Best TruStories of the Week - #10


#42

Claim: Earn.com (formerly 21 Inc) used elliptic curve cryptography for its Bitcoin wallet

Category: Cryptography

Source: A Programmer’s Introduction to Mathematics

My Stake: Back claim (50 Cred)

My Argument/Evidence: The author of the book Jeremy Kun worked at 21 Inc as a blockchain engineer before it rebranded to Earn.com (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremykun/)


#43

Claim : Websites use your CPU to mine cryptocurrency even when you close your browser: Resource-draining code hides in pop-under windows that can remain open indefinitely.

Category : Hacking

Source : https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/11/sneakier-more-persistent-drive-by-cryptomining-comes-to-a-browser-near-you/

My Stake : Challenge claim (50 Cred)

My Argument/Evidence : I’m challenging the second part of this claim. Yes, it is true that websites can use code that will allow cryptocurrency to be mined from your computer; however, the code does not stay on your computer indefinitely and can be found and removed using the steps in this article .


#44

Thanks to @preethi @dnivrav and @Catherinesjkim for weighing in. I try my best to provide an analysis below:

Main Claim: The community should abandon “Szabo’s law” as soon as possible. Vlad argues for the inception of new crypto law, in place of Szabo’s law.

Category: Governance

My Stake: I support this claim with 50 TruStakes. I agree with the overall argument Vlad makes the need for governance, but question the manner in which Nick Szabo is portrayed to construct the argument.

Source : https://medium.com/@Vlad_Zamfir/against-szabos-law-for-a-new-crypto-legal-system-d00d0f3d3827

In the following, I distill Vlad’s post into two main threads, with reasons, arguing against Szabo’s law. I dissect each of the reasons and include perspectives from other members of the TruStory community where available.

One premise of this discussion is the existence of Crypto Law as distinguishable from existing legal systems. CleanApp, the team behind Crypto Law Review has written extensively on the intersection of Crypto and Law, argues that many prominent figures in the space, including Nick Szabo and the Ethereum project, among others, have used cryptolegalese (as opposed to CleanApp ascribing these terms onto them).

They point out that Ethereum began as an explicitly legalistic project (e.g., the Yellow Paper states, “Ethereum may be seen as a general implementation of such a crypto-law system” (see here). Furthermore, Vlad argues that legal systems are protocols for managing disputes, and disputes arise in blockchain governance and there are protocols for managing them, so therefore crypto law exists.

Argument #1 : In the first series of arguments (sub-claims), Vlad suggests that continuing to follow Szabo’s law will put crypto law on a collision course with the existing legal system and ultimately compel regulators to make crypto illegal.

Sub-Claim: Vlad argues that continuing to follow Szabo’s law will make cryptocurrency illegal in many jurisdiction. Vlad contends that Szabo’s law naively leads developers to think that they’ll be able to minimize exposure to legal risk. He argues that in the event where the legal system brought forth a dispute; if developers, operating under Szabo’s law, abdicated their responsibility, this could eventually make cryptocurrencies illegal (e.g., if large amounts of the public’s money were accidentally frozen or inaccessible and people brought legal action).

Two concepts require brief elaboration to understand Vlad’s reasoning: Social Scalability, and Smart Contracts.

Widely recognized in the crypto space, Nick Szabo’s approach* has been under the radar to the mainstream (lawyers included) until the Bitcoin, and subsequently Ethereum project, took off. Szabo makes the case that public blockchains (Bitcoin and Ethereum included) are valuable for their high level of security and reliability without human intervention. Facilitated through bits and logic, public blockchain facilitate human institutions – relationships, shared endeavors, and behaviors of many participants – while overcoming human’s cognitive limitations.

*Note: To minimize potential confusion from having three “laws” under discussion (existing law, crypto law and Szabo law), we’ll refer to Szabo’s “approach” or “ethos” as suggested elsewhere. Thanks to @Catherinesjkim for the reference.

Furthermore, over the past 25 years, Nick Szabo, among others, has attempted to transform legal concepts (legalese) such as terms, processes and forms into ‘formal (scriptable) language for analyzing contracts’ (i.e., Smart Contracts) so as to minimize the need for human interpretation (see here for Szabo’s discussion; see here for CleanApp’s interpretation)

The contrast, then, is between traditional institutions like our current legal system, which are – manual, local and uncertain – and blockchain smart contracts, which are automated, global and predictable in their operations. This is the social scalability that stems a reliance on computer science, rather than human interpretation (i.e., police, lawyers).

