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ICOs Could be Forced to Pay Back Millions Following SEC Ruling

Cryptocurrency, Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)–While the crypto markets hit a relative low for the year, with Bitcoin now trading at $3300, the news continues to worsen for the controversial field of initial coin offerings.

ICOs, the innovative fundraising measure that has capitalized on the speed of growth in the space of cryptocurrency, have come under fire by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission over whether they should constitute securities. In November, the Commission announced a landmark ruling which could have broad implications for the landscape of the industry, when it determined that two startups companies were in violation of securities laws. Two projects in question, including Paragon, had managed to raise millions by issuing tokens to non-accredited investors, a breach in which the SEC found grounds for legal action.

Paragon has since announced that it would be forced to pay back investors, leading to a sense of uneasiness among other coin projects which could be facing a similar fate. Crypto hedge funds, which made substantial returns on investment by buying into initial coin offering projects during the bull run of 2017, could be looking at a possible scenario where invested projects are forced to pay back investors en masse, leading to a conundrum for the funds which backed their development.

As reported by Bloomberg, the situation surrounding ICOs is further complicated by the fact that many cryptocurrency projects failed to register with the SEC in addition to selling their tokens to individual investors who lacked the proper requirements for accreditation. While some have hailed the ICO, token-issuing model as one of the more innovative processes to emerge from the development cryptocurrency, others have seen a budding industry ripe with corruption. ICOs allow startup companies to fund and issue projects to investors at a rapid pace compared to the traditional route, including the ability to sell directly to Main Street investors rather than going through venture capitalists.

However, with the SEC ruling potentially being applied to a broader spectrum of currencies than the original two announced in November, hedge funds which supported ICO projects throughout 2017 and 2018 could be left holding the bill in the event of investor funds being returned. Pantera Capital Management, a fund heavily invested in cryptocurrency, is one company in particular that is reporting a shaky outlook following the SEC ruling.

In a newsletter released on December 13, Pantera’s co-chief investment officers Dan Morehead and Joey Krug explained that the SEC had broad implications for both their fund and the ICO marketplace, with one possible outcome being a stifling of innovation,

“While we believe the vast majority of the projects in our portfolio should not be affected, approximately 25 percent of our fund’s capital is invested in projects with liquid tokens that sold to U.S. investors without using regulation D or regulation S. If any of these projects are deemed to be securities, the SEC’s position could adversely affect them. Of these projects, about a third (approximately 10 percent of the portfolio) are live and functional and, while they could technically continue without further development, ending development would hinder their progress.”

While most regulatory bodies have been careful to tread lightly around emerging industries, with cryptocurrency being a possible source of innovation for the broader financial and tech landscape, ICOs have continued to be a source of contention for the SEC.

The post ICOs Could be Forced to Pay Back Millions Following SEC Ruling appeared first on Ethereum World News.

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Brian Kelly Believes ICOs Will Be Held to a Higher Standard

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)–Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of the digital investment firm BKCM LLC and a regular on CNBC’s popular crypto-based programming, has said in a recent interview that he believes the days of ICOs coming out of nowhere to million-dollar valuations is over. Instead, he believes the market has already moved towards a more mature view of the innovative funding cycle of cryptocurrency, with ICOs largely being held to a higher standard than they were even at the start of the year.

In part, the new approach has been forced upon the market and investors due to the ongoing bear cycle conditions. Rather than being flush with capital from Bitcoin and altcoin bull-runs to end 2017, most crypto investors are having to take a spare approach to their investment, in addition to legitimate fears over where the price of crypto will be at the start of an ICO buy-in versus when the coins are actually released on the market.

Speaking in an interview with CoinTelegraph, Brian Kelly expanded on his view of ICOs and how he sees the market responding to such a shift. As opposed to doing away with the controversial, and at times outright scammy method for raising capital, Kelly believes the initial coin model will stay for some time in cryptocurrency, albeit at a change from current standards,

“It will stay,” Kelly said, “but with a little change.” He went on to add, “the days of a whitepaper and a dream and $30 million are probably over.”

Kelly also gave details on what he considers when reviewing a project to invest in, listing positive factors such as promoting activities that will increase network adoption, as well as having a strong presence in industry catalysts such as conferences.

Despite regular news stories of ICOs making off with investor funds or failing to fulfill whitepaper promises (the most damning being a study published in July that found 80 percent of all ICOs could be classified as a scam) the overall health of the market has been strong throughout the year. Since the midway point, ICO volume in 2018 already doubled that of the previous year, with developers in nearly every industry flocking to cryptocurrency to cash in on what they view as easy profit. At the very least, the ICO model does provide a fast and efficient way to raise funds for projects, as opposed to the more gated approach of raising through angel investors and venture capitalists.

