ICOs — The Wild West?

Headlines such as $9million lost each day in Cryptocurrency scams and 80% of ICOs are scams highlight the growing risks in investing in ICOs and rightly point out that any investor should do so only after carrying out due diligence and research. There are endless resources out there to help investors but with ICO fraud being as rife as reported in the two articles above, it can seem like the Wild West out there with cowboys-a-plenty ready to take off with their loot.

With that in mind, below are a number of examples of successful as well as scam ICOs that have made the headlines in the Cryptocurrency world.

The Good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good: Ethereum.

Widely regarded as a pioneer in the ICO world, Ethereum raised $18million in its 42 day ICO. The most successful ICO at the time, Ethereum has since seen rapid growth and is the world’s second most valuable cryptocurrency with an all-time high of approximately $1,400 in January of this year.

Other notable success stories are Neo (raising $4.5m) and EOS ($185m).

The Bad: Benebit.

On the face of it, this appeared to be a legitimate ICO: It had all the key components of a trustworthy project: A Telegram channel with over 9,000 members, a healthy marketing budget and promotions for the pre-sale. However, it was discovered that photographs of the ‘founders’ had actually been lifted from a UK school. This prompted the team to remove all material related to Benebit — the White Paper, website and social media accounts. It is thought that the scammers fled with up to $4million.

The Ugly: Pincoin.

Earlier this year, a team of scammers walked away with approximately $660m of investors’ money. A company called Modern Tech launched the ICO for a coin people knew incredibly little about. The Pincoin website was incredibly easy on the eye yet gave no indication of what the token actually intended to do. Despite this, in excess of 32,000 investors felt propelled to part with their cash in the promise of a 48% monthly return. The company did make good on this return, in the form of another token called iFan. It was then that the seven team members vanished without trace walking away with just under $10million each.

This final example is possibly the most fascinating ICO ‘scam’ since the birth of the crowdfunding platform. Savedroid had the lot: a well administered strong community, an extremely credible, visible team and founder at the forefront of the project. The project screamed legitimacy, so much so that investors parted with approximately $50million in order to ‘participate in the Airdrop and become a Crypto Millionaire’ as written by Savedroid’s CEO, Yassin Hankir. Investors were left aghast when after raising the $50million, the founder posted a tweet thanking his investors, saying “over and out” accompanied by a photo of him enjoying a beer on the beach. Another day, another ICO scam right? Not on this occasion as only 24 hours after the ‘over and out’ tweet, the founder released this video explaining that the Savedroid ICO isn’t a scam after all but a legitimate project. Hankir faked the scam, carrying out the stunt to highlight the vulnerability of ICO investors to such practices. Whilst unconventional, and perhaps losing the trust of a number of investors, the stunt has raised awareness of the due diligence that must be sought before committing to any investment.

Genomes.io is one start up that falls into the first of these categories. With its ICO due to launch later this year, the company is looking to raise funds to develop its genome sequencing technology. Genomes.io boasts an extremely informative website, detailing a comprehensive roadmap and a thorough Whitepaper outlining how any funding will be utilised.

Whilst acknowledging the importance of the ICO in the early stages of its growth, Genonmes.io also focusses on its long term project and how it will develop technologies to grow the business. It boasts a transparent team of individuals with extensive experience in a number of fields. The start-up also places great emphasis on building community utilising TelegramTwitter, Facebook, Reddit and Linkedin to keep (would-be) investors abreast of any updates throughout the journey.

What is a genome and why should I care?

At lunchtime on the 28th of February of 1953, Francis Crick & James Watson interrupted patrons at The Eagle pub in Cambridge to proclaim they had “discovered the secret of life” after discovering the structure of DNA. Crick and Watson shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine with Maurice Wilkins for their discovery of the double helix, the overlooked contribution of Rosalind Franklin was recognized posthumously.

Their work was an important step toward one of the most profound discoveries in human history, the mapping of the human genome which was completed in 2003. The impact of the discovery was widely understood within scientific disciplines, but the general population is yet to realise the potential it has to change all life on earth.

 

What is a genome?

A genome is the collective name given to a set of genes that make up an organism. It essentially acts as the instruction manual for how an organism is created, genes control a vast range of traits from physicality and functionality to personality. Every single organism on earth has a unique genome, I have a genome, you have a genome, a chimpanzee has a genome, a worm has a genome, a blade of grass has a genome. The genomes of two humans are similar, the differences in our genomes is what makes every person unique and vastly different to a worm.

Humans have around 20,000 different genes, every person has two copies of each gene and they inherit one copy from both of their parents. Genes dictate simple physical traits things like hair or eye colour, right the way through to complex body functions such as controlling how susceptible people are to certain diseases and how they would react to certain treatments. Genes also control some traits that appear more behavioural, like how susceptible someone is to addiction. The collection of genes make up the genome and results in the unique blueprint for how your body is made, from innocuous traits through to fatal flaws.

By understanding the genome, humankind has unimaginable potential to change all life on earth.

 

ELI5:  A genome is like a recipe for a cake. The genes are the individual ingredients that when mixed together create an organism cake.

 

The Wheat Genome

A simple example is the wheat genome whose sequence was complete by researchers in October 2017. Wheat is a staple crop for over 2 billion people worldwide, by understanding the genome we can help farmers generate a more stable, reliable yield year on year and breed strains that are resistant to climate change, diseases and other stresses. By understanding the wheat genome we could take significant steps toward eradicating world hunger.

 

Why should I care?

We have lifted the lid on the building blocks of life and as with every monumental discovery there is the potential for good and the potential for harm.

