Augur Criticized for Death, Assassination Markets
Prediction market platform Augur has been criticized for the emergence of so-called assassination markets that allow users to wager on when public figures like Warren Buffet or Jeff Bezos will die. The incidents leave open questions about the ethics and legal status of participating in Augur markets.
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So-called ‘Assassination Markets’ Live on Augur
It has only been two weeks since the launch of Augur, the decentralized prediction market platform (labeled by some as a decentralized “gambling website”), and already the site has come under criticism. Specifically, several crypto-commentators have called out Augur for hosting markets which allow users to gamble on when prominent people will pass into the great beyond.
Bitcoin developer Matt Odell noted the appearance of what he termed “assassination markets” on Augur on July 23rd:
The first assassination markets have started to appear on augur… https://t.co/3krUKBpSmN
— Matt Odell (@matt_odell) July 23, 2018
If one looks at predictions.global, which shows some of the markets currently on Augur, prediction markets for the timing of the deaths Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, actress Betty White, and U.S. Senator John McCain all appear:
Larry Cermak of Diar posted on Twitter two markets he found in the Augur App that were even more controversial. The first asked whether President Donald Trump would be killed during his presidential term and the second asked whether there would be another mass shooting in the United States in 2018:
Bitsonline was able to confirm that these markets had appeared on Augur.
Questionable Markets Spark Twitter Debates
Dogecoin founder and crypto-commentator Jackson Palmer responded to Cermak’s post on Twitter, saying “When this (inevitably) ends tragically I hope someone holds the Augur team accountable.” He further added:
Because if you provide financial incentives to commit crime there will likely be a tipping point at which someone cracks and feels incentivized enough. Keep in mind there are already deranged killers out there who are currently unpaid… this gives them an income source.
— Jackson Palmer (@ummjackson) July 24, 2018
Andrew Glidden of UC Berkeley Law also joined in the debate, but saw the public nature of Ethereum’s ledger as a deterrent to such markets:
It was predictable that this would come, as such endeavors were at the root of early cryptoanarchist writing. Pretty sick – but then, having transactions on a public ledger will undoubtedly help the prosecution of such evil. https://t.co/CHVQGpUQBD
— Andrew "Not a Fed" Glidden (@asglidden) July 23, 2018
Is Augur Enabling Unethical or Illegal Behavior?
While most will be horrified that someone could profit from a terrorist attack or death, there is a way to nullify the resolution of such a prediction market. According to the Augur whitepaper, reporters of event outcomes have the option of choosing “invalid” when providing outcome information, which effectively cancels the payout. If more than half of the reporters of a given market chose this option, no payouts would occur, even if the event occurred as predicted.
Whether it is legal to participate in such markets is another question. The Forecast Foundation, which developed and supports Augur, says in its FAQ that it has no legal liability for anything that happens on Augur:
“Markets on Augur are created by individual users of the Augur protocol. The Forecast Foundation does not operate or control, nor can it control, what markets and actions people perform and create on the Augur protocol. People who do create markets using the Augur protocol must ensure they’re in compliance with all their local jurisdictional laws, rules and regulations.”
So, according to the Forecast Foundation, users of the site engage at their own risk. Since Augur is so new, there haven’t been any actions taken by governments against users yet. But if running a gambling pool to bet on a political election or a sporting event is illegal in a given user’s jurisdiction, then its likely illegal to do so on Augur as well.
Augur co-founder Joey Krug in the past has seemed unconcerned about legal consequences for the Forecast Foundation, telling Reason Magazine in 2015 that, “Our friends in Washington, D.C. say the CFTC will probably just dismiss Augur and say it’s not a big deal.”
Even if Krug is correct, other U.S. government agencies or other governments entirely still have the option to go after Augur users in their jurisdictions. And if a market for the death of a prominent person or the timing of a terrorist attack made a significant payout, it is possible law enforcement agencies might take action against either users of the platform or the Forecast Foundation itself. As Augur is a decentralized platform that no one fully controls, it seems likely that unsavory markets will continue to be an issue.
Have your say. Are these death and assassination markets either unethical or illegal and should the Forecast Foundation be held responsible for them?
Images via Pixabay