However, ICOs also provide very limited returns for investors, particularly those who are hoping to hold their coins for appreciation or as a long-term investment in a project. Research out of the Boston College Carroll School of Management found that over half of all ICOs die within the first four months of reaching the market, with the vast majority of profit to be made occurring in the first two weeks. Investors who fail to sell in that window are not only exposing themselves to much greater risk relative to their early cash-out counterparts, but they also run the risk of the entire project collapsing or failing to gain any adoption via exchanges.

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Ripio Rolls Out Crypto-Powered Loans Across Latin America

Here’s something you don’t see every day: an ICO that has actually led to a shipped, working financial product.

Revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, Argentinian startup Ripio is making peer-to-peer microloans available today to all its 200,000 bitcoin wallet users in Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. The Buenos Aires-based company raised $37 million in an initial coin offering (ICO) last year to build the Ripio Credit Network, which matches individual lenders and borrowers across the globe through ethereum smart contracts.

Today’s full rollout of that marketplace follows a closed beta in which more than 800 loans were facilitated to customers in Argentina. Ripio said it now has 3,000 lenders on the network, many of them located in Asia, issuing loans for up to $730, though so far the average loan size is $146.

Ripio CEO Sebastian Serrano told CoinDesk:

We have people from Asia funding people in South America, which is something you cannot do with another [app].”

Previously known as Bitpagos, Ripio is one of the longest-running startups in the crypto space, with well-established merchant processing, exchange and wallet services. It entered the credit business in 2016, lending its own funds to consumers in Argentina, before pursuing this more ambitious vision for global p2p lending.

While the borrowers receive their loans in fiat, the new network is powered by an ethereum-based token called RCN. Lenders send the funds in RCN, a cut of the tokens goes to third parties involved in the lending process – such as identity verifiers, credit scorers and co-signers of the loans – and Ripio (and, potentially, other wallet providers) converts the RCN to fiat before disbursing the money to the borrower.

Unlike most exchanges and mobile lending services, Ripio’s offerings are available to unbanked crypto users. This is essential for Latin American markets where people have diverse but overwhelmingly complicated histories with the banking industry. For example, according to World Bank statistics from 2017, around 30 percent of adults in Brazil are unbanked, compared to 54 percent in Colombia.

Although the startup doesn’t have data on how many unbanked users are on its platform, a survey of 1,000 Ripio users revealed 19 percent didn’t have a credit card. They often fund their wallets by depositing cash at convenience stores that partner with Ripio.

With the credit network, however, they now have a way to build a track record of repaying debts, which could help them obtain financial services in the future. Further, “the entire lifecycle of the credit and the loan” is contained in the smart contract on the blockchain, Serrano said.

“It gives the user credit history. Even if the marketplace disappears the code will continue to execute,” he said.

To make credit histories recorded in smart contracts widely useful, Ripio has proposed a standardized way to present claims about an identity (e.g. “Joe made all his car loan payments on time”) on ethereum. Serrano explained:

“In order for it to work across products and networks, ethereum needs to get a standard for identity claims so that every project uses one or two claim standards, kind of like we have ERC-20 [for tokens].”

Cross-border markets

Over the next year, Ripio plans to expand services to Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay.

“Every market has these different characteristics, regulations, things you have to comply with,” Serrano told CoinDesk, “Things you have to do to make it easy for users to deposit cash.”

Political instability can create roadblocks, however. For example, Ripio once operated in Venezuela and still maintains staff there, but security concerns and opaque regulations forced the startup to halt operations.

“We hope to extend service there as soon as this madness ends,” Serrano said. “It’s become very, very difficult to maintain operations in Venezuela, legally.”

In order to expand, Ripio is looking for more fiat-centric partnerships like the ones it established in Brazil with Neon Bank and Banrisul. Since users are handing over cash, Ripio needs banks for storage. Plus, expanding such partnerships in each nation could provide crucial liquidity.

Santiago Siri, the Argentinian founder of a blockchain governance project called Democracy Earth, told CoinDesk that Ripio’s partnerships are already making an impact across the continent.

For example, through its partnership with the e-commerce giant Mercado Libre, shoppers and sellers can transfer funds between their e-commerce accounts and Ripio wallets, offering new avenues for people to earn or spend crypto.

“Large populations in countries like Brazil and Mexico are unbanked,” Siri said. “So companies like Mercado Libre have to find ways to do business without credit cards. Ripio has been leading this, allowing people to do payments [indirectly] with bitcoin.”

