asset trading platforms that do not require users to go through Know Your Customer procedures.

As Cointelegraph reported at the time, Binance launched its decentralized trading platform earlier than planned, in the second half of April.

Yesterday, June 1, Cointelegraph reported that the largest portion of traffic directed at crypto exchanges globally comes from the U.S., followed by Japan.

At the end of last year, Time reported that bitcoin (BTC) has a substantial liberating potential thanks, among other things, to the inability of authorities to control access to it.

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Coinbase Bans Personal Account of British Right-Wing Pundit Milo Yiannopoulos

U.S. major cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has barred British right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos from its platform.

American major cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has barred British right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos from its platform, Yiannopoulos stated in a Gab post on May 3.

Yiannopoulos is a well-known political commentator and public speaker, espousing controversial far-right views and describing himself as a “cultural libertarian”. Previously, Yiannopoulos used to be an editor for syndicated American news and opinion website Breitbart News.

Yiannopoulos’ account on Coinbase was reportedly closed within three minutes:

Screenshot of Yiannopoulos Gab post

Screenshot of Yiannopoulos Gab post. Source: Gab

Yiannopoulos was previously banned by social media and networking platforms Facebook, as well as its subsidiary Instagram, and Twitter, according to the Guardian. A Facebook spokesperson reportedly told the Guardian that “we’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

In January, Coinbase reportedly terminated the personal merchant account of Gab founder Andrew Torba. A possible reason why it is hard for Gab to obtain a payment processor is purportedly its reputation for being the social network for people banned from mainstream platforms for hate speech.

Moreover, last April Coinbase blocked the account of WikiLeaks Shop, the merchandise arm of international anonymous publishing non-profit WikiLeaks, due to terms of service violations. Last December, Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks and international exile, urged donors to contribute to the online publication by using cryptocurrencies in order to skirt the financial ‘blockade’ by national governments.

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Major American Magazine Time Column Reports About Bitcoin’s Liberating Potential

Mainstream newspaper Time published an article illustrating the liberating potential of Bitcoin, especially in countries with oppressive governments.

Bitcoin (BTC) has a substantial liberating potential, American mainstream newspaper Time reports on Dec. 28.

The aforementioned article claims that “speculation, fraud, and greed in the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry have overshadowed the real, liberating potential of Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention.”

According to the article’s author, Bitcoin “can be a valuable financial tool as a censorship-resistant medium of exchange.”

Alejandro Machado, a cryptocurrency researcher at the Open Money Initiative, reportedly said that the fee on a wire transfer from the United States to Venezuela can be as high as 56 percent.

To circumvent such conditions, Venezuelans have reportedly turned to cryptocurrency, receiving Bitcoin from their relatives abroad. The main alternative is to wire money to Colombia, withdraw and bring cash to Venezuela, which according to the article, “can take far longer, cost more, and be far more dangerous than the Bitcoin option.”

Times suggests that Bitcoin is a good way to protect oneself from fiat currency inflation. Venezuela is prime example of that, with the inflation of their native currency projected to top 1 million percent. But there are also other similar examples, like Zimbabwe, where former president Robert Mugabe “printed endless amounts of cash.” But the author points out:

“His successors can’t print more Bitcoin.”

Bitcoin is also, according to the article, a tool to evade mass surveillance in places like China. That being said, as Cointelegraph reported in March, according to U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, Bitcoin isn’t optimal for avoiding government coercion, and he believes that the world needs a better option.

Times also points out the advantage given by the inability of governments to censor transactions or freeze Bitcoin wallets. In fact, Cointelegraph reported in April that WikiLeaks’ Coinbase account has been suspended due to a term of service violation.

Still, nobody can prevent WikiLeaks from using cryptocurrency wallets where the organization controls the private keys. In fact, WikiLeaks is still accepting cryptocurrency donations and also added support for Snowden’s favorite crypto Zcash in August 2017.

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China's Government Censorship Agency Is Hiring a Crypto Expert

The state-level Chinese government agency responsible for censoring media output in the country may soon have a cryptographer on the payroll – and with expertise in blockchain technology.

The research center of the State Administration of Press – which is directly administrated by the State Council – is looking for a cryptographer who “keeps abreast of the most advanced cryptography applications in areas such as blockchain.”

