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Main article: Cryptocurrency

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The crypto rich find security in Anchorage

14:57 | 15 January

Not the city, the $57 million-funded cryptocurrency custodian startup. When someone wants to keep tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in Bitcoin, Ethereum, or other coins safe, they put them in Anchorage’s vault. And now they can trade straight from custody so they never have to worry about getting robbed mid-transaction.

With backing from Visa, Andreessen Horowitz, and Blockchain Capital, Anchorage has emerged as the darling of the cryptocurrency security startup scene. Today it’s flexing its muscle and war chest by announcing the acquisition of crypto risk modeling company Merkle Data.

Anchorage Security

Anchorage founders

Anchorage has already integrated Merkle’s technology and team to power today’s launch of its trading feature. It eliminates the need for big crypto owners to manually move assets in and out of custody to buy or sell, or to set up their own in-house trading. Instead of earning some undisclosed spread between the spot price and the price Anchorage quotes clients, it was charges a transparent per transaction fee of a tenth of a percent.

It’s stressful enough trading around digital fortunes. Anchorage gives institutions and token moguls peace of mind throughout the process while letting them stake and vote while their riches are in custody. Anchorage CEO Nathan McCauley tells me “Our clients want to be able to fund a bank account with USD and have it seamlessly converted into crypto, securely held in their custody accounts. Shockingly, that’s not yet the norm–but we’re changing that.”

Founded in 2017 by leaders behind Docker and Square, Anchorage’s core business is its omnimetric security system that takes passwords that can be lost or stolen out of the equation. Instead, it uses humans and AI to review scans of your biometrics, nearby networks, and other data for identity confirmation. Then it requires consensus approval for transactions from a set of trusted managers you’ve whitelisted.

With Anchorage Trading, the startup promises efficient order routing, transparent pricing, and multi-venue liquidity from OTC desks, exchanges, and market makers. “Because trading and custody are directly integrated, we’re able to buy and sell crypto from custody, without having to make risky external transfers or deal with multiple accounts from different providers” says Bart Stephens, founder and managing partner of Blockchain Capital.

Since trading isn’t Anchorage’s primary business, it doesn’t have to squeeze clients on their transactions and can instead try to keep them happy for the long-term. That also sets up Anchorage to be foundational part of the cryptocurrency stack. It wouldn’t disclose the terms of the Merkle Data acquisition, but the Pantera Capital-backed company brings quantative analysts to Anchorage to keep its trading safe and smart.

“Unlike most traditional financial assets, crypto assets are bearer assets: in order to do anything with them, you need to hold the underlying private keys. This means crypto custodians like Anchorage must play a much larger role than custodians do in traditional finance” says McCauley. “Services like trading, settlement, posting collateral, lending, and all other financial activities surrounding the assets rely on the custodian’s involvement, and in our view are best performed by the custodian directly.”

Anchorage will be competing wit Coinbase, which offers integrated custody and institutional brokerage through its agency-only OTC desk. Fidelity Digital Assets combines trading and brokerage, but for Bitcoin only. BitGo offers brokerage from custody through a partnership with Genesis Global Trading. But Anchorage hopes its experience handling huge sums, clear pricing, and credentials like membership in Facebook’s Libra Association will win it clients.

McCauley says the biggest threat to Anchorage isn’t competitors, but hazy regulation. Anchorage is building a core piece of the blockchain economy’s infrastructure. But for the biggest financial institutions to be comfortable getting involved, lawmakers need to make it clear what’s legal.

 


0

Into Africa: tech leaders weigh in on Jack Dorsey’s planned move to the continent

09:45 | 6 January

It’s not every day that the CEO of a large Silicon Valley tech company decides to relocate to a different part of the world in order to learn more about it — particularly a frequently maligned and often overlooked by big-business part.

