Decentralized prediction market platform Augur is currently featuring a market allowing users to bet on whether or not US President Donald Trump will be assassinated at any point during 2018.
The Augur platform markets itself as “The Future of Forecasting,” indicating that it is a “prediction market protocol owned and operated by the people that use it.” Use cases outlined on the Augur homepage include political forecasting, event hedging, weather prediction, election prediction, and company forecasting. Augur, created by a non-profit called The Forecast Foundation, launched on July 9, 2018.
Augur utilizes Ethereum (ETH) as its trading currency, as well as the Augur currency, Reputation (REP). Users are allowed to first select an event to predict. “Anything is fair game,” says the website. Then, if a market does not exist for that event, users create a market for it. At that point, users can buy and sell shares, trading on the outcome of the event. After the outcome of the event has occurred, users holding shares of the winning event outcome is paid out through the market pool at such time that the market is resolved.
As a result of the emergence of such death pools, or assassination markets, the cryptocurrency world is currently enmeshed in a fierce debate over what should be done about these illegal markets. One of the problematic parts of these, despite the obvious ethical issues at hand, is that such markets create a financial incentive for bad actors to perform the tasks wagered on in these markets for personal profit.
For example, someone might place a large bet on the eventual assassination of the president and then go and commit that act in order to reap a financial reward. As such, there is a fractional chance that the likelihood of an eventual assassination would be increased by the existence of such markets anticipating financial gain upon the demise of the subject.
Prediction markets have been in existence for far longer than Augur has, but the fact that Augur exists as a decentralized platform on the Ethereum blockchain is a new iteration of the concept. The decentralization aspect of Augur means that no one person can shut down the platform. After they had been live for two weeks, the Augur team transferred ownership of a “kill switch” to a burn address, further decentralizing control. The kill switch that had previously been in their possession would have allowed them to block all contracts on the platform in the event of a problem such as a bug to avoid a hack.
According to the Augur FAQs: “The Forecast Foundation and the people who’ve written the Augur protocol code don’t create markets on the Augur protocol itself, they do not perform trades, or have the ability to monitor, control, censor, or modify any actions performed on the Augur protocol.”
As the perception of ethical standards of behavior in the markets is left to crowdsourcing, users called “reporters” – “the mass of for-profit individuals on the network who verify the outcome of events” – can moderate the platform by designating markets as being unethical, or “invalid,” which results in none of the active users (or bettors) from profiting off of those outcomes. The working theory is that would-be murderers would be less likely to kill for profit if they understood that the market would not provide any financial return even if they chose to go through with the killing, but that requires in-depth knowledge of the ways in which those markets operate, something people prone to murder for profit may not be actively considering. Given that those reporters would be financial penalized if they flag a market as “invalid” causing them to break from consensus, it does stand to reason that there’s less incentive for them to flag something as unethical if they aren’t entirely sure that their decision to do so is popular.
As the project is decentralized and open-source, even if the Augur developers intervened in those markets deemed to be unethical, a fork by others would likely spring up and remove any of the Augur team’s blocks. Some decentralized application (dApp) browsers are currently filtering the markets, making them harder to access, but they are still available on other networks.
A spokesperson for Augur told Mashable. “The market is still live,” they said, before providing the publication a working link to that market. Indeed, yet another market musing the fate of Donald Trump had also been created.
Much of the argument surrounding the censoring of these markets stems from the decentralized nature of the platform, with one argument being that Augur and its developers aren’t responsible for censoring content as their platform is decentralized, and the other being that given the illegal nature of assassination markets, they should step in. However, another argument for Augur’s responsibility is thus: as the assassination-centered markets were created prior to Augur passing control of their kill switch to the burn address, it may be that they are still responsible for that content on the platform, despite their CYA of making those markets less visible to users and reliance on the decentralization and “reports” for invalidating unethical markets.