Blockchain technology appears to be going through many changes. Photo: Name Coin/Flick
Blockchain technology appears to be going through many changes. Photo: Name Coin/Flick

The website Reddit is home to the best read crypto-currency forums in the world and on Sunday when a site user, who calls himself cryptothrice, asked if “crypto is at crossroads”, he perhaps summed up the mood of the sector.

Cryptothrice’s post was actually pondering “total freedom or total control” and wondered what would happen if blockchain technology was not to remain anonymous. Would it, wrote Cryptothrice, become “the de facto tool to literally watch and record every step any person makes. Every transaction whether it’s money, text, video, you changing the color of your lightbulb, the RFID Chips in your coke bottle will be watched and recorded. Literally everything around you will be on the ledger.”

It’s certainly a pertinent question. As this column reported last week, Google is saying it is about to launch its own bespoke blockchain. Blockchain is supposedly underlined by a decentralized owned-by-all ethos. But now one of the biggest companies in the world wants a stake?

However, the crypto news debate in recent days and weeks has been about a lot more than privacy. Just as the bitcoin price attempted a half-hearted rally late last week to move back above the $9,000 price point, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was preparing to examine up to 100 hedge funds that deal with crypto-currencies as attempts intensify, by regulators and law enforcement agencies in the States and globally, to reign in the largely unregulated ICO world.

On the same day as the SEC revelation came the news that the world’s biggest crypto exchange, Binance, seems to have been forced out of Asia after tussles with regulators in Shanghai, Japan and Hong Kong and was taking its $1.5 billion a day – yes, per day – business to the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta.

We hear too that visitor volume to crypto-currency websites is reportedly tanking and in February, according to market intelligence tool Similarweb, the traffic for a dozen of the biggest exchanges had fallen by 50% compared with the preceding months.

And over the weekend came another revelation. Many of the companies behind crypto-currency ICOs, reported Business Insider, have been “intentionally non-transparent” and “have not publicly revealed how they are spending the funds they have raised.” Quoting analysis from ICORating, Business Insider says in 2017, ICOs from 435 projects raised an impressive $5.6 billion, but the lack of a tangible product to sell is not a stumbling block to ICO success.

“Rather than being warranted by product development, token price growth is often either manipulated or caused by faith in the project and favorable coverage in the media,” says Business Insider. Some ICOs have “yet to launch any version of their product — but, surprisingly, the best investment returns come from those with no product.”

And then we hear from Quartz that a “group of famed economists and financial innovators … are creating the first non-anonymous blockchain-based digital currency” to form a “non-volatile” crypto-currency that will be “without all the things that make regulators, central bankers, and, frankly, most people nervous.”

This new token is being developed by the Swiss-based Saga Foundation and its advisory board includes Jacob Frenkel, the former Governor of the Bank of Israel and chairman of JPMorgan Chase International. Economics Nobel laureate Myron Scholes and a list of other mainstream financial heavyweights are also on board.

The token, that like its Foundation will be known as the “Saga,” will avoid extreme volatility, any ambiguity around value, and, yes, anonymity.

The big tech players, the global financial regulators and the mainstream banking institutions are circling. Cryptothrice’s question asked about total freedom or total control. It seems, at this point on the rollercoaster crypto journey, it could well end up being total control.