Serrano said 15 percent of Ripio wallets’ transaction volume, millions of dollars per month, now comes from Mercado Libre. Rosine Kadamani, the founder of the educational Blockchain Academy in Brazil, praised this partnership with the largest e-commerce platform in the region, as well as Ripio’s crypto-powered loans, saying:

“When we’re trying to get people in the crypto space, it’s a good strategy to reach people where they are already comfortable… Why not provide a space for peer-to-peer loans? I see no reason at all for credit to be monopolized by banks.”

Speaking to the demand for such cross-border conduits, Siri added: “Latin America is a very fertile region for the deployment of cryptocurrency infrastructures.”

Sebastian Serrano image courtesy of Ripio

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Civic to Spend $43 Million In Tokens In Aggressive User Expansion

Like all crypto projects, Civic, the pioneering blockchain-powered identity startup, needs people, lots of people, using its platform.

And, according to Civic founder Vinny Lingham, while the technology is all in place for the system to work, it’s this network of users that the company is still struggling to achieve. In an effort to spur this adoption, Civic announced Wednesday that it will be paying for all identity checks for users and business partners from now until the end of the year.

Well, at least, $43 million worth.

All told, Civic is allocating 333 million of its total 1 billion supply of CVC tokens, a third of which it sold for $33 million in an initial coin offering (ICO) in June 2017. The tokens will be transferred to Civic to pay for the cost of the identity checks, serving to bootstrap growth and stress-test the protocol.

“We basically said we’re going to reserve a third of the tokens to drive network effects,” Lingham told CoinDesk.

For Civic, every new user that’s had his or her identity verified on the platform makes it a little more attractive for the next company looking for an identity solution. In this way, Civic is creating incentives for more people to join.

Lingham has been thinking about the challenge of reaching critical mass since before his company conducted an ICO in 2017.

He told CoinDesk:

“Paypal got it right with the whole $10 free if you invite a friend and it nearly bankrupted the company. They managed to crack the chicken and egg problem doing it that way.”

Fortunately for Lingham, in the new world of crypto, it’s possible for a company to create their own money supply as long as the market sees future potential. So, Civic – being the only entity, currently, that provides the know-your-customer (KYC) verification within the system – will be paying itself in CVC tokens for the service.

Why now?

Civic has built up a lot of partners, companies and entrepreneurs that need to verify a user’s identity, the most well-known of which is Annheiser-Busch.

The two companies verified the identities of users at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2018 in New York City to distribute Budweiser beers from a vending machine to attendees of legal drinking age.

It also has a lot of partners in the crypto space, including ShapeShift, Hilo, 0x and the Chamber of Digital Commerce, according to its partners page, and it’s been able to enlist a lot of ICO projects who need to run KYC before selling tokens.

“We’re at the point now where the product is actually – we’ve tested it,” said Lingham. “A hundred companies have signed up to use Civic. It’s working.”

But it’s hoping that more will consider joining this year on the promise of saving a little money onboarding their customers.

And they’re preparing for that influx by investing in the future of the business.

For instance, the company also recently acquired the URL “identity.com,” the place that will eventually serve as the meeting place between companies that need KYC services and the ones that provide them. That part of the protocol hasn’t been rolled out yet, though.

Once Civic knows that its system is working with high volume, they will open up the platform to other verifiers.

When gone, sir?

So, how many identity verifications can $43 million pay for? The general average cost for identity verification is $2, Lingham said, but there’s a wide spread.

“We’re offering this for all our services, including the accredited investor test, which is like $60,” Lingham said.

So on its face, it could be feasible for the supply to max out before the year’s end. If in theory, the company ran out of all 333 million tokens before New Year’s Day, the promotion would stop early. Lingham argues, though, there’s really almost no chance this will happen.

“We don’t expect to use all the tokens in the next couple of months,” he said.

That’s because he argued, all those CVC transactions would register to the network as demand for the product. Then increased demand would drive up the price of the token, so each additional verification should cost slightly less in CVC terms.

While Lingham thinks the promotion will succeed in enticing more users, he expects to end the year with lots of tokens left in the reserve. If it came anywhere close to running out, though, the blockchain’s ability to handle all those transactions would present more of an issue.

“The bigger problem would be ethereum. It would make CryptoKitties look like a walk in the park,” Lingham said.

On Identity.com, “it’s literally just the verification you’re being charged for,” Lingham explained. Whereas, “the central identity vendors of the world, the credit bureaus, etc, they resell your information at a profit,” he argued.

