Blockchain technology is often touted for its potential to transform everything from how we vote, to the way we pay. But the digital ledgers also enable much darker use cases, as demonstrated by a blockchain platform that has been used to set up an online assassination market.
Users of the recently-established Augur protocol are using its underlying blockchain technology to bet on the deaths of high-profile public figures, including US President Donald Trump, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
The markets, first spotted by Mashable, allow people to place bets using cryptocurrency on whether or not these people will be assassinated. The market for the president's death, for example, asks: "Will Donald Trump (President of The USA) be killed at any point during 2018?"
Set up by the Forecast Foundation, Augur allows people to choose an event to predict, create a market for it, and then trade shares on the outcome of the event. “Anything is fair game,” the website states, “from the next presidential election to the success of a company’s product.”
The cryptocurrency associated with Augur is currently the 40th most valuable, according to CoinMarketCap, with a market cap of over $340 million, but trading on the Augur protocol is done with ethereum – the world’s second most valuable cryptocurrency behind bitcoin.
Augur’s website describes several potential use cases for its platform, including political forecasting and weather prediction. But conceivably it could be used for betting on any event, which is why some blockchain analysts have previously said the creation of assassination markets were inevitable.
“Augur is built from the ground up to be owned and operated by the people that use it,” the platform’s website states. “This is a technical reality enabled by the ethereum blockchain and open source software.”
While the open bets for Trump's assassination are not directly calling for his death, the nature of market means users might be incentivised to carry out the assassinations, or pay to have them carried out.
Dark web crowdfunding websites that seek to raise money for the assassination of public figures have previously included listings for Trump, with a 2016 campaign raising almost $100,000. The money raised, the site claimed, would be paid to whoever carried out his assassination.
"The consequences of having Donald Trump and Mike Pence as the leaders of the free world is extremely dangerous," stated the crowdfunding page, which has since been taken down."The political, environmental and social consequences will change the United States for the worst."
A community forum dedicated to Augur on Reddit has discussed the issue of assassination markets, noting that the decentralised nature of Augur means that it can’t be regulated or shut down
One member warned that “the birth of these types of markets makes it illogical for anyone under the age of 25 to want to become a public figure.”
One thread states: “There are currently multiple assassination markets open on Augur for Trump, and others for Warren Buffett, John McCain, Jeff Bezos, Betty White, and so on… There doesn’t appear to be a way to tag these markets as unethical right now.”
A spokesperson for the Forecast Foundation directed comment requests to Augur's Frequently Asked Questions, which state that the foundation does not "have the ability to monitor, control, censor, or modify any actions performed on the Augur protocol."