But Jack Dorsey, the American tech entrepreneur who co-founded and leads not one, but two publicly listed companies (Twitter and Square) is not your typical CEO. Dressed down, bearded, often wearing a wooly hat and speaking in a slow, quiet voice, you might even call Dorsey the anti-CEO. He eschews many of the stereotypical trappings of the executive life and mannerisms in favor of taking silent retreats and traveling to countries like Burma.

In November 2019, Dorsey’s itchy feet took him to Africa, where he visited Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia on a

. He had meetings at incubators in Lagos and Addis Ababa; and talked to a number of African tech-leaders, including Tayo Oviosu, the CEO of Nigerian payments startup Paga; and
, the director of Binance Labs.

And before he departed back for the US, he did something more: he announced that he would return in 2020 to live somewhere on the continent for up to six months.

“Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid 2020,” he

.

Why Africa?

And where? And when? If you have ever spoken to Dorsey — or more likely read an interview with him — you’ll note that the he can be somewhat oblique. It’s rare that he gives straight answers to straight questions, even if he always responds with something.

So when spokespeople from both Twitter and Square declined to comment on what his plans will be and if they will relate to those two companies, it might be just as likely that they don’t want to disclose anything as they don’t actually know.

But one thing is clear: Africa’s 54 countries and 1.2 billion people is one of the last blue oceans for global tech growth (one that not only Dorsey has identified).

To that end, TechCrunch talked to several people from Africa’s tech world to get their thoughts on what he could do, and what bears remembering as the world follows Dorsey’s spotlight.

The state of the market

When you look at year-over-year expansion in VC investment in the region, startup formation and incubators, the African continent is one of the fastest-growing technology markets in the world — even if today, by monetary value, it’s tiny by Shenzhen or Silicon Valley standards.

Three of the top destination countries for startup investment — Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa — collectively surpassed $1 billion in investment for the first time in 2018, with fintech businesses currently receiving the bulk of the capital and dealflow, according to Partech and WeeTracker stats.

By most accounts, Dorsey’s first foot forward last November was to make himself a student of the continent’s innovation scene — but specifically as it relates to fintech (and by association, his affiliation with Square and latterly Bitcoin).

“It was more them listening than anything else. Not just Jack, but the other senior members of his team,” CcHub’s CEO Bosun Tijani said of Dorsey’s meetings at the incubator.

After acquiring Kenya’s iHub, CcHub is the largest incubator in Africa. Other members of Dorsey’s team who joined him there included Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal and Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour.

“[Dorsey] said the main reason [he was in Ethiopia and Africa] was to listen and to learn what’s going on in the region,” said Ice Addis’ Markos Lemma .

Jack Dorsey CcHub Bosun Tijani Damilola Teidi

Dorsey with CcHub’s Bosun Tijani and Damilola Teidi

Over recent years, Nigeria has become Africa’s leader in startup formation, VC, and the entry of big tech players, such as Facebook — which opened an incubator in Lagos in 2018.

Since 2014, the country of 200 million has held the dual distinction as Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy. This makes it a compelling market for fintech and social media apps.

Twitter in Africa, according to sources, was less of a topic during Jack Dorsey’s meetings with founders and techies. This makes some sense. The service has lower penetration in the region estimated at 7.46%, higher than Instagram but lower than Pinterest — and that essentially means that the business opportunities there are fewer, since the majority of Twitter’s revenues comes from advertising.

“The only concrete thing in all this communication…is he seems to be interested in Bitcoin,” said Tijani.

Markos Lemma had the same takeaway after talking with Dorsey. “I think he’s specifically interested in Bitcoin,” he said.

Crypto

Dorsey’s crypto focus in Africa isn’t such a surprise, given his bullish stance on Bitcoin and blockchain-based technology.

In October, he invested $10 million in CoinList, a startup that facilities and manages token sales. And rather than create its own cryptocurrency, like Facebook’s Libra experiment, Square is using Bitcoin as the basis for its digital-currency strategy. The company added Bitcoin trades to CashApp, its P2P payment and investment product, in 2018 and its Square Crypto effort announced this year aims to “support and promote Bitcoin” through open source development.