If a new entrant comes into the space and offers consumers a different deal and it catches on, that’s something that could ripple out.

As Lingham put it:

“The number of big multibillion companies in this space right now, if we start putting margin pressure on them, we disrupt the whole industry.”

Fingerprint on keyboard image via Pexels (Creative Commons license)

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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ASX Probes Penny Stock Seeking to Raise $15 Million in an ICO

The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) has launched a probe into an IT firm behind a listed penny stock seeking to raise $15 million via an initial coin offering (ICO) for the launch of a cryptocurrency exchange.

Called Byte Power Group (BPG), the public firm issued a statement on Wednesday with answers to a total of 17 questions raised by the ASX requiring the firm to provide details on its intended token sale, disclosed on July 19.

Based on a release at the time, BPG aims to issue a total of 1 billion Byte Power X Loyalty Tokens (BPX Tokens) and plans to sell 25 percent of the amount to private investors at a price of US$0.06 per unit.

The goal is to raise as much as $15 million for the firm to fund the launch of the exchange, where the BPX Tokens can be further traded and used to offset transaction fees. The remaining 75 percent will be allocated for “pre-registered users of the exchange, company special releases, pre-opening and future marketing drive,” according to the plan.

As BPG aims to become the first publicly traded company in Australia to launch a cryptocurrency exchange via the ICO funding model, the move sparked concerns from the ASX over whether it is “in compliance with the ASX Listing Rules.”

On Aug. 1, the ASX’s compliance team sent a letter to BPG, requiring the firm to justify the legality of the planned operation, listing the 17 questions that asked about the status of the ICO, whether it had obtained any legal advice and more.

In today’s written response, BPG said it had already started selling the tokens to private investors in Australia and Singapore with a plan to further roll out the scheme in Hong Kong. It has not responded to a CoinDesk enquiry on how much it has raised so far, or whether any of the 75 percent of the total tokens would be further sold to investors.

In both of the jurisdictions in which it has started selling tokens, BPG claimed it received legal advice that the tokens are not deemed as securities, claiming they are not regulated as a financial product under the Corporations Act of Australian law.

As previously reported by CoinDesk, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issued regulatory guidance for ICOs in September 2017.

The financial watchdog said at the time ICOs that offer financial products should be regulated under the Corporations Act and gave further details on how it defined such financial products, stating:

“If the value of the digital coins acquired is affected by the pooling of funds from contributors or use of those funds under the arrangement, then the ICO is likely to fall within the requirements relating to MISs [managed investment schemes]. This is often the case if what is offered through the ICO has the attributes of an investment.”

As of press time, the ASIC has not responded to CoinDesk’s request for comment on the BPG case.

It now remains to be seen how the ASX will respond to the letter and whether it will take any action over the listed firm’s ICO activity.

Australian dollar 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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RAM It All: Rising Costs Are Turning EOS Into a Crypto Coder's Nightmare

Compared to ethereum, EOS seems to have scalable dapps figured out.

Users of decentralized applications (dapps) on ethereum frequently chafe at the fact that any action – sending a tweet, playing a card, breeding a cat – costs money in the form of “gas” and takes time, as miners hash out the new state of the chain.

At first glance, EOS suffers from neither of these issues. There is no fee to send tokens or call a dapp smart contract. And in contrast to ethereum, even when the EOS blockchain is processing millions of transactions a day, it runs smoothly.

According to the EOS white paper, these perks are likely to make the system “gain more widespread adoption,” and some dapp developers apparently spot an opportunity.

For instance, Kevin Rose, the co-founder of EOS New York, a block producer, an entity that performs a similar function to miners in other blockchain networks, told CoinDesk:

“I’m having conversations with at least one group a week about, ‘These are the challenges we’re having on so-and-so platform, we want to come onto EOS.'”

Rose mentioned Tixico, which announced that it would transition from ethereum due to EOS’ “better performance and scalability to serve high demand.”

Yet, the grass may not be as green as some dapp developers hope.

That’s because, whereas ethereum dapps can be costly for the ones using them, EOS dapps can be costly for the teams deploying them.

In order to onboard users to an EOS dapp, developers generally have to make sure they’ve secured sufficient amounts of three separate resources: RAM, which amounts to state storage on the blockchain; CPU, which measures average consumption of computing resources in microseconds; and network bandwidth, or NET, which measures average consumption in bytes.

And getting these resources has proved costly.

