by Tim Hakki
Arkham’s new intelligence exchange polarized the community on its announcement, but is the idea really so alien to crypto’s founding ethos?
It’s been a busy week for the on-chain intelligence firm Arkham following the announcement of its new intelligence exchange.
Arkham Intelligence CEO Miguel Morel told Decrypt that he’s spent much of his time fielding calls from the media as he tried to clarify his company’s new offering.
He wants the community to believe he’s doing a public good, but many don’t see it that way.
“When times are tough in crypto, when there are rugs, scams, and fraudulent behavior, everybody cries for transparency,” said Morel. “We have created an environment incentivizing users to uncover negative information about the space, disincentivizing people from doing bad things by the risk that somebody may uncover it.”
The exchange was heavily lampooned on social media after Arkham’s Twitter announcement on Monday, with one tweeter calling it a “dox-to-earn program,” a label which went viral across the cryptosphere, resurfacing in seemingly countless headlines.
Arkham’s model is simple. Those looking to identify certain crypto wallets or transactions can purchase the exchange’s native ARKM token and use it to put up an “intel bounty,” which blockchain sleuths can respond to.
If they successfully identify the mark, they’ll be rewarded in ARKM.
However, the chief concern among skeptics is that the exchange will be abused to launch smear campaigns against innocent people or physically identify them—dox them—as part of personal vendettas.
Morel stresses that this is emphatically not the case.
“Given all of the negative activity that happens within crypto, we are going to do our absolute best to make it a safe and trusted place,” he said.
Arkham: a public good
“On the face of it, the proposal invites controversy, given the sovereign individual nature of crypto culture,” said Garlam Won, a managing partner at venture capital, research and marketing firm Momentum 6.
Crypto is popular among professed libertarians because its founding ethos of decentralization theoretically reduces the size and power of the state. Here, the issuance and value of money is not dictated by central bank policies, which gives it that “sovereign individual nature” Won mentions.
He was also one of the few on Twitter to describe Arkham’s new exchange as a “public good.”
“To understand the value it can provide as a public good, we need to contextualize it beyond the bounds of crypto culture and more into the broader arena of the digital economy and information society,” Won told Decrypt.
He believes that the chief use cases for the exchange will be for liquidity providers to get an edge over competitors and to bring greater accountability for people’s actions, reducing the number of hacks, scams and rug pulls in crypto.
“However, it will require rigorous governance, strong regulatory oversight, and a continuous dialogue with the crypto and wider community to ensure it respects user privacy and security, while discouraging and penalizing misuse,” he adds.
Won does flag a potential problem regarding the use of a token in such an arrangement. He said that the bounty system “seems very friction-heavy due to buying and having to stake ARKM.”
Under the current proposal, it looks like most of the use cases won’t be “casual” but for “more important data” like the aforementioned unveiling of bad actors.
In that case, not engaging the majority of users could make it a struggle for Arkham to maintain the utility and distribution of the token.
Arkham: a decentralized panopticon
One skeptic of the idea is Carter Woetzel, lead researcher and economist for DeFi privacy protocol Shade. He thinks the idea of a totally transparent blockchain is “a future of ubiquitous surveillance; a decentralized panopticon.”
Like Won, Woetzel identifies Arkham’s target market as those agents “looking for evidence to litigate, and those looking for evidence to inform large financial decisions that the open market is not yet aware of.”
He likens this to the front-running problem in DeFi, whereby not-necessarily-malicious actors benefit from having access to information about incoming trades.
Frontrunners are typically wealthy, he says—“information is powerful, but it’s for the highest bidders”—and warns the exchange could create a “potential Wild West” for accusations, insider information and litigation if unregulated.
He ended his tweet by implying Arkham would then sell or use this data: “It’s free cause you are the product.”
Given the laundry list of assumptions and accusations in the community, Miguel Morel was keen to talk to Decrypt and set the record straight.
“We do not use” users’ personal details: Arkham CEO
One of the first things Morel wants you to know is that the assumption that the Intel Exchange is a fully free marketplace is untrue.
There are rules, he says, that will be made available to the public any time within the next 24 hours.
“It will not be acceptable for people to post information that is personally or physically incriminating or do anything for revenge, or even simply post information about normal people with no notoriety or influence within the space or market,” he said. “None of those proposals will be accepted, and therefore, it is not possible for them to go live.”
Morel says Won and Woetzel correctly deduced that the target market mostly comprises institutional clients looking to identify exploiters, scammers and general bad actors, or get a competitive edge on the competition.
“The intention of the marketplace is to provide the community with information to help keep them safe from frauds, rug pulls, scams, you know, so kind of preventative information about this,” Morel told Decrypt. And secondly, to investigate after things have actually occurred within the space.”
When he’s asked to address Won’s concern that the tokenomics of Arkham might not be sustainable, Morel replies that nothing is final.
The Arkham team needed a token to launch, but the floor is open to the community to help the team refine the model or offer alternative proposals.
He’s especially keen to address Cochran’s tweet. As soon as we tell him over the phone that one of the biggest criticisms comes from Twitter, he immediately asks “is that the Cochran tweet? Yeah. That is completely and unequivocally false misinformation.”
He finishes the point by promising that Arkham has never sold and never intends to sell user data.
Morel presents himself as an entrepreneur who wants the crypto public to believe he’s doing them a service, but crypto culture contains some contradictions that are slowly ironing out as the space develops.
On the one hand, crypto promises an alternative financial system of transparency and accountability; on the other, anonymity is a key part of the culture, with users employing avatars, pseudonyms, and privacy tools, while vocally decrying the practice of “doxxing” as taboo.
Given its fundamentals, it’s clear that Arkham’s intelligence exchange isn’t a “dox-to-earn program.” It’s a platform to separate the wheat from the chaff and allow the community to self-regulate and self-enforce.
In a community that prides itself on its autonomy, is that really so bad?