A recent interview with Australia’s Financial Review could offer further insight into Dorsey’s crypto Africa vision.

“I think the internet will have a native currency and anything we can do to make that happen we’ll do,” he said in reference to Square’s moves.

“In the long term it will help us be more and more like an internet company where we can launch a product…and the whole world can use it, instead of having to go from market to market, to bank to bank to bank and from regulatory body to regulatory body.”

Square Bitcoin

What Dorsey is describing, in part, is the primary use case for cryptocurrency in Africa — where there remain all kinds of inefficiencies around moving money. The continent’s people pay the highest remittance costs in the world largely due to fragmented (and often inadequate) financial infrastructure and expensive cross-border transaction costs.

By several estimates, Africa is also home to the largest share of the world’s banked and underbanked consumer and SME populations.

Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

There are hundreds of payments startups across the region looking to move that needle by getting these people on the financial map — and more opportunistically, getting them to use their products.

To be fair, the adoption of digital finance products, such as M-Pesa in Kenya, have succeeded in reaching tens of millions.

A characteristic of successful African fintech products, however, is that their use has been geographically segregated, with few apps able to scale widely across borders. Some of that relates to vastly different regulatory structures and the difficulty in shaping product-market-fit from country to country.

Cryptocurrency’s potential to bypass inefficient or deficient finance structures has been getting attention in Africa.

The last two years saw several ICOs on the continent. One of the largest coin offerings ($7 million) was in 2018 by SureRemit — a startup that launched a crypto-token aimed at Africa’s incoming and intra-country remittance markets.

SureRemit’s CEO, Adeoye Ojo, sees the relevance and timing of Jack Dorsey’s interest in cryptocurrencies on the continent.

“Right now a lot of people and governments in Africa are aware of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, compared to two years ago, and asking questions about how this can be leveraged; what kind of products can we build around this,” Ojo told TechCrunch.

Bitcoin, according to Ojo, is finding utility on the continent. “It has helped people with value transfer significantly. A lot of businesses trying to make payments outside Nigeria…frustrated with access to forex or access to USD, are leveraging Bitcoin to make payments directly to vendors or suppliers in Asia and Europe,” he said.

On business motivations for Dorsey’s move to Africa, “I think he is definitely looking at the opportunity to get more people to adopt payments on Bitcoin, buying Bitcoin with Square here,” Ojo said — based on the collective information he’s followed re Dorsey’s crypto motives and what emerged from Jack’s recent trip. 

Square has yet to launch any services in Africa, but if there is a business purpose to Dorsey’s residency, one could be considering how and if the company has scope for building out services in the region, specifically one based around cryptocurrency.

SureRemit CEO Adeoye Ojo believes Dorsey could also look to establish a unique African Bitcoin exchange.

But Ojo underscored the specific hurdles to cryptocurrency adoption on the continent. The first is regulation. Regulatory reviews on digital-currency use are ongoing in major economies Nigeria and Kenya. South Africa’s Central Bank is considering rules that would limit use of cryptocurrencies for foreign transfers.

“Even if the application for crypto works here, if the regulations that come forward don’t support it, it won’t happen,” said Ojo.

As with other parts of the world, Africa also faces a trust issue on digital currency adoption, he added, due to Bitcoin’s implication in several scams — most notably to defraud millions of Nigerians in the Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM) ponzi scheme.

“For many Nigerians, their first introduction to Bitcoin was this MMM scam…People have been adopting  mobile money in Africa, but it’s gonna take a bit of market education for them to understand using Bitcoin isn’t just some scam,” he said.

Advice for Dorsey

On where Dorsey should spend time on his return, Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge, thinks Kenya is a must, given its lead as one of the top countries in the world for mobile-money adoption.

“Coming to live in the ecosystem is a good thing…it’s the best way to really understand…and get the nuances of business in Africa,” he said.

Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge

Njoroge, whose Nairobi-based fintech company processes payments in 35 African countries, also suggested Dorsey understand any tech play in Africa requires a long-game commitment, given the infrastructure challenges in the ecosystem compared to others.