While Szabo has highlighted this contrast and has been a proponent of public blockchain’s (including Ethereum) social scalability, he’s not necessarily suggesting the replacement of lawyers; in fact, he sees (human) lawyers as important and complimentary to smart contracts.

In his post on Social Scalability, Szabo suggests that “accounting or legal decisions (such as altering an account balance or undoing a transaction) never justify a hard fork, but should be accomplished by traditional governance outside of the system (e.g., via a court injunction forcing a Bitcoin user to send a new transaction that effectively undoes the old one, or confiscating the particular keys and thus the particular holdings of a particular user).”

Thus, it seems that although Szabo does see blockchain smart contract as obviating the need for many lawyers, he’s not saying that the use of public blockchain would obviate the need for the existing legal system as a whole and in fact sees many cases where it is appropriate to settle disputes outside of the blockchain.

Finally, CleanApp, has argued that given so many global jurisdiction, smart contracts can simultaneously be enforceable, incapable of enforcement and/or unenforceable (i.e., legal, alegal and illegal). Source: Cardozo Smart Contracts & Legal Enforceability Report (Cardozo Blockchain Project, October 16, 2018). Initiative of Cardozo Law School

In summary, while Szabo believes smart contracts can automate many (new) things, that would have alternatively required lawyers, he’s not suggesting that lawyers be replaced and sees the two as complimentary. But suppose even if some developers misinterpreted Szabo’s approach and abdicated their responsibilities to the code in the case of a dispute and the laws intervened, even then how smart contracts are interpreted can vary by jurisdiction (and not all interpretation would necessarily lead to crypto being illegal).

Vlad further describes Szabo’s law as “aggressive” towards people with legitimate disputes and this aggressive stance would invite conflict with existing legal systems and ultimately make crypto illegal.

There have been cases where people, in the name of immutability, took an aggressive stance towards others with legitimate dispute. Thanks to @preethi for pointing out the example from the Parity locked funds case (#EIP-999) (read about it here)

Another example, is a response to ETC’s recent 51% attack where an ETC supporter arguing that the attack wasn’t a failure of immutability, but rather reverting the 51% attack (and double spent funds) would be a failure of immutability, suggesting in clear terms that ETC does not care if humans lost money (see here).

Those are two examples of aggressive stance towards people with legitimate disputes. In both cases, the stance was in support of a dogma of immutability that has been argued by Szabo as facilitating social scalability. However, because of the arguments above, I’d stop short of making Szabo culpable for all instances of #CodeIsLaw behavior.

Argument #2 : The second series of arguments are directed at the dangers of autonomous software and how it makes it difficult to remain flexible to always changing, unpredictable future events (putting humanity at risk).

Vlad argues that it is impossible to predict the number of ways “autonomous software” could go wrong and therefore it is unsafe.

The premise of the “autonomous software” argument here is that Szabo’s usage of the vending machine metaphor for describing “smart contract” implies a self-enforcement mechanism. Szabo writes the “vending machine is a contract with bearer : anybody with coins can participate in an exchange with the vendor”. It is the self-enforcement mechanism that implies “autonomous”. CleanApp offers the example of a “self-locking AirBnb/BookLocal apartments” or “self-repossessing cars”.

Vlad’s argument is that these autonomous software could go wrong in a number of unpredictable ways (for context: These are the same concerns Elon Musk has for AI) and is therefore unsafe.

He argues for our ability to be flexible to changing circumstances and/or unforeseen disputes that could arise in the future.

As an extension of the above point, Vlad argues that because autonomous software can have unpredictable consequences, our ability to have conversations where we discuss whether it might make sense to deviate from a “dogma of immutability” allows to be flexible.

Vlad argues that Szabo’s law minimizes the space for political and legal conversation, leaving no room for discussion or debate

The argument here is that Szabo’s approach (see above on his ideas for Social Scalability) tends to favor immutability, which minimizes space for political and legal conversation.

While some have argued for #CodeIsLaw and immutability referencing Szabo’s work, I’d argue that Szabo himself sees certain situations where traditional governance is called for. To this point, I’d rather get a direct comment from Nick Szabo.

Moreover, he contends, because Szabo’s law determines governance outcomes (i.e., no changes to the protocol, except for technical maintenance), it effectively shuts down political debate, preventing us from making necessary adjustments to future unforeseen risk

For context, Szabo has gone back and forth with both Vlad and CleanApp and have blocked them both. CleanApp has observed Szabo’s evading critiques of smart contract here. Therefore, Vlad is not wrong to suggest that Szabo has (previously) shut down debate (i.e., blocked him on twitter). Szabo does tend to favor soft forks for software upgrades and maintenance and instead of hard forks which he views as “posing an even greater security and continuity risks than soft forks”.

