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Meetup's Crypto Secret? Blockchain Scams Are Running Rampant

The line between crypto education and self-promotion has blurred.

And nowhere is this more evident than on social media, where imposters are everywhere and scams are rampant. But as crypto Twitter devolves into all-out chaos, a similar deterioration of discourse is playing out on another popular site for crypto enthusiasts – Meetup.com, the startup acquired by co-working giant WeWork for $20 billion in 2017.

Take James Moreau’s experience. The founder of the Worcester Ethereum Meetup had a self-proclaimed blockchain expert interrupt one of his recent meetings focused on how to use cryptocurrency wallets by passing out flyers for a crypto accounting services. Thinking it was inappropriate, Moreau stopped the solicitation but was later horrified to discover the accountant didn’t actually have any experience reporting crypto assets.

Yet, some of the more inexperienced group members had been quick to take the stranger at her word.

And Moreau felt some responsibility, not only for their potential wasted time but also the fact that should any of those members purchase her services, and then have problems later because she, in fact, didn’t know what she was doing.

This experience displays just how difficult it’s become to run a Meetup group related to cryptocurrency or blockchain, and moreover to educate in any form in the space.

“Around a month or two ago, I started noticing the same type of spam you’d see on Twitter,” Moreau said, listing questionable exchange links, giveaways and phishing scams among the culprits he sees on Meetup.

He continued:

“I’ve deleted the comments and blocked the users, but they keep coming.”

Meetup’s policy currently forbids groups that offer “specific advice or services in areas that require a licensed professional,” including law and finance, as well as groups that promise “financial gains.” But when it comes to the nascent cryptocurrency space, it can be tricky to separate education from blatant scams and misinformation.

So far, Moreau has dealt with about a half dozen problematic posts and direct messages, but he can’t be sure how many scammy direct messages have been sent to the 97 members of his Worcester group.

“I have people in my groups that are new and don’t know what a scam looks like in this space,” he said, describing newbies punch-drunk on headlines about quick riches as a ripe target for opportunists.

Online solicitation

And what’s more problematic is when users directly solicit others via the comments section of Meetup groups.

For instance, a Meetup user calling himself “Stellar Lumens” promised users of the platform an “invite bonus” of lumens, the native cryptocurrency of the stellar protocol, even following up with people on Facebook before Meetup shut down the solicitor’s account.

Zac Freundt, community manager at the Stellar Development Foundation, told CoinDesk the team at routinely reports such scams on Meetup and other social media platforms.

While this bad behavior appears far less common on Meetup.com, Moreau said reporting scams (which the company has encouraged him to keep doing) is taking up a lot of his time.

As such, he isn’t sure whether he’ll keep using the platform if the problem persists. In his eyes, some of the responsibility lies with the platform itself.

“It’s a paid service, so I feel like there should be some level of service,” he told CoinDesk, adding:

“I’m thinking about whether Meetup is a good platform for me to organize around anymore, then again, I don’t know what my options are otherwise.”

Meetup did not reply to requests for comment.

Currently, Moreau is hoping to address some of the issuers by exploring an option to review prospective members before allowing them to join the group.

Lawson Baker, a former attorney turned founder of the cryptocurrency consulting firm RelayZero, echoed Moreau, saying Meetup.com should deal with these scammy and spammy issues, whether through moderation policies or other solutions.

Although, the moves of platforms like Facebook, which banned all advertisements related to cryptocurrency, are also not the best solution.

“It’s a fine line to walk between censorship and consumer protection,” said Moreau. “Somebody sharing their opinion about cryptocurrency could be misconstrued as spam or financial advice. I don’t know what the best solution is yet.”

In-person pumps

It’s not only online where dodgy promotion happens.

Going one step further from Moreau’s example, a Stellar Meetup in San Francisco in April left Baker feeling uneasy.

During that Meetup, hosted by Boris Reznikov, director of partnerships at Stellar, the co-founders of real estate startup Slice not only talked about what the company’s aims were but also offered a guide to buying “slice” tokens and referred to upcoming portfolio options.

The event’s comment section is full of people posting links to similar blockchain projects and asking about free lumen giveaways.

According to Freundt, “Our meetups are purely focused on educating the public about the technology and use cases of stellar. We do not offer any investment advice.”