On that topic, Ice Addis co-founder Markos Lemma suggested Dorsey provide founders advice on operating around and influencing tech-regulation. “He’s had a lot experience navigating the U.S. and other markets with Twitter and Square. I don’t know any entrepreneur in Ethiopia or other African markets who has that experience navigating and negotiating regulations,” he said.

For all the likelihood Dorsey’s pending move could be motivated by Square and Bitcoin, three of the founders interviewed by TechCrunch — Bosun Tijani, Ken Njoroge, and Markos Lemma — underscored the rise of Twitter in Africa’s civic and political spheres.

Square doesn’t operate in Africa but Twitter is the fourth most used social media app on the continent and sells ads in Africa through partner, Ad Dynamo, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed.

Social Media Stats 2019 Africa“Twitter is quite powerful in Nigeria,” CcHub’s CEO said of the social media platform in the country, which has been plagued by theft of state resources in the hundreds of billions.

“It’s not just a social media platform for Nigeria. It’s changing the dynamics between people with power and those that they’re meant to serve,” Tijani explained.

Twitter (along with Facebook) has also been implicated in Africa’s first (notable) social media political interference campaigns.

“There’s a lot of hate speech and misinformation that’s been showing up on social media,” said Ice Addis’ Markos Lemma. “With [Ethiopia’s] 2020 elections on the horizon, I think it would be important for him to address how Twitter can mitigate that risk.”

Dorsey has faced flak from some analysts and Twitter board members for his planned move outside the U.S., given risks associated with Twitter and the upcoming American election.

So Dorsey’s 2020 Africa move could certainly uncover opportunities for cryptocurrency and Square on the continent.

It could also become a reminder that wherever he travels so too do the complications of his social media company back home.

 


0

Ripple raises $200 million to improve global payments

18:23 | 20 December

Ripple has raised a $200 million Series C funding round. Tetragon is leading the round, with SBI Holdings and Route 66 Ventures also participating. According to Fortune, the company is now valued at $10 billion.

“We are in a strong financial position to execute against our vision. As others in the blockchain space have slowed their growth or even shut down, we have accelerated our momentum and industry leadership throughout 2019,” Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said in the announcement.

The startup has been focused on improving cross-border payments and other money transmitting activities using XRP, a cryptocurrency that has its own blockchain, the XRP Ledger. The total market capitalization of XRP tokens is currently the third-largest cryptocurrency market capitalization behind bitcoin and Ethereum.

It is currently worth $8.4 billion according to CoinMarketCap. While XRP is a decentralized cryptocurrency, Ripple controls a significant chunk of the total market cap. That reserve is valuable by itself. During the third quarter of 2019, Ripple sold $66.24 million in XRP tokens.

Ripple believes that cryptocurrencies (and XRP in particular) could be a great way to facilitate cross-border transactions. It has the potential to be both cheaper and faster than traditional foreign exchange solutions.

The company has been trying to convince financial institution to switch to RippleNet as the back-end currency for international payments.

RippleNet now has 300 customers. In particular, Ripple took a 10% stake in MoneyGram to help them switch to RippleNet, at least in part.

 


0

A look ahead at blockchain’s next decade

23:57 | 19 December

Jonathan Johnson Contributor
Jonathan Johnson is president of Medici Ventures and CEO of Overstock.com.

The road to the blockchain revolution has not always been smooth. Most tech experts agree that the potential for new businesses and applications built on distributed ledgers is sky-high, but we are still waiting for that breakthrough year when blockchain transitions from a tech-oriented focus to widespread adoption.

2020 is a new year and the start of a new decade.

I believe we are on the cusp of a blockbuster year for blockchain development and that 2020 will see this technology begin to take its biggest, most world-changing steps yet. As innovators continue to shape the competitive landscape, we will see more products in production and we will begin to see true blockchain-based solutions.

I’ve reached out to some creative and influential thought-leaders in the blockchain space for their predictions for the upcoming year. Their predictions – along with a few of my own — are below.

