Augur is a blockchain prediction market and oracle system which allows users to create bets on just about anything imaginable, including the untimely death of prominent public figures.
Since launching in July, there has been just under $1.5 million worth of cryptocurrency wagered on the platform, and while most of the bets revolve around sports teams, weather conditions and stock performances, some of them take on a darker tone.
Several death markets are open on Augur at this time, with Donald Trump and his immediate family being the prime targets. There are currently markets created for the death of Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner by a certain date, although so far nobody has placed any bets on the outcome.
If you look closely enough at the crypto market you’ll see that it is manipulated from a hundred different directions every day. That’s because when there’s money at stake people are willing to fight to bring about the profitable outcome they desire.
Augur’s death markets could be subject to the same manipulation, where a person places a huge bet on an unlikely death, then arranges for the death to occur purely so they can cash in their bet.
Whereas a traditional bookmaker would be able to suspend payouts in the event of such suspicious activity, Augur is decentralized and without any kind of hierarchical authority. This is either a blessing or a curse depending on the situation you find yourself in, but ultimately, the market is run by its users, and Augur even threw away the ‘keys’ to the system just over a week ago, meaning anything that happens on the platform is now irreversible.
One idea that’s been floated is the notion of orchestrating character assassinations, particularly where it pertains to stock price. If a user on Augur bets on Amazon’s stock price falling, what’s to stop them conducting a smear campaign against Jeff Bezos in order to negatively affect the stock price?
There have been enough examples of stock prices falling upon the outbreak of fake news to know that it’s possible. Apple’s stock prices fluctuated wildly upon the fabricated news that Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack back in 2008, and every day there are people attempting to reposition stock prices in their favor. That doesn’t just apply to scammers, but even rival companies and competitors.
Up until a week ago, the Augur team retained total control over the prediction markets and had the ability to hit the ‘off-switch’ if anything questionable took place on the blockchain.
That control is now long gone, as the team effectively threw away the keys to the network. As the team tweeted towards the end of July:
“Happy two weeks! Ownership of the escape hatch has been transferred to the 0x000..0001 address.”
As one commenter on Twitter suggested, this could end up bringing its own problems, as any hacks will not be able to be reversed:
“It means there is no longer a centralized big red button to shut the whole system down and attempt to refund everyone. If a hack is found at this point, everyone is screwed. If the Forecast Foundation is compromised by a state agency, the system can’t be turned off.”
The most popular bet at the moment revolves around Ethereum’s coin price, and whether it will exceed $500 at the end of 2018. There is currently $627,533.38 worth of bets placed on the outcome, with the predictions weighted 68% in favor of a ‘Yes’ answer.
There are only two death markets which have actually seen any action on the platform, with the highest having $147.19 worth of bets on whether or not aging television personality Betty White will be dead by 2018.
The only other ‘person’ on whom death bets have been placed is the fictional character of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. At the time of writing there is only $4.22 placed on the outcome, with the vote split 50/50 between yes and no.
It all seems like fun and games at this point, but the potential is there for trouble to arise. Just imagine if the Game of Thrones writers discover the Daenerys Targaryen bet open on Augur. Might they be tempted to turn prediction into reality?