But Baker said the Slice executive’s presentation kind of was.

“They put all the disclaimers that this was not a solicitation. Even though, honestly, that’s basically what they are doing,” he told CoinDesk.

On the other hand, though, startup pitches and discussions about what crypto assets have real long-term value are a normal and much-needed part of the cryptocurrency community.

But Baker said organizers of these events have to be careful and vet guest speakers diligently.

“There’s always bad actors, and then there’s a whole bunch of stuff that is just really bad projects. Sometimes it’s hard to identify that in a three-minute talk on why you should invest in it,” Baker said.

As such, Hannah Rosenberg, co-organizer of the Bitcoin & Open Blockchain Meetup group in Chicago, which has more than 2,550 members, takes a more stringent approach.

“We don’t do ICO stuff,” Rosenberg told CoinDesk, adding:

“I’ve no problem with it in theory. But some of what has been going on is madness. So we just don’t touch ICOs.”

Meetup 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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Singapore Hosts The Biggest Fintech Meetup Ever

Singapore – home to some 400 fintech startups and 100+ financial institutions–is more ambitious than ever to take the global fintech hub crown. The government-led, corporation sponsored Fintech Festival is into its second year, this time bigger and better than last.

Totalling five days from Nov. 13-17, the festival event welcomes attendees with its warm tropical weather on the small island state. I was lucky enough to be invited as a media member to witness the biggest get-together of every player in the fintech ecosystem: startups, investors, financial institutions, corporations and government agencies.

It’s always summer in Singapore. Photo credit: Lucia Ziyuan

It’s always summer in Singapore. Photo credit: Lucia Ziyuan

Covering everything trending and topical in fintech from distributed ledger technology to regulatory risk, we are seeing highly prestigious speakers and government officials making appearances at the event. While it would be impossible to report back every detail, I will try my best to highlight the noteworthy in this article.

The festival experience

The festival was an indoor event that took up three exposition halls at the Singapore Expo. Upon arrival, the event arena was already buzzing with delegates of all sorts of nationalities chattering in every accent imaginable. After registration, I was immediately greeted by huge showcase booths from festival sponsors: Deloitte, Prudential and KPMG among others.

Corporate sponsor booths like Deloitte’s take up the majority of exhibition real estate

Corporate sponsor booths like Deloitte’s take up the majority of exhibition real estate

Compared to other fintech events I’ve been to, the booths at this festival were way more creative and inviting with genuinely exciting new technologies on display. Deloitte, for example, showcased their voice and tone recognition technology for mitigating risk. PayNow-the biggest peer-to-peer payment network in Singapore–exhibited how money can be moved instantly with just the recipient’s phone number with an experiential showcase.

There is definitely no lack of happenings for the week celebration. The festival breaks down into three main types of events and many smaller segments running concurrently. There was so much going on every minute at every corner of the venue that one can easily be held back by FOMO.  Just as I headed towards an intriguing conference talk about the open ledger, at the same time there is another exciting, inclusive fintech talk happening on a different stage.

While the crowded floors are a little challenging to navigate and too many events happening concurrently, with the help of the official event app I was able to plan and bookmark events that interest me beforehand. Even conference talks I attended were a full house–people were standing around for these hour-long talks. The crowd enthusiasm was amazing.  

SFF event app. Image source: Google Playstore

SFF event app. Image source: Google Playstore

There were also several workstations and lounge areas to chill out and have a chat, along with abundant food options, thanks to the varieties the Southeast Asian food capital has to offer. I even bought a pre-packaged customizable salad from a vending machine using touchless payment and thought of Nick Szabo’s famous smart contract as vending machine analogy. What a fintech moment.

cashless payment at salad vending machine. Photo credit: Lucia Ziyuan

cashless payment at salad vending machine. Photo credit: Lucia Ziyuan

Fintech Sandbox–a top-down approach to innovation

As the official host, the presence of Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) looms large throughout the whole event. The government agency’s ambition to take a top-down approach to innovation was pronounced–there is even a dedicated fintech arm within the organization called “Fintech and Innovation” group.