Products in production

“Those who have been quietly building during the crypto winter will begin to deliver beta and production versions of their platforms. There are many companies that are on the verge of launching their products for the mass market. Those who deliver products that are better than their centralized counterparts will see real adoption. Those that are more complicated for traditional users to implement will arrive, but not see the adoption their communities are hoping for.” — Ben Golub, executive chairman and interim CEO, Storj Labs

“2020 will be the year when software tools (think Stripe, Plaid, Twilio) that exist in the traditional software development stack will be created and adopted in the decentralized software development stack.” — Ben Lambert, principal, Pelion Venture Partners

“Open source projects that use Hyperledger fabric will stay in the lead, not because of resources being injected into it, but because of the volume of overall users and new integrations solving use cases as a proof of concept. In the commercial blockchain environment that does not rely on open source, companies will explore ways to introduce it into their product line while balancing permissions and privacy in a truly decentralized manner.” — Luis Macias, CEO and founder, GrainChain

Regulation

“Between Xi Jinping recently declaring China needs to ‘seize the opportunity of blockchain technology,’ and the continued regulatory uncertainty in the U.S., China will broaden its lead in blockchain relative to the U.S. Until the SEC rolls out more clear guidelines related to cryptocurrencies and blockchain, the U.S. market will continue to stagnate.” — Ben Golub

“SEC enforcement on scammy ICOs from 2017/2018 will continue in 2020 causing further chilling on altcoin trading and increased compliance with existing securities laws. The result: legitimate securities tokens will be a good way to raise capital for unique assets as the regulatory landscape catches up with the technology and a more liquid market for security tokens results.” — Jonathan Johnson

Privacy and security

“Privacy and security will become a key differentiator for incumbents in the cloud. Since its data breach last year, and its Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has become more sensitive to the privacy and security concerns of its users. Privacy and security are now becoming a key differentiator for businesses and it will cause companies in the cloud to start taking a serious look at their security strategies in 2020. It will take much longer than a year for them to solidify and fully deploy their strategies, but 2020 will be the year the conversation begins to shift.” — Ben Golub

Voting

 


0

Political ‘fixer’ Bradley Tusk closes second fund on $70M

18:50 | 18 December

Tusk Venture Partners, the venture capital firm led by Bradley Tusk and managing partner Jordan Nof, has secured $70 million for its second flagship fund, the firm has confirmed to TechCrunch following a report by Fortune this morning.

Fundraising for the effort began in January, when the pair filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission for Tusk Venture Partners II. The firm and affiliated political advisory outfit Tusk Ventures, is behind a number of high-profile startups, including e-scooter ‘unicorn’ Bird, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase and Ro, a direct-to-consumer healthcare business best known for selling erectile dysfunction medication.

The New York-based firm, founded in 2011, previously raised  $36 million for its debut fund — capital it used to back medical marijuana delivery company Eaze; the marketplace for household service providers Handy; and fintech startup Grove.

Tusk, before launching Tusk Ventures, served as campaign manager for Mike Bloomberg, as deputy governor of Illinois and as communications director for Senator Chuck Schumer. He also penned the book, The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics, released in 2018.

Naturally, Tusk Ventures provides companies more than just checks. The politically savvy team lends its expertise to support companies plagued with regulatory barriers and communications issues, as well as help with grassroots organizing, opposition research and partnerships.

 


0

Nodle crowdsources IoT connectivity

15:32 | 11 December

Nodle, which is competing in the TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Startup Battlefield this week, is based on a simple premise: What if you could crowdsource the connectivity of smart sensors by offloading it to smartphones? For most sensors, built-in cell connectivity is simply not a realistic option, given how much power it would take. A few years of battery life is quite realistic for a sensor that uses Bluetooth Low Energy.

