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Arizona Takes Lead on Blockchain-Friendly Regulation

The state aims to be the most competitive state for blockchain innovation

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Recently, there have been a few states that are rolling out positive laws and relaxed regulation around blockchain technology. One of the states leading the pack is Arizona.

On April 10th, 2018, the Senate passed House Bill 2601, which expands Arizona’s crowdfunding exemption and defines the difference between a Security Token and Utility Token. The bill was introduced by Representative Jeff Weninger, who has committed a lot of his work recently to bills relating to blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Representative Weninger has been extremely involved with blockchain-positive legislation in Arizona. Recently he introduced HB 2434, which created the first ever Fintech Sandbox in the United States. This allowed for startups, entrepreneurs and established companies to experiment with products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms without running up costs associated with regulation and obsolete laws.

The new crowdfunding exemption bill aims at placing Arizona as a competitive state for blockchain innovation given the current uncertainty of laws and regulation surrounding cryptocurrencies and ICOs. The security exemption only qualifies for offerings made in the state of Arizona for Arizona residents. In addition, a purchaser engaging in an intrastate offering that complies with these provisions is not considered an underwriter unless the purchaser purchases more than 50% of the securities or virtual coins offered for sale in the offering.

The bill allows security exemption for utility tokens if they qualify to the following definition: If the token is to be used to facilitate a transaction within 90 days it is exempt from being labeled as a Security and is then defined as a Utility Token exempt from securities law.

Arizona’s bill is similar to the recent house bill introduced in Wyoming, HB 0070, which grants exemptions to utility tokens in the state as well reading that “a person who develops, sells or facilitates the exchange of an open blockchain token is not subject to specified securities and money transmission laws”.

Both the Arizona bill and Wyoming bill are very different than the way the SEC looks at initial coin offerings. Chairman of the SEC, Jay Clayton, stated during a Senate hearing in February, “I believe every ICO I’ve seen is a security” but has also maintained a position of viewing blockchain technology and cryptocurrency as an innovation that shouldn’t be stifled.

Weninger’s bill has passed through the Arizona Senate and made its way to Governor Doug Ducey’s desk where it awaits his signature into law as of April 10th.

22 Countries Join Together for Better Blockchain Regulation

During Digital Day 2018 in Brussels, Belgium the event was highlighted by the new agreement between 22 European countries to make better blockchain regulation. The partnership will allow member states to exchange both experience and expertise in technical and regulatory fields.

This cooperation is a follow up to the Digital Single Market initiative which began in early 2015. The project was notably re-evaluated and revamped around Digital Day 2017 in Rome. Essentially, the initiative is to create a more singular and regulated experience for all Europeans across the web. Their three key figures are to improve access, environment, and economy in order to maximize the public and private sectors of internet usage.

The Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, was excited to present the partnership. She gave a brief speech where she was quoted:

In the future, all public services will use blockchain technology. Blockchain is a great opportunity for Europe and Member States to rethink their information systems, to promote user trust and the protection of personal data, to help create new business opportunities and to establish new areas of leadership, benefiting citizens, public services and companies. The Partnership launched today enables Member States to work together with the European Commission to turn the enormous potential of blockchain technology into better services for citizens.

With so many countries unsure of how to tackle regulating blockchain technologies, it is highly possible that a fragmented ecosystem could be created without alliances such as this one. By joining together, and inviting all of Europe, they can create policies that are accepted across the board. It will also make it that much easier for new blockchain startups to meet a standardized level of compliance.

JP Morgan Overcharging Crypto Buyers?

JP Morgan is back in the crypto news with a class action lawsuit that is definitely making some customers mad. Allegedly, JP Morgan is being accused for overcharging customers that use third party services to purchase cryptocurrencies. According to the complaint filed by San Diego-based law firm Finkelstein & Krinsk LLP.  and their client, Mr. Tucker, JP Morgan treated his cryptocurrency purchases as cash advances, as far back as January.

Mr. Tucker is seeking refund of the fees as well as “statutory damages in the amount of $1 million, plus his costs of this action and reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred therein”. The cash advance fees amounted to just over $143 between January 27th and February 2nd. $143 is certainly an annoying charge, the lawsuit comes after Tucker tried to settle the issue unsuccessfully with JP Morgan, making him fear that he might not be the only one affected.