Most notably, MAS is known for their bold experiments within the fintech regulatory sandbox. If you haven’t heard of it, the Fintech Sandbox is where MAS gives the green light to test out new products or solutions in a controlled environment in instances where these new ideas would not have passed regulators’ scrutiny to go ahead.

At the festival, MAS Sandbox came to life with a sandbox stage literally build with real sand. In a speech by Mr. Ong Ye Kung, minister for education and second minister for defense, we had a glimpse of what a structured liberal regulation framework would work for financial innovation.

Sandbox literally made out of sand as open stage. Photo credit: lucia ziyuan

Sandbox literally made out of sand as open stage. Photo credit: lucia ziyuan

Mr. Ong cited the example of PolicyPal, the first graduate of the MAS fintech sandbox and now a licensed insurance broker after testing its solution in the sandbox with a limited pool of users. He further mentioned that MAS will “further loosen the regulatory boundaries for sandbox cases where the risks do not outweigh the potential benefits of the solution to consumers.” That would mean even a bigger playground for cutting-edge fintech innovators.

Other MAS-led innovation initiatives include partnership with MIT Media Lab on key areas including Distributed Ledger Technology, the global Hackcelerator program and MAS Fintech Awards for which projects in and outside of Singapore were rewarded with generous cash prize.

Fintech is maturing

While there is still a lot of hype around emerging fintechs such as ICO and AI bots, we get the sense from conferences and speeches that fintech is maturing now with a more “grown-up” attitude.

For one, more innovations are happening in the traditional, seemingly “undisruptable” section such as RegTech and Insurtech. On the other, fintech makers’ attitudes towards regulation is loosening up. Fewer people are talking about disrupting, and the many mid-stage fintech ventures are seeking alignment of interest with regulators and financial institutions.

At a panel discussion titled “Alternative Payments: Beyond Hype,” Brad Garlinghouse from Ripple, Taavet Hinrikus from Transferwise and Tim Grant from DrumG sat down to talk about altcoins and more. When asked if society will be going cashless, all of them said fiat is not going away anytime soon. Talking about the role of financial institution in fintech innovation, all three expressed positive sentiments towards working with regulators. Taavet Hinrikus said that “tech entrepreneurs are getting better at dealing with entrepreneurs. Turns out regulators listen to you.” Brad Garlinghouse went a step further to say that it’s “important for the industry to be proactive and talk to regulators.”

Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple, breaking down altcoin hype for the audience. Photo credit: Lucia Ziyuan

Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple, breaking down altcoin hype for the audience. Photo credit: Lucia Ziyuan

And political leaders are watching fintech closely too. In a speech on financial inclusion by Queen Maxima of the Netherlands given at the festival, her majesty gave 9 pointers for successful inclusion of fintech: data privacy, cyber security, digital literacy, financial literacy, digital ID, connectivity, interoperability, fair competition and physical infrastructure. You have to agree that these are very on point insights.

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And governments are going out of their way to compete for innovation solutions. At the closing talk by the Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, we saw the government’s efforts to position Tokyo as a desirable destination for financial innovation such as financial awards and advertisements much like a promotional outdoor ad for tourism.

Conclusion

30,000+ participants, 100+ nationalities–this year’s fintech festival has to be the biggest industry event in recent history. It’s promising to see such strong growth and shared enthusiasm in this industry. There is no doubt that fintech will continue to make big waves in 2018.

But we also walked away with more questions than answers. Despite the globally shared language in fintech, there is no commonly agreed approach to fintech innovation as the regulatory environment in each country is very different. What does it mean for financial inclusion to scale? What would true interoperability look like especially on the Blockchain? What does it mean for innovators to work with regulators on building infrastructures, and how?

Perhaps at the speed we are moving forward with technology, we will see the answers reveals themselves at the next fintech festival.

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How is Blockchain in Asia? BlockShow Meetup Conclusions

After the tremendous success of BlockShow Europe in April, we were all set and excited for our next adventure – BlockShow Asia 2017!

As the continents changed, so did the cities, people and cultures – but one thing stayed the same – the BlockShow vibe. This time BlockShow comes with a new motto: “Window to the Global Blockchain World.” This means that in a few short weeks we are going to build a bridge between the Eastern and the Western parts of the Global Blockchain ecosystem.