Overall, that’s a pretty straightforward idea, but the trick is to convince smartphone users to install Nodle’s app. To solve this, the company, which was co-founded by Micha Benoliel (CEO) and Garrett Kinsman, is looking to cryptocurrency. With Nodle Cash, users automatically earn currency whenever their phones transmit a package to the network. That connection, it’s worth noting, is always encrypted, using Nodle’s Rendevouz protocol.

The company has already raised $3.5 million in seed funding, mostly from investors in the blockchain space: Blockchange, Work Play Ventures (Marc Pincus), Blockchain Ventures (Blockchain.com), Olymp Capital, Bootstraplabs and Blockhead.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t Benoliel’s first rodeo in this space. He also co-founded the mesh networking startup Open Garden, which used a somewhat similar approach a few years ago to crowdsource connectivity (and which made a bit of a splash with its FireChat offline chat app back in 2014). Open Garden, too, competed in our Startup Battlefield in 2012 and won our award for most innovative startup. Benoliel left his CEO position there in early 2016, but Nodle definitely feels like an iteration on the original idea of Open Garden.

“We define the category as crowd connectivity,” Benoliel told me. “We leverage crowdsourced connectivity for connecting things to the internet. We believe there are a lot of benefits to doing that.” He argues that there are a number of innovations converging right now that will allow the company to succeed: Chipsets are getting smaller, and an increasing number of sensors now uses Bluetooth Low Energy, all while batteries are getting smaller and more efficient and blockchain technology is maturing.

Given the fact that these sensors depend on somebody with a phone coming by, this is obviously not a solution for companies that need to get real-time data. There’s simply no way for Nodle to guarantee that, after all. But the company argues it is a great solution for smart cities that want to get regular readouts of road usage or companies that want to do asset tracking.

“We do not address real-time connectivity, which is what you can do with more traditional solutions,” Benoliel said. “But we believe IoT is so broad and there is so much utility in being able to collect data from time to time, that with out solution, we can connect almost anything to the internet.”

While some users may want to simply install the Nodle Cash app to, well, make some Nodle cash, the team is also betting on working with app developers who may want to use the platform to make some extra money from their apps by adding it to the Nodle network. For users, that obviously means they’ll burn some extra data, so developers have to clearly state that they are opting their users into this service.

[gallery ids="1922759,1922749,1922756"]

The team expects a normal user to see an extra 20 to 30 MB of traffic with Nodle installed, which isn’t really all that much (users of the standalone Nodle app also have the option to cache the data and postpone the transfer when they connect to Wi-Fi). Some app developers may use Nodle as an alternative to in-app payments, the team hopes.

The company is also already working with HTC and Cisco Meraki, and has a number of pilot projects in the works.

If you want to give it a try, you can install the Nodle Cash app for Android now.

 


0

No Libra style digital currencies without rules, say EU finance ministers

13:06 | 6 December

European Union finance ministers have agreed a defacto ban on the launch in the region of so-called global ‘stablecoins’ such as Facebook’s planned Libra digital currency until the bloc has a common approach to regulation that can mitigate the risks posed by the technology.

In a joint statement the European Council and Commission write that “no global ‘stablecoin’ arrangement should begin operation in the European Union until the legal, regulatory and oversight challenges and risks have been adequately identified and addressed”.

The statement includes recognition of potential benefits of the crypto technology, such as cheaper and faster payments across borders, but says they pose “multifaceted challenges and risks related for example to consumer protection, privacy, taxation, cyber security and operational resilience, money laundering, terrorism financing, market integrity, governance and legal certainty”.

“When a ‘stablecoin’ initiative has the potential to reach a global scale, these concerns are likely to be amplified and new potential risks to monetary sovereignty, monetary policy, the safety and efficiency of payment systems, financial stability, and fair competition can arise,” they add.

All options are being left open to ensure effective regulation, per the statement, with ministers and commissioners stating this should include “any measures to prevent the creation of unmanageable risks by certain global “stablecoins”.”

The new European Commission is already working on a regulation for global stablecoins, per Reuters.