According to the job description published by the government agency on Tuesday, the ideal candidate would be a technologist with strong skill-set in cryptography algorithm and performance optimization.

Other responsibilities will be researching and developing tools for measuring the security level of different cryptography applications.

Although the job description does not offer any detail around the agency’s plans regarding blockchain, the stated requirement still signals a notable move by the high-level central government agency.

Intriguingly, the job post comes at a time when blockchain is being increasingly used to bypass China’s pervasive web censorship – often dubbed the “Great Firewall” – in an effort to keep censored articles available to the public. Examples include an expose of a firm involved in China’s recent vaccine scandal and an effort by the #metoo movement in the country to not be silenced.

Founded in 1946, the State Administration of Press directly is administrated by the State Council, but reports to the propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party. It is known for its role as a top censor with the remit of controlling information produced by all types of mass media in China, including TV, radio, newspaper and the internet.

Safe image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Pharma Scandal Prompts Calls to Put Vaccine Data on a Blockchain

A scandal around the fraudulent actions of a vaccine manufacturer in China has sparking a heated debate over the last week – and now the Chinese cryptocurrency community is suggesting blockchain as a potential solution.

The uproar followed a report from China’s State Drug Administration, which, based on a tip-off, launched an investigation of the company – Changsheng Biotechnology – and found that it had falsified aspects of its rabies vaccine production data.

The news immediately drew widespread criticism both in the country and internationally, amid fears that some vaccines may not be safe to give to children. The vaccine in question has been reportedly recalled and the firm has been ordered to halt production.

Alongside the public outcry, China’s blockchain enthusiasts have been using social media platforms such as 8btc to push for blockchain adoption in the pharma industry, so that every step of a vaccine’s production and distribution can be tracked on a tamper-proof ledger.

Notably, one of the best-known of the country’s crypto investors, Li Xiaolai, published an article on his own WeChat channel on Monday, arguing that vaccine production and distribution is, in effect, a public affair in China.

As such, he said, the entire vaccine supply chain should be open to all and a distributed ledger should be employed to help record every detail of the process – from who produces the vaccine, who is in charge of quality assurance, which hospitals did a vaccine go to and at what price, who has received shots of the vaccine, and so on.

The openness and transparency of a distributed database would help to ensure the public will remain calm when facing such a situation, Li added.

“With a traceable chain of data, it’s easier to hold people accountable once a vaccine is found with problems. … And for children who might be harmed by problematic vaccines, it will be also easier for them to claim for damages,” he said.

While a viable application that can track vaccine production may not be immediately available, Li continued, he believes one will arrive sooner than expected – and preferably on a token-free blockchain.

“In fact, the token-less blockchain technology has got pretty good prototypes so far. But given people’s misunderstanding of blockchain as something just for speculation, … it’s hard to put those applications into usage whether for government agencies or non-profit organizations,” said Li.

Bypassing censorship

If not so far for pharma supply chain tracking, blockchain has at least been used once again as a means to bypass China’s “Great Firewall” and permanently store censored articles.

On Saturday, an investigative article – called “The Vaccine King” and published on WeChat – listed the wrongdoings of Changsheng Biotechnology over the decades. Within a day of publication, the piece was blocked across social media and the internet in China due to sensitive information it included that the authorities believed had the potential to cause panic.

To counter the censorship, coders to have now hashed the entire article into a transaction on the ethereum blockchain, so that the original text is still available to readers in China.

Although currently opening that ethereum address on WeChat is also censored, access through blockchain exploring websites such as etherscan.io is still available.

The vaccine exposé marks the latest case in which controversial information that was blocked in China has been permanently recorded on the public blockchain to fight internet censorship.

Previously, an article detailing a Chinese version of the #metoo movement was also widely blocked in China, but was later encoded to the ethereum blockchain as a permanent, visible record.

Vaccine image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Crypto Exchanges Are Suddenly Being Censored In Iran

“Every crypto exchange in Iran [has been] filtered since May.”

That’s how one Iranian bitcoin advocate, speaking on condition of anonymity, described a new wave of government censorship that has cut Iranians off from vital links to the crypto economy ahead of a scheduled renewal of U.S. sanctions in August and November.