That’s why we traveled across five cities in five countries to meet the actual Blockchain community out there and also bring together the most promising and innovative Blockchain startups. Wherever we went, we were welcomed by the local Blockchain enthusiasts and experts with open arms and valuable knowledge.

In all the countries we were joined by the movers and shakers of the industry who have been involved with Blockchain for many years. For instance, Nicolas Cary, co-founder of Blockchain.info, accompanied us at our New Delhi meetup and shared his valuable insights on the Blockchain industry.

Meetups across the continent

Malaysia

Our journey began from the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Followed by Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and finally the most colorful one, New Delhi.  

Currently in Malaysia, Bitcoin is not considered as a currency. Players in Malaysia think that regulation is to blame for the slow adoption of Blockchain in Malaysia. Gary Goh of Metlife says:

“Anything that touches customer information or privacy would stoke lots of discussions, especially when the technology stems from Bitcoin, which is not largely accepted in Malaysia.”

Despite this, fintech in Malaysia is on the rise. Malaysian banks are actively taking proactive steps to encourage Blockchain development in Malaysia.

MiGHT, the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology is planting roots in Malaysia and providing a beautiful future for Blockchain in the country. The MiGHT Blockchain Programme director Mastura Ishak commented:

“We are seeing an encouraging response from foreign players who are interested in setting up centers of excellence for Blockchain here to educate the younger generation.”

During our visit to Malaysia, we were lucky to speak with Mastura Ishak from the Malaysian government, who gave us insight on how Malaysia is planning to go about ICO and cryptocurrency regulations in the country.

When asked what people think of ICO’s at BlockShow Meetup in Kuala Lumpur Mastura Ishak commented: “It feels very good, it’s very refreshing, and there’s a lot of potentials that you guys (BlockShow) are showing here.”

Mastura Ishak hold lots of promise in Malaysia in educating and allowing Blockchain to thrive in the future. We are grateful that we can provide some new refreshing perspectives to her as well to breathe more life into the Blockchain industry in Malaysia.

Singapore

In Singapore, we got a chance to catch up with Anson Zeall, Chairman of ACCESS – Singapore’s Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Industry Association. He provided valuable insight on how ready Singapore is to play a major role in the future of the Blockchain industry. Zeall believes Blockchain should be seen as a useful tool to aid current business processes instead of replacing them.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was filled with people from the Blockchain industry. Simon Dixon, CEO and Founder of BnkToTheFuture.com, was also present and told us how Japan and Korean markets are benefiting because to Chinese traders moving out of the country.

According to Simon, Bitcoin, Blockchain and crypto will have the biggest impact in Asia.

“I think it’s gonna be the first country or region, we are here in Hong Kong, and its going across Singapore and everywhere else in Asia. I believe Bitcoin and Blockchain have the most to offer and will be adopted first in Asia.”

If he saw Satoshi Nakamoto, he told us he would “thank him for remaining anonymous and thank him for actually creating the technology that I believe is the most significant invention since the Internet. And the application of the Internet that changes everything across Wall Street, across banking, across the financial sector.”

We agree with Dixon in his view, as without this technology none of the remarkable ideas that have come to life as of recently would be possible. Satoshi Nakamoto has given a great gift to change the world in how we know in ease of use and changing many sectors outside of the financial sector in ways we never imagined before. The team is excited to host BlockShow Asia in Singapore as it holds a significant strategic point in terms of Blockchain development in Asia.

India

Nicolas Cary, co-founder at Blockchain Labs, was super stoked to come to our New Delhi meetup. He shared the stage with Addy Creeze, CEO of BlockShow, to discuss how Blockchain technology will evolve in the coming years.

When he was asked whether or not regulation is good for the industry, Nic said:

“To me, regulation is all about protecting consumers, and in some situations it definitely makes sense. Governments have an important responsibility to create an open space for people to be able to experiment and test in a safe way. So we welcome thought for regulation to drive innovation and we think this will happen in India. We’ve seen it happen in various countries already.”

There was a very diverse crowd in Delhi, from investors to developers to college students. It was a one of a kind experience to see them all interact one place. We were fortunate enough to reach so many individuals and are hopeful that Nic’s thoughts will bring revolutionary thinking and a change in regulation along with further development in the region.