Yutin Chen, CEO of PandaFun, a game that recently launched on EOS, said the team bought 10,000 EOS worth of RAM or around $65,000 at current EOS prices. The company also staked 10,000 EOS for CPU and 1,000 EOS for NET. Although, Chen made it clear that most of the RAM would go toward an upcoming token sale, saying, “The game doesn’t cost that much.”

By contrast, deploying a smart contract to ethereum only costs a bit of gas, whether it houses functionality for a dapp or a token contract. The cost of deploying the ethereum smart contracts could be $1 or $100, but it’s a far cry from what it would cost on EOS.

Ultimately, that’s not only a problem for the developers, but also EOS users.

For instance, some dapps might begin shifting expenses back onto users, to the extent that’s possible. And others might do what would-be dapps on ethereum are doing, and decide to launch elsewhere.

RAM: Speculators and hackers

Arguably the biggest headache for developers right now is RAM, as the resource has to be bought at a changing market price using EOS, with trades taking place on the Bancor algorithm.

Each dapp user takes 4 kilobytes of RAM to onboard for developers. According to the current RAM price, that’s around $3.12 per user. RAM is necessary for other actions as well, besides just creating an account.

And as such, Rose told CoinDesk:

“We do not understand the total costs of onboarding a dapp user yet. I don’t think that that data […] could give us confidence in an average of sorts.”

Even before the EOS mainnet launched in June, an open issue of GitHub (which has received 60 replies since it was created) argues that the RAM model “simply can’t work if your target is to create tens or hundreds of million user accounts for your dapp!”

And at the time that was written, RAM prices were far cheaper.

Following the launch, however, speculators jumped on the limited available RAM in hopes of selling it later at a profit. This drove prices as high as 0.94 EOS per KB – eight times higher than the current level.

In response to the spiking price, block producers decided to double the total supply of RAM, adding 64 GB over the following year at the rate of 1 KB per block. This move has so far helped to calm the market.

The issue around RAM, though, isn’t just how expensive it is.

It is also vulnerable. In August it emerged that attackers could eat up an account’s RAM, using a notification feature to stuff the target’s available RAM with useless data. Developers can avoid this attack by sending tokens through proxy smart contracts that contain no RAM, but that adds another step developers must take into account.

The issue was serious enough for EOS’ chief architect to weigh in. Dan Larimer, CTO of Block.One, the company that developed the protocol and held the $4 billion EOS ICO, wrote that block producers could free up maliciously consumed RAM by enforcing the principle that “intent of code is law.”

While that rule is contained in Larimer’s proposed revision to the EOS “constitution,” a set of bylaws that network participants are in theory held to, the problem is that the constitution has not been adopted, because the voting system necessary to do so hasn’t been implemented yet.

CPU: WE LOVE BM

EOS’ other two network resources, CPU and NET, haven’t received as much attention, but CPU in particular could squeeze both developers and users.

These resources work differently from RAM. Rather than being bought and sold, they’re obtained through staking, in which a network participant delegates EOS tokens to a particular kind of smart contract.

When the network is not being fully utilized, participants can get an outsized amount of CPU time for a relatively modest stake. In theory, that should mean early adopters don’t need very large stakes for the time being.

After all, according to Dapp Radar, just a handful of EOS dapps have more than 100 daily users, so how strapped for CPU could the network be?

As it turns out, a spammer has stepped in to fill the void. A single account, Blocktwitter, has been “sharing messages comprising of 192 million actions, which is  about 95 percent of all EOS transactions to date,” said Tom Fu, a partner at standby block producer GenerEOS.

Nearly all of them say simply “WE LOVE BM,” a reference to Larimer’s nom-de-net, bytemaster. As Fu put it, the messages are “not important.”

But they’re still having an impact, due to Blocktwittter’s high CPU stake. Users, as well as developers, are seeing their allotted CPU times get squeezed due to all the spamming.

Fu told CoinDesk:

“RAM can be pushed onto users, however, CPU cannot. In this sense whoever executes the action needs to have the CPU staked in their account.”

A recent Reddit post by an EOS Knights player underscores this point. The user wrote that they delegated 10 EOS – $59 worth – to play the game, thinking that would be enough, but actually it wasn’t even close. EOS Knights suggests staking at least 15 EOS ($88) on CPU to play the game, but the Reddit user claimed that even a $500 stake would not meet the recommended required CPU time.

As such, Larimer has proposed a model for renting CPU and NET, which he writes “will lower the cost of using the EOS network.”

Worth it?

Yet, it may be overly simplistic to say that ethereum pushes costs onto users, while EOS pushes costs onto developers.