The first genome sequence cost around $2.7billion and a huge amount of scientific effort to achieve. The cost in 15 years has reduced to below $1000 and Illumina announced in 2017 that the ‘race is on’ for the $100 genome. As the cost decreases, the potential applications increase and awareness in the general population is raised it’s reasonable to think that in the not too distant future everyone will have their genome sequenced.

 

 

But under what circumstances will you have your genome sequenced? Will it be voluntary or mandatory? Who will be responsible for the sequencing? Who will pay for it? Who will own the data? What control will you have over access to your genome? What are the implications of having the entire world’s population genomes in a database?

Here are three hypothetical scenarios, all of which are realistic and could potentially happen in the our life times.

 

Scenario A

The UK government mandates the entire population to have their genome sequenced in order to be eligible for free healthcare via the NHS. The service is free, the government owns the data and restricts access to medical practitioners. Everyone is entitled to a summary report of their genome data, much like medical records are handled today.

 

Scenario B

A private company offer genome sequencing and provide a summary report of notable characteristics. The service is free, individuals are entitled to a summary report and can grant access to medical professionals but the data is owned by the private company and can be sold to other private companies.

 

Scenario C

The UK government gives the option for citizens to have their genome sequenced, their data is encrypted and stored on the blockchain. The government subsidises the cost of sequencing but individuals need to pay $100 for the service. Individuals can see a summary report of their genome and control access to their genome to medical professionals or private companies.

 

Now let’s analyse some of the characteristics and possibilities of each scenario:

 

Scenario A Scenario B Scenario C
Cost Free (paid in taxes) Free (sold to companies) $100
Where is the data stored? Government data centres Private data centres Blockchain
Who owns the data The government Private company The individual
Who controls access to the data The government with limited access for the individual Private company with limited access for the individual The individual
Could a private company buy access to the data without the individuals consent. No Yes No

These are only a few possible scenarios and a small investigation into the implications of each. Hypothesising about the future impact of genomic sequencing can result in a dystopian eugenic nightmare or a utopian dream where all illness & disease are cured.

I liken the sequencing of the human genome to the invention of the world wide web. On day 1 there was little interest apart from those directly involved in the field, those who could access, understand or have an application for the new technology. Over the years the potential of the world wide web was realised by more and more people, 30 years on it is ubiquitous in the western world and fundamental to our society.

The future of the human race hinges on the technologies built upon our understanding of genomes. At Genomes.io we see ourselves as playing a small but vital role to ensure that whatever the future holds for genetic sequencing, that individuals are in control of how their genome is used by companies and governments.

 

If you’d like to get all of the updates from the Genomes.io team, you can join our Telegram Group here follow us @genomesio

The Use of Our Personal Data in the Age of Accelerations

Things are moving quickly and there is no sign of them slowing down.

In his latest book ‘Thank You for Being Late, an Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations’ the renowned New York Times journalist Thomas L. Friedman describes the many up- and downsides of living in our world today.

Friedman makes the case that we are at the dawn of a new era and claims that the three biggest forces that currently shape our world Technology, the Market and Mother Nature are all going through very rapid changes at the same time – causing in some cases tectonic global transitions.

More than ever before, such velocity will give individuals the ability to massively change our world. A single person or a small group of people will genuinely have the power to either improve the world we live in – or destroy it.

Even though Friedman preaches an overall optimism, his book also advises caution and historic reflection in these times of (exciting) acceleration.

A concrete example of how we should be cautious has been dominating the news over the past months when the beloved social media platform Facebook admitted to making a mistake in harvesting and sharing the user data of over 50 million Americans with a political consultancy company called Cambridge Analytica.

We are yet to fully understand the implications of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data breach and the effect that it has had (and will continue to have) on the lives of these 50 million users and shared some more ideas on this in an earlier article published on this blog.

It is safe to say that with the rapid changes in our world, we need to be a lot more mindful of what happens with our personal data.

Genomes.io has a vision in which such mindfulness is genuinely put into practice so that a ‘Cambridge Analytica catastrophe’ cannot occur when it comes to our DNA data.

As general consumers of many Healthcare technology tools we never want to be manipulated, abused or discriminated against on the basis of our genomics data by big corporates we have never even heard of.

Pharmaceutical are very interested in our genomic data and they are willing to pay very big money for it. Last week the pharma giant Novartis announced the acquisition of the US gene therapy group AveXis for the gi-normous amount of $8,7 billion and the deals that the company 23andme struck with companies like Genentech and Pfizer are another example that pharma is very (very!) interested.

We sincerely hope that these companies will act responsibly with our data.

But what are our guarantees?

Even though we find some reason in the claim that such partnerships can possibly lead to scientific advancement and the creation of new effective medicine, we also see a risk where DNA data can be exploited, cross-sold and eventually used to manipulate the individual consumer.

Imagine not getting a job because your employer knows that you are genetically more receptive to have heart problems or not being accepted for an insurance policy because of a certain personal health risk that could be there for you in 30 years time.

The enormous invasion in our privacy would get a lot worse with far bigger implications than the Facebook/Cambridge Analytics scandal.

Genomes.io firmly believes that ownership of such personal data should – at all times – remain with the individual user so he/she can monitor what it is exactly being used for. Only after having the absolute guarantee and transparency that their data will not be cross-sold or (ab)used for any other purposes than provided by the requesting party, a consumer can grant access by sending a GENE token to the respective tool.

Our approach genuinely puts the individual consumer in the midst of everything and can make him/her an active, participating witness to the progress that is being made in the development of a new medicine and scientific progress.

The decentralised network of the Blockchain offers us the perfect technological infrastructure to build our system and we are very excited about the infinite possibilities it has to offer in the growth of all our endeavours.

Living in a quickly moving world or not – we should always own our DNA data and decide who gets to work with it.

If you’d like to get all of the updates from the Genomes.io team, you can join our Telegram Group here follow us @genomesio