Given the potential unknowable risks, I support the overall argument for curbing autonomous software by norms of “moderate immutability” (and (off-chain) governance) [putting in 50 TruStakes]. Nevertheless, I’m not entirely convinced Nick Szabo would be 100% against this stance himself, although I’m limited to inferring from his writing.

An additional, perhaps more productive, conversation would be for researchers at different public blockchains (with different norms of immutability) to establish dialogues with legal scholars and practitioners to discuss whether Smart Contracts are legally enforceable, under what conditions are they enforceable, incapable of enforcement and/or unenforceable. Related to this point, whether software developers of public blockchains are fiduciaries as explored by Angela Walsh here.


#45

Claim: The word apron was originally napron . But when people said “a napron” it got gradually transformed into “an apron”.

Category: Word Origins

Source: Reddit

My Stake: Back Claim(100 cred)

My Evidence:

  1. Quick and Dirty Tips

Originally, it was called a napron (n-a-p-r-o-n). If you go all the way back to Latin, you can trace the roots of “apron” to the word “mappa” which meant both tablecloth and map (1, 2, 3, 4) because if you spread a large map out on a table, it’s a lot like a tablecloth. (1) The French of the Middle Ages took up the word, replaced the “m” with an “n,” and called it a naperon. From there, Middle English dropped the “e” and used “napron.” Then sometime in the 1400s or 1500s, when people said “ a napron,” enough people were mishearing the break between “a” and “napron” that the common phrase became “an apron,” and “napron” fell out of favor and eventually disappeared.

  1. Etymonline.com calls it a faulty separation such as adder, umpire, orange, newt, nickname, uncle (erroneously moving the letter “n” to the article “a=an” , or noun “ewte=newt”

#46

agree that this would be a worthwhile and fascinating discussion. Who are legal scholars and practitioners who come to mind @paulapivat @bhaumik? If we know who, we can approach and ask them directly.


#47

This a great summary of the main arguments. Thanks for putting this together!


#48

Claim: The SuperBowl is the biggest sex trafficking event of the year in the US

Category : I don’t know. I want to write “Using urban myths to bring awareness and how it backfires.”

Source : Reuters, NPR and many others

My Stake : Challenge Claim (100 TruStake)

My Argument/Evidence : This is a social issue that I take very seriously and wanted to use as an example here really to bring more awareness to the issue. I also wanted to point out how using incorrect information to get awareness across can lead to weakening a cause. There are a lot of commercials and campaigns that label the Superbowl as the largest event for sex tracking in the United States, based on a number of previous statements and claims made by various groups. However, this “fact” has been largely debunked as false by multiple victim’s advocate groups and research teams.

What should have been used to promote awareness was the statement that The Superbowl is one of the largest events for human sex trafficking in the United States. That does appear to be true, as most researchers noted an increase in incidents at major events. However, it is not limited to sporting events. Any major event that brings a concentration of people to an area seems to show an increase. The most significant part of that is the word ‘concentration’ because sex trafficking is a huge and ongoing problem. The Superbowl just brings it into a concentrated area during a large event. If those people weren’t at the Superbowl paying for trafficked humans, they would most likely be doing it somewhere else.

Most advocate groups are disappointed with the misconstrued coverage of this issue regarding the Superbowl. Human trafficking is a huge problem in the US and in the world and targeting the Superbowl gives the impression that this is a problem with sporting events. It is not. It is a problem with society that people don’t like to talk about. It doesn’t stop after the Superbowl clock runs out, it continues. The CNN article states:

The International Labor Organization estimates that 40.3 million people are trapped in human trafficking globally – 71% of whom are women and girls and 25% are children.

That is horrifying and attention needs to be drawn to that. However, now that people are debunking the fact used in the campaigns, we see headlines that call it the Superbowl sex trafficking MYTH. Now, the general public is reading those messages to mean that sex trafficking isn’t a big problem and the previous campaigns were based on false information. The message of the severity of this horrible issue has been lost.

I really feel strongly about this issue and I wish people were willing to talk about it more. I also wish that people used correct facts to spread awareness, so that it doesn’t come back and weaken the cause when people call it out as a myth. If you want to shock people into paying attention, shock them with the truth. Once they find out you shocked them with an untruth, it is much harder to get them to listen to you again.