“There are use cases where a developer can write a dapp where the user has to bring their own CPU and/or [NET] and/or RAM to the interaction,” former Block.One VP of product Thomas Cox said, adding: “that’s one way to write an early version of your dapp that won’t bankrupt you if it suddenly gets popular.”

One thing that is clear is that EOS dapp developers will have to think hard about their business models, perhaps more so than their counterparts on ethereum.

In the final analysis, though, EOS might have its advantages, according to Cox.

For one, whereas a popular dapp like CryptoKitties can clog the entire ethereum network, EOS staking does guarantee a certain minimum access to CPU.

Another potential advantage is that unlike ethereum’s gas, investments in EOS resources can be recouped. Tokens staked on CPU can be unstaked, and RAM can be sold – perhaps at a lower price, though.

Finally, Cox said, ethereum dapp developers are “one bug away from bankruptcy.”

EOS’ arbitration system has been the subject of considerable controversy, but it does provide some recourse and the potential to avoid a DAO- or Parity-type fiasco.

As such, Cox posed, but didn’t answer, the question:

“What’s that worth?”

EOS with skeleton 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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The Fight Over Masternodes: The WTF New Way to Earn Money With Crypto

There’s a fight going down on crypto Twitter right now.

But while that fact alone should come as no surprise, this time the bout is a bit more notable given it’s between a number of cryptocurrencies using so-called masternodes. While the term is flexible, generally speaking, masternodes are defined as computers on a network – staked with tokens – that perform additional work besides just helping run the software that governs a given cryptocurrency.

The mechanism, while an older idea, is starting to gain some traction with significant projects such as ZenCash (now Horizen), Gold Poker and Zcoin using the masternodes. Plus, other projects – EOS and Tezos, for instance – could likely refer to the participants that verify transactions as masternodes (though they don’t).

The Twitter battle, though, is all in good fun (mostly).

At its heart, the months-long contest pits pairs of tokens that use masternodes up against each other to test sentiment and name recognition, all using fairly simple, straightforward SurveyMonkey dialogues. Its instigator is Brian Colwell, a blogger and consultant to crypto startups, and he’s amping up the drama around it.

“We’re running it like a martial arts tournament, but it has devolved into eye gouging, brass knuckles,” he messaged CoinDesk over Twitter.

Colwell’s metaphorical “eye gouging” and “brass knuckles” mostly take the form of supporter exhortations over email lists and social media, with the odd fun gif. But it’s true that many of these projects are in it to win it.

Called “#MasternodeMeBro18,” the tournament, which tests which projects can best rally their community, started July 3 and will run through October 28.

Down from an original list of 64 coins that use masternodes, the tournament just finished its third round where 16 tokens paired off against each other. The round brought in a total of 11,416 votes across all the matchups. And looking at the hashtag on Twitter shows that a lot of the projects are working to turn out their followers to support their tokens.

In fact, the fight got so fierce that some of the matchups in this round showed evidence of vote tampering. Colwell’s partner, OmniAnalytics, detected multiple votes from some IP addresses, so they re-ran the impacted battles in a one-day “sudden death” rematch that closed Tuesday.

The fourth round of the contest started on August 28.

So, what’s with all the interest in masternodes all of the sudden?

According to industry observers, including Colwell, the masternodes approach allows participants in the network to earn income that’s above and beyond token appreciation. This passive income is what led Colwell to not only become interested in masternode projects but to organize the tournament.

He told CoinDesk:

“I have always been interested in communities with an interest in yield. You’ve got to find a way to make money all the time.”

Like bitcoin’s old days

This idea originated with Dash (formerly “Darkcoin”), which needed masternodes in order to help run its privacy enhancing features. By staking some tokens and making a computer available to the network, users with a long view of Dash earn an income on their stake, in the form of fresh tokens.

To participate as a masternode then, a user will need to make an upfront investment in coins and in equipment.

“Running a masternode incentivizes people to buy up the supply and lock them up for longer periods of time, thus reducing the coin velocity,” Sid Kalla of the blockchain consultancy Turing Advisory Group told CoinDesk.

Yet, the funds required aren’t insurmountable. In this way, running a masternode is like hobbyist bitcoin mining back in the day, when individuals could mine bitcoin and still turn a profit.

Colwell told CoinDesk that he runs 20 masternodes himself.

He said:

“I feel like it gives me more control on a daily basis to decide what I want to do with my coins.”

By earning tokens from his tokens, he has something to sell when the price swells and a way to stay ahead when the market is down.

Most token-based startups that have a masternode feature rank in the small- to mid-market capitalization ranges (Dash being an obvious outlier, with a $1.3 billion market cap), and in a way they bring back the days when a regular person could participate in running a protocol without much upfront investment.