The takeaway

On our Meetup journey, we were joined by more than 1,000 guests from around the world in five different venues. Looking back, some special moments will stay with us forever.

For instance, when Philip McMaster, one of the well-known personalities of the Republic of Conscience, came to the event with his famous Panda. It gave the event a special vibe, which is hard to describe in words.

PANDA

The Q&A session between the startups and the audience at the end of every pitch was something beyond our expectations. It was stellar that the audience was well aware of how Blockchain products work and provided us with relevant issues and questions about the Blockchain.

All the prominent speakers have led us to the conclusion that the Blockchain will thrive and have a huge positive impact on Asia. Anson Zeall has high hopes for the Blockchain in Singapore and its implementation in business. Simon Dixon and Nicolas Cary both believe regulation and adoption of cryptocurrencies will help the Blockchain thrive throughout Asia and India. We even have high hopes that China will also hop on board to embrace the Blockchain in the future.

Dixon hit the nail on the head with his interpretation of our slogan of BlockShow: the window of the global Blockchain world as Blockchain being the technology that allows people to gain access the world without borders. Without Satoshi’s revolutionary idea this would not be remotely possible and we are grateful for that.

We have learned from all our speakers that Blockchain, crypto will have the biggest impact and influence in Asia. Even the infamous “Chinese ICO ban” won’t make any difference – Asia and China, in particular, will stay one of the biggest hubs of the Blockchain disruption for quite a while. That’s why we are excited to see what the future hold, we know it will be bright for the Blockchain!

The winners

From every city, we chose one startup that stood out from the rest. The audience chose the winning startup through a straightforward voting process. The winners were:

Kuala Lumpur: Kainos Technology

Singapore: GateCoin IO

Hong Kong: SuperBloom Capital

New Delhi: Quixxi

These startups will join us at the BlockShow Singapore conference to compete for the final winning prize of $20,000. In addition to that, the winning startup will get support from our sponsor Waves to run an ICO.

What’s next?

BlockShow Singapore!

We are bracing ourselves for the main conference in Singapore on Nov. 29-30 where we are expecting 1,000+ attendees from all over the world, 50+ high-class speakers and 40+ exhibitors.

There will also be some popular Blockchain-focused YouTubers and Bloggers such as Ameer Rosic and Ivan on Tech. You will have an opportunity to meet them in person at our special Media corner, and perhaps get a chance to take that selfie!

Only one hurdle stands in your way to BlockShow Asia 2017 — the tickets! You need to hurry and buy them before the prices increase once again: https://blockshowasia.com/buy-ticket

We can’t wait to see you on the other side!

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Korea’s Biggest Bitcoin Meetup Publicly Condemns SegWit2x

Members of the Seoul Bitcoin Meetup have released a formal statement opposing November’s SegWit2x Bitcoin hard fork.

A copy of the open letter uploaded to Medium Thursday confirms the “staunch opposition” of the group, the largest in South Korea, with 1600 members.

“We are confident that BTC, the legacy chain, will not only survive this fork, but continue to flourish as the dominant Bitcoin network,” its introduction states.

“The purpose of this letter is simply to minimize the damage that gets done this November. We urge you, the signatories of the NYA, to reconsider and withdraw your support.”

The community is the latest part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem to adopt a formal stance on SegWit2x, which is causing increasing divisions among supporters and detractors.

The Meetup identifies four “main concerns” with the planned hard fork of Bitcoin, due to come into being Nov. 18.

Summarized, these are:

  • “The manner in which the agreement was made goes against the very ethos of Bitcoin[;]
  • Segwit2x incurs a large risk, but wastes most of the opportunities afforded by a properly planned and executed hard fork[;]
  • The developers and supporters of Segwit2x have proceeded in a needlessly careless manner which compounds the risks involved[;]
  • Replay protection is being handled in an unacceptably irresponsible manner.”

“We will be advising our local community to avoid using the services of companies that support the NYA, and seek out alternatives instead,” the letter concludes.

The same day, major mining pool F2Pool stopped signalling SegWit2x in line with plans previously announced which would end the practice at its next server reboot.

The Meetup commended F2Pool for the move, along with four other industry players which have taken an opposing position on the fork.