#49

damn. that’s good. well said.


#50

Claim: QuadrigaCX owes customers $190 million and is unable to access most of the funds after its founder died.

Category: Usage

Source: https://www.coindesk.com/quadriga-creditor-protection-filing; https://web.archive.org/web/20190131221527/https://www.quadrigacx.com/

My Stake: 50 cred

My Argument/Evidence: The Coindesk article has the affidavit of the founder’s widow, Jennifer Robertson, which provides the evidence backing the claim. She’s either lying, has been given false information, or it’s accurate information. Since the first two would result in some criminal sanctions, I would bet she is telling the truth based on the information the company’s lawyers have given her. Her affidavit is part of Quadriga’s application for protection under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Unless it’s all part of an elaborate hoax, nobody can currently access the funds that are locked away. Because the balances are fluid, the $190 million number could change, but the end result is that the majority of the balances are locked in a cold wallet.


#51

Some names I encountered in the analysis are:

  1. Gabriel Shapiro (@DLxLawLLP) https://medium.com/@gabriel.j.shapiro
  2. Crypto Law Review (team) https://medium.com/cryptolawreview/about
  3. Tatiana Cutts (LSE Law Prof) https://medium.com/@TatianaCutts
  4. Anja Blaj https://twitter.com/AnjaBlaj
  5. Preston Byrne (Practitioner) https://twitter.com/prestonjbyrne
  6. Angela Walch (Prof @StMarys_Law) https://twitter.com/angela_walch

#52

This just seems suspicious to me. I would challenge this with 50 TruStake because (maybe I’m going conspiracy theorist here) of three things.

  1. The article points out suspicious things happening with the exchange:

Users have been complaining about withdrawal issues and a lack of communication from QuadrigaCX’s team for months, with concerns exacerbated earlier this week when the website went down entirely for maintenance.

Robertson noted that the exchange’s new directors voted to “temporarily pause” the platform on Jan. 26. Though she did not explicitly say the website went down as a result, the portal only became inaccessible sometime in the morning on Jan. 28.

  1. he died from Crohn’s disease. That is typically a very long battle and it would be very odd for a person struggling with it to be so sick with it that they succumbed while traveling without having a succession plan for their company (he seemed too smart of a businessperson for such a major oversight). Also, he was 30, which is quite young to have such severe issues with the disease that it would prove fatal, based on the data on http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org’s website. We can assume that with his position he likely had very good medical care and with proper treatment, those with the disease should expect only a “slight reduction in life expectancy.” How could he be well enough to travel to India, but die unexpectedly while there from the disease?

  2. digging a little further back, it seems others are questioning whether or not he died at all. and this CoinDesk article notes that officials in India did not confirm that he was even in India.

So, did he really die? Are the funds still in the cold wallet at all? I’m not sure we know.


#53

I agree that the circumstances are bizarre, and I think you make good points. In my mind, I weighed the weird/suspicious behavior against the penalties for perpetrating the hoax with the Canadian government. It might be that the owner isn’t dead, and the consequences of being caught pale in comparison to what he embezzled/lost/whatever.

Regardless, it’s an odd story.


#54

Claim : In the past year, more than 500 projects were created using the new tools, trying to do everything from predicting the price of bitcoin to analyzing wealth disparity among ether holders.

Category : Projects, Use cases, Enterprise blockchains, and Markets

Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeldelcastillo/2019/02/04/navigating-bitcoin-ethereum-xrp-how-google-is-quietly-making-blockchains-searchable/#c88b2944248f

My Stake : Back 10 Cred

My Argument/Evidence : A data scientist at Google, Allen Day’s project is known as Blockchain ETL (extract, transform, load). “Last year Day and a small team of open-source developers quietly began loading data for the entire Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains into Google’s big-data analytics platform, BigQuery. Then, with the help of lead developer Evgeny Medvedev, he created a suite of sophisticated software to search the data.”

While Amazon and Microsoft are focusing on making the blockchain easier to build apps, Day is focusing on exposing how blockchains are actually being used, and by whom. Day said ““In the future, moving more economic activity on chain won’t just require a consensus level of trust,” says Day, referring to the core validating mechanism of blockchain technology. “It will require having some trust in knowing about who it is you’re actually interacting with.” In other words, if blockchain is to go mainstream, some of its beloved anonymity features will have to be abandoned.”" I don’t agree with Day 100% since one of the attractions of using blockchain is the anonymity part. Subspace is doing something similar without revealing the identity of a user.