In a speech at a press conference, Commission VP Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “Today the Ecofin endorsed a joint statement with the Commission on stablecoins. These are part of a much broader universe of crypto assets. If we properly address the risks, innovation around crypto assets has the potential to play a positive role for investors, consumers and the efficiency of our financial system.

“A number of Member States like France, Germany or Malta introduced national crypto asset laws, but most people agree with the advice of the European Supervisory Authorities that these markets go beyond borders and so we need a common European framework.

“We will now move to implement this advice. We will launch a public consultation very shortly, before the end of the year.”

The joint statement also hits out at the lack of legal clarity around some major global projects in this area — which looks like a tacit reference to Facebook’s Libra project (though the text does not include any named entities).

“Some recent projects of global dimension have provided insufficient information on how precisely they intend to manage risks and operate their business. This lack of adequate information makes it very difficult to reach definitive conclusions on whether and how the existing EU regulatory framework applies. Entities that intend to issue ‘stablecoins’, or carry out other activities involving ‘stablecoins’ in the EU should provide full and adequate information urgently to allow for a proper assessment against the applicable existing rules,” they warn.

Facebook’s Libra project was only announced this summer — with a slated launch of the first half of 2020 — but was quickly dealt major blows by the speedy departure of key founder members from the vehicle set up to steer the initiative, as giants including Visa, Stripe and eBay apparently took fright at the regulatory backlash. Though you’d never know it from reading the Libra Association PR.

One perhaps unintended effective of Facebook’s grand design on disrupting global financial systems is to amp up pressure on traditional payment providers to innovate and improve their offerings for consumers.

EU ministers write that the emergence of stablecoin initiatives “highlight the importance of continuous improvements to payment arrangements in order to meet market and consumer expectations for convenient, fast, efficient and inexpensive payments – especially cross-border”.

“While European payment systems have already made significant progress, European payment actors, including payment services providers, also have a key role to play in this respect,” they continue. “We note that the ECB and other central banks and national competent authorities will explore further the ongoing digital transformation of the payment system and, in particular, the consequences of initiatives such as ‘stablecoins’. We welcome that central banks in cooperation with other relevant authorities continue to assess the costs and benefits of central bank digital currencies as well as engage with European payment actors regarding the role of the private sector in meeting expectations for efficient, fast and inexpensive cross-border payments.”

 


0

Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions

18:47 | 3 December

On Friday, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York announced that Ethereum Foundation staff member Virgil Griffith was arrested. He faces charges of conspiracy following a trip to North Korea and a presentation at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.

In particular, he allegedly provided services to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, also known as North Korea) without obtaining approval from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control.

According to the complaint, Griffith reached out to the U.S. State Department but his permission was denied due to economic sanctions against North Korea. Griffith traveled to China and then North Korea anyway. The complaint also says that Griffith discussed “cryptocurrency technologies to evade sanctions and launder money.”

A special agent for the FBI interviewed Griffith back in May 2019. It was a consensual interview and he talked about his presentation titled “Blockchain and Peace” with the agent. He showed photos of his trip and said he would like to attend the same conference next year.

Griffith discussed his presentation with another individual via a messaging app. “Individual-1 asked, in sum and substance, what interest North Koreans had in cryptocurrency. Griffith replied, in sum and substance, ‘probably avoiding sanctions… who knows,’” the complaint says.

Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, wrote

about Griffith’s arrest. “I don't think what Virgil did gave DRPK any kind of real help in doing anything bad. He *delivered a presentation based on publicly available info about open-source software*. There was no weird hackery ‘advanced tutoring,’” he wrote.

He also says that the Ethereum Foundation has nothing to do with Griffith’s trip to North Korea. “EF paid nothing and offered no assistance; it was Virgil's personal trip that many counseled against,” Buterin wrote.

Earlier today, a judge ruled that there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial. Griffith will be released from jail pending trial.

 


0

Facebook’s Libra code chugs along ignoring regulatory deadlock

00:50 | 16 November

“5 months and growing strong” the Libra Association announced today in an post about its technical infrastructure that completely omits the fierce regulatory backlash to its cryptocurrency.