Pricing what node to master

But it’s not just that easy; there are metrics to keep in mind.

In looking at participating in a given project, Kalla said that buyers should make sure they will earn more than it will cost them to run the computations required. “The rewards should also exceed the inflation rate,” he said.

But the most important variable is how valuable the token itself is.

“There is no point in holding something for 10 percent gains a year in its native token if it is going to fall by 90 percent against bitcoin,” Kalla continued.

Returns on masternodes vary wildly.

Masternodes.Online is a site that makes it easy to see what the upfront costs and returns are for different masternode projects. Usually, masternodes have very high rewards (100 percent per year is not unusual) in their native token, in order to make up for their market volatility.

For example, if a masternode offers 10 percent rewards on a stake of 100 tokens, a user should get 10 new tokens annually.

Here are some examples of basic stats of some different masternode tokens:

Colwell estimated that a reasonable starting price to buy a stake of tokens to run a masternode ranges from $2,500 to $5,000 in tokens.

But “price” might not really be the right word, because the necessary tokens to stake aren’t lost. A masternode just needs to lock them up for as long as the operator wants to receive rewards.

Other kinds of income

On top of the rewards for maintaining the network, Kalla also pointed to token projects that can earn more than one kind of reward. And while many masternode-using projects are a bit more underground, the idea is starting to gain more traction.

For instance, Swarm Fund, the Techstars alum which raised $5.5 million in an ICO, launched a masternode program in August. Already, 9 percent of the token supply has been staked by interested masternodes, according to a recent update from the company. The idea behind the project was to allow people to invest in projects for which the upfront cost is typically too high.

So, in addition to validating transactions, Swarm’s masternodes will decide where to invest part of Swarm’s token reserve (later sharing the returns on those investments). The theory here is that returns on managing consensus will be higher early on and the investments will pay off later, giving participants an incentive to get in early and stick around.

“In contrast to other rewards systems, our masternode system actually increases rewards over a long period of time,” Philip Pieper, Swarm’s CEO, told CoinDesk.

Another startup, Eximchain, an FBG and Kinetic Capital-backed blockchain-based supply chain management push, is expected to launch its own masternodes soon.

For that network, it won’t be enough just to stake to become a masternode. Instead, after completing know-your-customer (KYC) requirements, potential masternodes will have to be voted onto the network by other members of the chain – marking an unusually high bar for the process.

But deciding who else gets to be a masternode on the Eximchain network is one of the most important pieces of work its masternodes will do. Those who participate in voting have to put up funds proportional to their conviction in the vote. Then all those funds get shared among the nodes that voted, creating another form of revenue.

These kinds of extra earnings for participating in a blockchain network are something Kalla said those interested in being masternodes should look for.

Signals and incentives

And just as money makes masternodes an enticing idea, for masternode projects themselves, Colwell’s contest is starting to look more attractive, too.

At first, the prize for coming out ahead in the contest was at most PR and bragging rights, but that’s changed. Real stakes have started to accrue for projects that perform well. Not from Colwell himself, but from a new startup called Kalkulus.

The startup was created to give users a way to run masternodes without actually needing to manage the computing themselves. So if a user holds stake in a particular token, Kalkulus will run the computations.

Yet Kalkulus only provides this service for so many projects. Not only does integration bandwidth get in the way but also they likely want to be choosy with their integrations so they’re seen as only offering the best projects.

As such, the company promised to provide the service to the four projects with the most votes in the third round – which were Solaris, Deviant, Phore and Rupaya.

As a masternode-as-a-service-type offering, many projects will likely want to be listed on the platform since it lowers the barrier to entry for participants in the network.

Like investors looking to buy tokens in a presale, companies like Kalkulus need signals to help them decide which tokens to provide the service for, and that’s what Colwell’s contest has become.

Colwell acknowledged that, saying:

“The ones that have strong social sentiment are likely to be the ones that have the most masternodes.”

Roman coins image by Nikita Andreev on Unsplash (public domain)

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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8 Blockchain Projects Enlist Early to Test Secret Enigma Contracts

Can you keep a secret?

For many blockchain projects – whose underlying architecture is a public ledger of transactions – that can be a challenging ask. But Enigma, a project incubated at MIT Media Lab that raised $45 million in an ICO last year, is hoping to make that possible by developing privacy-enabled smart contracts it calls “secret contracts.”

And in a sign of the broad applicability of that idea, as revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, eight diverse blockchain projects will be incorporating Enigma’s protocol into their services when the contracts launch later this year.