#55

It is definitely an odd story and I’m glad you posted it. So many oddities that need to be investigated.

I think you are right on the penalties. Although his wife/widow appears to have been left a giant mess either way, so hopefully there is some way to help her sort it all out for the wallet holders of the exchange. So, I guess if he isn’t dead, he’s likely ‘dead to her.’

Great find!


#56

Claim : United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates $2 trillion gets laundered every year on a global scale.

Category : Money laundering, USD ?

Source : https://www.theblockcrypto.com/tiny/bloomberg-maps-out-the-most-notable-money-laundering-crackdowns-in-recent-history/

My Stake : Clone and Back claim (100 Cred)

My Argument/Evidence :

The estimated amount of money laundered globally in one year is 2 - 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion - $2 trillion in current US dollars.

  • I would clone the claim as “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates ($800 billion - $2 trillion) as the range in current US dollars that gets laundered every year on a global scale”.

  • Not the scope of this claim but the estimate seems to have made atleast 11 years ago back. (Dec 2007 snapshot)


#57

Update from FB’s latest SEC filing:

  • In Q4 2018, duplicate accounts make up 11% of MAUs (up from 10% in Q4 2017)
  • In Q4 2018, false accounts make up 5% of MAUs (up from 3-4% in Q4 2017)

Now that they’ve finally reported on 2018 figures, I’d be comfortable increasing my stake to challenge Greenspan’s claim. Facebook’s total of 16% vs Greenspan’s claim of 50% is a huge gap. That gap is not supported by concrete evidence.


#58

@dpjceochairdisn

Your topic was the lead story in today’s CoinDesk newsletter : https://www.coindesk.com/indian-death-certificate-crypto-exchange-quadrigacx-death


#59

This is something that is very confusing for small businesses as well and I have worked with a number of startups and small companies trying to set up their payroll manually. It leads to incorrect withholding amounts because of the confusion about how the brackets work. The IRS Publication 15 gives you step by step instructions for it and they are as clear as mud most of the time.

Here’s an example tax bracket for a single person paid weekly:
image

If your weekly wages are 1500, you are in the third tier and your federal deduction is $87.34 plus 22% of (1500-832), which is 234.30.

The $87.34 is the tax from the prior two brackets, or the $832 that is not being taxed at 22%.
image

So, your first $73.00 in wages has no tax.

Your wages from $73 to $260 have 10% tax, so you subtract 73 from 260 to get 187 (260-73 = 187) and then calculate the 10% rate on those wages
187 x 10% = $18.70 in taxes for the first tier

The next bracket is from $260 to $832, but the first $260 has already been taxed at the lower rate, so you start with the $18.70 and add 12% tax to (832 - 260) which is
572 x 12% = $68.64 in taxes for the second tier

That $18.70 plus $68.64 is the $87.34 you start with in the third tier, so your actual overall income tax rate is lower than the 22% you paid for the 3rd tier of your wages.


#60

I forgot to add that the most common mistake I see when small businesses are trying to manually do payroll and don’t understand the tax charts or have software to calculate this for them, is that they apply the 22% to the entire amount and sometimes even add the $87.34. So, in my example above where someone gets $1500 in a week, they would pay 417.34, which is $183.04 more than they are supposed to. This would come back to them when they did their tax return (unless they owed otherwise) but that’s a pretty big difference per paycheck.

Imagine having 5 employees with different pay rates and filing status and having to figure this out every week by hand?


#61

Claim: Bakkt Platform will be launched on March 12. 2019

Category: Troll/fake claims(Unsure if this could be a category)

Source: Twitter Channel on TruStory Slack

My Stake: Challenge claim[100 Cred]

My Argument/Evidence:

  1. I followed the website to place an order on a platform that is yet to be launched(flag 1) and it asked for my BTC wallet address. Since, there was no credible social media announcements(flag 2) as mentioned on the twitter post and the Bakkt team page just lists the team members but provides no further details about the individual team members(flag 3), I had a feeling that it might be fake.

So I decided to find out by having some fun.

Submitted a random BTC wallet address

Eventually it asked me to send payment to a specific BTC address.

I traced the BTC address and found it had no credible details with zero balance.

  1. Turns out, finder.com already declared that the website is a fake one, indeed.

The Bakkt site that is announcing its launch is a (fairly convincing) fake. Bakkt has not announced its launch date yet. The real Bakkt site is at bakkt.com. The fake website is “bakktplatform.io.”