40 wallets, tools, and block explorers plus 1,700 Github commits have how now been built on its blockchain testnet that’s seen 51,000 mock transactions in the past two months. Libra nodes that process transactions are now being run by Coinbase, Uber, BisonTrails, Iliad, Xapo, Anchorage, and Facebook’s Calibra. Six more nodes are being established, plus there are 8 more getting set up from members who lack technical teams, meaning all 21 members have nodes running or in the works.

But the update on the Libra backend doesn’t explain how the association plans to get all the way to its goal of 100 members and nodes by next year when it originally projected a launch. And it gives no nod to the fact that even if Libra is technically ready to deploy its mainnet in 2020, government regulators in the US and around the world still won’t necessarily let it launch.

Last month’s congressional testimony from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was less contentious than Libra board member David Marcus’ appearances on Capitol Hill in July. Yet few of lawmakers’ core concerns about how Libra could facilitate money laundering, endanger users’ assets, and give Facebook even more power amidst ongoing anti-trust investigations were assuaged.

This set of announcements from the Libra Core summit of technical members was an opportunity for the project to show how it was focused on addressing fraud, security, and decentralization of power. Instead, the Libra Association took the easy route of focusing on what the Facebook-led development team knows best: writing code, not fixing policy. TechCrunch provided questions to the Libra Association and some members but the promised answers were not returned before press time.

For those organizations without a technical team to implement a node, the Libra Association is working on a strategy to support deployment in 2020, when the Libra Core feature set is complete” the Association’s Michael Engle writes. “The Libra Association intends to deploy 100 nodes on the mainnet, representing a mix of on-premises and cloud-hosted infrastructure.” It feels a bit like Libra is plugging its ears.

Having proper documentation, setting up CLAs to ease GitHub contributions, standardizing the Move code language, a Bug Bounty program, and a public technical roadmap are a good start. But until the Association can answers Congress’ questions directly, they’re likely to refuse Libra approval which Zuckerberg said the project won’t launch without.

 


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The Garage is a new blockchain-focused incubator based in Paris

12:10 | 13 November

Meet The Garage, a new incubator in Paris that is all about blockchain projects. Co-founded by Cyril Paglino from Starchain Capital, Fabrice Le Fessant from Dune Network and Oussama Ammar from The Family, the company will support blockchain startups, help big companies launch blockchain projects and educate engineers about blockchain development.

The Garage is a sort of puzzle made out of multiple pieces. First, it wants to create a community of startups and support those startups in different ways.

“We copy and paste The Family’s model, which means that it’s built on trust. We take 5% of equity after six months if the startup and The Garage are happy,” The Garage director Damien Daübe said during a small press conference yesterday.

In exchange for 5%, startups that are part of The Garage community get some help when it comes to product, engineering, press relations, marketing, etc. Eventually, The Garage wants to tap its network of investors to make some introductions and help them get some funding and traction.

There are already five startups participating in the program, such as Ipocamp, Ticket721 and Elite Chain. Eventually, The Garage wants to help 25 startups per year. The Family receives a lot of applications. You could imagine that The Family might recommend The Garage to some of them.

But taking some equity isn’t going to generate revenue from day one. The Garage is also going to work with Dune Network, the new blockchain from OCamlPro. According to The Block, OCamlPro was working with the Tezos Foundation but decided to part ways, create a fork and start a new blockchain.

The Garage is going to work with big corporate clients on some blockchain projects. This could generate some revenue much more quickly.

Finally, The Garage is also going to teach software engineers about blockchain development. The company will host with free lessons in the evening. There will be some online resources as well.

All of this is going to happen in a recently renovated building that looks like a hybrid between an Apple Store and a movie set. If you’re into concrete, metal and industrial design, it’s a beautiful place. It was mostly used for fashion week events until The Garage started renting it.

[gallery ids="1911098,1911099,1911100,1911101,1911102,1911103,1911104,1911105,1911106"]

 


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