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Operation Cryptosweep, Blockchain Patents and more!

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The North American Securities Administrators Association released an official announcement of ‘operation cryptosweep’, which is a task force investigating current and future planned ICOs in the US and Canada. Securities regulators will begin an international crackdown on ICOs and cryptocurrency related investment products. The NASAA president stated that so-called cryptocriminals pose a serious threat to main street investors with fraudulent investment scams, and urges investors to use extreme caution when evaluating cryptocurrencies. He also said that the current investigations are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a long list of crypto companies that have been issued cease and desist orders which you can check out by following the link in the description box.

Adding on to that, In late april 13 crypto trading platforms received information demand letters from New York attorney general eric schneiderman; the exchanges include coinbase, bittrex and binance. The information requested includes detailed information about operations, internal controls, and safeguards to protect customer assets. The results of the inquiries will be released to the public to help all consumers understand the operations the associated risks with trading virtual currencies.

Is Google pursuing Buterins skills and knowledge? It would appear so! In a tweet that has now been deleted, Ethereum founder Vitalik posted a screenshot of an email from a Google recruiter, asking him to consider working for Google at some time either now or in the future. He added a poll which received over 2000 votes asking his followers if he should drop ethereum and work for google. Although Google is banning all ads related to cryptocurrencies, it is clear they are interested in developing some kind of blockchain based project, and also notably is invested in Ripple, Veem and LedgerX.

In other news, Walmart just filed for a patent for a ‘distributed delivery record blockchain’, one of multiple patents they have filed describing the use of blockchain technology. This one has to do with recording transactions and tracking the sale and resell of products from person to person. You can read the details of this particular patent yourself, I will include it in the description, it’s pretty interesting. Additionally, Bank of America has received a patent for a blockchain based system for managing security and access to private information. It is essentially an automated way to grant access to authenticated users to secure information contained in a particular block. I think it is good that they are acknowledging the need for improved cybersecurity measures in the face of increasing data hacks that have been affecting so many companies.

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Chinese Government Ranks Cryptocurrencies, Market Survey Results and more

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China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s public blockchain ratings that were released today. They unveiled national standards and a ranking of the top blockchain projects focused on evaluating technical aspects. The standards include requirements for interoperability, safety, and reliability. The list includes 28 projects, that were given scores in three categories: technology, application, and innovation. And this list will be updated monthly!
The top 5 are:
ETH
STEEM
LSK
NEO
KMD
Notably, Bitcoin ranked highest of all on innovation but low on the technology rating, placing 13 out of the 28, Ethereum is #1 overall with high scores on the technology and application aspects, and ok on innovation. They are controversial, as any ranking is going to be somewhat subjective based on the creators’ own opinions, I like the idea of creating a standard index.

Now, let’s get into Vechain/PwC survey results and what they say about general enterprise opinions on blockchain’s usage.
A survey was administered by VeChain and PwC to their clients, of which 130 enterprises responded. The participants all have annual revenue over $100 mill and the survey also included two focus group discussions including 40 respondents. If you don’t know, PwC is an international services provider, one of what is known as the “Big Four”, and they announced a partnership in which PwC will utilize Vechain’s blockchain platform. with Vechain in May of 2018. The participants in the survey represent a broad group: including enterprises in industries ranging from IT, service, Manufacturing, media, and retail as well as departments within those enterprises from IT, to marketing, founders, science researchers etc. I will highlight some key interesting findings from in the 30 page report(which I recommend checking out yourself, and I will have linked down below)

One of the questions asked participants to rank what they see as the core features of Blockchain tech. The top 4 responses were:
1. Tamper resistance
2. Distributed system
3. Smart contracts*
4. Integration

Another interesting finding In the survey results is that the more people understand about blockchain, the more optimistic they are about it. Granted, the majority of these enterprises do have some connection or development to blockchain going on in their organization.

Top 3 fields respondents see blockchain application in are: Logistics, Government, Medical field
Top 3 actual applications: security traceability, distributed data storage, identity management.
I would like to see more surveys like this from around the world, to see more worldwide opinions!