These “launch partners,” said Enigma co-founder and CEO Guy Zyskind, are already building on the current version of the technology, called “Discovery,” within the testnet, so when the protocol actually goes live, they’ll be processing user’s data without revealing it to any outside party.

Blockchains have always had a complicated relationship with privacy. Despite bitcoin’s early adoption by Silk Road drug pushers, the cryptocurrency has proven to be far from anonymous.

And in recent years, smart contract platforms such as ethereum have struggled to reconcile the public nature of on-chain data with users’ privacy demands – especially when it comes to sensitive use cases.

Enigma’s protocol is notable in that it works on top of existing blockchains. Sure enough, several of the launch partners – Colendi, Datawallet, Ocean Protocol, ReBloc and Datacoup – are built (or are building) on ethereum.

The protocol ensures user data “stays completely encrypted from the point of view of the network parties that are executing these secret contracts,” said Zyskind, while remaining “tamper proof” like a normal smart contract.

He added:

“If you’re thinking about true blockchain adoption, you’ve got to have both. No one is going to build applications where sensitive information is just live on the blockchain for everyone in the world to see.”

Stop oversharing

We live in a world of oversharing – from what people ate for lunch to what they think about their boss to how much they drank last night.

And while that has proven problematic for some, it’s generally seen as the prerogative of the poster.

But some data needs to stay private. For instance, Colendi – one of Enigma’s launch partners – is building an ethereum-based application for both decentralized credit scoring and microlending.

Bulent Tekmen, the project’s co-founder, said Colendi “requires sensitive information from borrowers,” such as bills, bank statements and national identification numbers. Not only does Enigma’s protocol allow such data to be run through Colendi’s algorithms in an encrypted form, it also avoids creating an Equifax-like honeypot for hackers to go after, he suggested.

This idea that some data is too sensitive to put on a public blockchain is the same reason Ocean Protocol will use Engima as soon as it launches.

While Ocean Protocol is creating “a decentralized ecosystem aimed at unlocking data for AI consumption,” some datasets, particularly medical data, cannot be bought and sold unencrypted, said co-founder Don Gossen.

As such, Enigma “makes logical sense” for Ocean’s marketplace, Gossen said.

Another data marketplace launch partner is Datawallet, which aims to let users monetize data from applications, such as social media, by selling them to advertisers, for example. The application’s goal is “complete user empowerment and data ownership,” CEO Serafin Lion Engel told CoinDesk.

In Datawallet’s case, Engel said, the protocol will provide Sybil protection, that is, prevent bad actors from spinning up multiple digital identities to swamp the platform. While plugging in existing social media accounts is a good way to provide such protection, Enigma’s Zyskind added, some “people don’t want to connect their Facebook account and give you their data.”

Enigma also announced partnerships with Portal Network, which turns wallet and smart contract addresses on multiple blockchains into human-readable IDs; Eximchain, a supply chain solution based on Quorum; ReBloc, an ethereum-based real estate data marketplace; 2key, a second-layer network that aims to disrupt social networks; and Datacoup, a platform for monetizing personal data, which is transitioning to ethereum.

More to come

Enigma has not announced an exact date for launching the Discovery network live, but Zyskind said that the deadline is the end of 2018. When the protocol is live, computers or “nodes” on the network will be incentivized to perform secret contract operations with the native ENG tokens Enigma sold in its ICO.

For those familiar with the Enigma white paper, which caused a minor sensation when it was published in 2015, Discovery represents an intermediate step to the fully fledged Enigma protocol.

The network described in the white paper would run computations on encrypted data using a process known as secure multiparty computation (SPMC), in which encrypted information is split up into separate pieces for different nodes to work on separately – while still encrypted.

It’s then reassembled into a final, encrypted result.

In other words, the smart contracts perform operations on the data without ever having – or getting – to decrypt it, so this approach is considered especially secure.

What’s more, even if all the nodes were able to break the encryption, they would all have to collude to reconstruct the original, sensitive data. A single honest node could prevent the data from leaking.

While that’s the end goal, though, that technology won’t be ready for the initial launch.

The mainnet launch of Discovery will bring secret contracts to ethereum, but they’ll be housed in what are called trusted execution environments (TEEs), rather than functioning through SMPC.

Zyskind said TEEs still provide excellent security, however, because “any input data that needs to go inside the computation, inside the execution, is being encrypted on the outside with a key that only exists inside the enclave.”

As for SMPC, Zyskind said:

“Expect it in 2019.”

Enigma machine 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.