Several Iranians exclusively told CoinDesk they are having trouble accessing crypto exchanges like Binance, Blockchain and LocalBitcoins, even with virtual private networks (VPNs) and other workarounds that were already commonplace because of international sanctions.

It’s a scenario that highlights the complexities of censorship resistance – a country whose people are most in need of an economic lifeline are now ostracized from empowering services.

“Many people are using it [bitcoin] as a hedge instrument because buying BTC is easier than going into the black market to buy yourself US dollars,” said the Iranian source, a cryptocurrency veteran with deep ties across Tehran’s startup scene.

No speculative investment, the source is referencing how Iranian’s currency reached an annual inflation rate of 127 percent on July 2. (For some Iranians, bitcoin’s volatility appears trivial in the face of rampant inflation and political uncertainty.)

“[President Rohani] doesn’t want Iranians to transfer foreign currency, especially dollars, outside the country,” said Ahmad Khalid Majidyar, director of IranObserved Project at the Middle East Institute, a think tank in Washington D.C. that offers non-partisan political analysis.

Majidyar told CoinDesk:

“If [diplomacy] falters, it would mean there are more restrictions, and definitely cryptocurrency would be impacted as well.”

Most experts agree that the current economic crisis, one tied to international relations, has spurred Iranian authorities to seek strict controls on cryptocurrency. (A CoinDesk survey of 200 domestic crypto users revealed a majority used the tech for cross-border payments.)

In light of the political situation, the censorship has been a long time coming.

In December 2017, Iran’s anti-money laundering body forbid financial institutions from working with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. This policy stipulated the Central Bank of Iran cannot take “any action to promote” decentralized currencies.

Then in May, the Iranian Financial Tribune reported Mohammad Reza Pourebrahimi, head of the parliament’s economic committee, warned crypto traders could harm the Iranian economy if they continued to spend billions through international marketplaces.

Signs of censorship

Now, firsthand accounts from Tehran imply a quiet push toward stricter censorship is currently underway. (To date, the Rohani administration hasn’t issued any official statements condemning individual cryptocurrency users.)

According to a second anonymous source in Iran, however, it appears as though government censors are now examining network traffic via a process called “deep packet inspection“– a tactic Iranian authorities used in the past– to restrict VPN access to crypto platforms.

He said as of this week LocalBitcoins is no longer accessible, and that imported cryptocurrency mining equipment is also banned. Adding credibility to the assertions the government is behind the move, is the fact that cryptocurrency services providers say they aren’t blocking local users.

An Iranian tech blog reported Binance told one concerned user of the exchange platform that it has no plans to restrict regional services.

A Binance spokeswoman told CoinDesk, “the responsibility rests on the user” to use Binance lawfully, including both international sanctions and local restrictions. She declined to comment on Iran specifically.

The second anonymous source said buying and selling cryptocurrency with Iranian rials is forbidden, although people still trade with each other in person.

When asked to describe the sentiment among cryptocurrency users in Iran, he simply answered: “Uncertainty.”

Crypto-nationalism

All in all, these actions represent a stark reversal for a country that had appeared on the verge of a blockchain boom. (That same 2017 CoinDesk survey also showed the majority of Iranian respondents believed the government would actively advance cryptocurrency.)

Even as recently as February 2018, blockchain startups were working closely with regulators to consider a legal framework for cryptocurrencies.

Further, that same month the Information and Communications Technology Minister, MJ Azari Jahromi, announced plans for a national cryptocurrency. Majidyar said Rohani is still moving forward with this high-tech plan for a “separate financial system.”

Still, others think Rohani, Jahromi and other Iranian moderates may be mirroring the “blockchain not bitcoin” sentiment popular among traditional institutions abroad.

“Of course, it would be subject to the same sanctions,” the Middle East Institute’s Majidyar said. “But they just want to control prices even more.”

Since most international banks already shun Iranians, Majidyar expects this censorship of decentralized cryptocurrencies will worsen if diplomacy falters.

Yet bitcoin enthusiasts on the ground reported feeling anxious, not hopeless. Some continue trading crypto between acquaintances in exchange for local cash.

The first anonymous source told CoinDesk:

“They always find the way.”

Iranian rial image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.