Lastly, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba says that while he does “believe strongly in Blockchain’s potential to address issues of data privacy and security for society at all levels,” he says that bitcoin is a bubble. Due to the number of speculators who view investing in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a way to get rich quick, it gives blockchain as a whole a negative reputation to some people, who don’t see the value in the underlying innovative technology. Like I mentioned last video, facebook, google, twitter, and bing have all banned cryptocurrency related ads, due to the existence of ICO scams and cryptos unregulated nature, but the bans discredit the potential of decentralized systems build with blockchain that can eliminate issues of data privacy and security for governments, corporations and individuals – in an “era of big data” especially. Mr. Wu also says that people should think beyond just making profits, but about the potential of the technology.

Investment in distributed ledger technology and development of blockchain technology in China is an attempt to grasp a hold of global technological competition, but it is unknown if they will ease their stance on crypto trading.

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ICO Scam Red Flags: HoweyCoins

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So the SEC is basically pranking people, they made a site offering an ICO presale of the Howeycoin (get it??), its pretty hilarious, it appears to be a legitimate company just based off the website, but is totally fake. The aim is to educate investors and prove just how easy it is to make a scam ICO seem legitimate and compelling to investors, allowing the creators to raise funds without having any technology development or platform whatsoever. Anyone in the world can create a nice looking website, and post a fake white paper with a complex yet vague explanation of the investment opportunity.

The HoweyCoin is a satirical move by the SEC, and they even include a 9 page white paper on the site.  But if you click on “Buy Coins Now” on the site, you will be led instead to investor education tools and tips from the SEC and other financial regulators. I recommend going to the website and checking it out. A key takeaway here is that releasing a white paper doesn’t inherently make a company legit, and the people should be educated on what to look for before they invest in an ICO.

investor.gov is their website with the following list of red flags to look for if you’re unsure about an ICO:

Claims of high, guaranteed returns,

Celebrity endorsements, Investing with a credit card,

Pump and dump scams, Claims of “SEC-compliant”

On companies claiming to be sec compliant, many platforms refer to themselves as “exchanges,” which can give the misimpression to investors that they are regulated or meet the regulatory standards of a national securities exchange. Although some of these platforms claim to use strict standards to pick only high-quality digital assets to trade, the SEC does not review these standards or the digital assets that the platforms select.’ overall, just be wary of “too good to be true” claims.

HoweyCoins serve as a joke but a learning lesson. Jay Clayton, chairman of the SEC said,  “We embrace new technologies, but we also want investors to see what fraud looks like, so we built this educational site with many of the classic warning signs of fraud,”  Clayton Continued his statement on making safe investments: “Distributed ledger technology can add efficiency to the capital raising process, but promoters and issuers need to make sure they follow the securities laws. I encourage investors to do their diligence and ask questions”

Like he said, he is not opposed to new technologies, but as the government regulator, he wants to prevent scams and investors from falling prey. Someone who is on the so-called “hype train” and is only interested in cryptocurrencies to get rich quick could be easily fooled if they don’t do proper research. I think this is a super funny way to educate people.

Following the theme of scammy ICOs in the news…

Bing (the web browser owned by Microsoft) has announced that it will be banning all ads related to cryptocurrencies by July 2018. It is a blanket ban over all things cryptocurrency related and follows google’s similar ban, announced in January, but going into full effect in June. According to a blog post by Bings’ advertising policy manager, “Because cryptocurrency and related products are not regulated, they have found them to present a possible elevated risk to their users with the potential for bad actors to participate in predatory behaviors, or otherwise scam consumers.”

Facebook and Twitter also have implemented bans on cryptocurrency ads although it does make sense since crypto companies promote decentralization, and there are many that are blockchain based alternatives to the centralized web browsers like bing. Another reason is the lack of regulation around cryptos. Linkedin co-founder Eric Ly has stated that he thinks the ad bans will be temporary, as a protective measure, until official regulations come out in regard to ICOs.

The biggest issue being that one doesn’t know if the information they’re reading is a trustworthy source… exemplified by the HoweyCoin and people who buy and invest in projects without doing proper due diligence. Time will tell if these bans on crypto ads actually reduce scamming and fraudulent activity, or if the scammers simply find other ways to trick people.

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