On Scapegoats and Dubious Business Practices — The Aftermath of Our Investigative Research on Purchased Expert Ratings on ICObench

We recently proved what has long been rumoured in the community through investigative research: ICO expert ratings on ICObench are buyable and not independent. However, ICObench’s reaction in no way indicates that the company is interested in offering a serious explanation. Our research demonstrates that ICObench is far more interested in finding a scapegoat to cover up dubious business practices.

In mid-June, we conducted investigative research to show how easy it is to buy ICO ratings on ICObench and, in so doing, fool unsuspecting investors. After registering our ICO on ICObench, various people contacted us on Telegram, offering to sell us positive expert ratings. For the purpose of uncovering how non-transparent and dubious ratings from platforms like ICObench are, we took them up on their offers. During the course of our experiment, we attempted not only to buy positive ratings but also to influence the rating texts of the apparent experts — that also went smoothly. A few things have happened since our research was published. We are still receiving an enormous amount of positive feedback from the crypto community, which shows us how important it is to lay bare systemic failures and fight for more transparency in the ICO market. It is obvious that a growing number of market participants are looking for reliable and objective information about ICOs given the current highly non-transparent environment.

It appears as if ICObench is on the hunt for a scapegoat

ICObench also responded to our research.

An employee with the medium account ICObench commented on our article requesting detailed information on so-called expert Stephanos, who had previously published the scam rating in exchange for payment.

Stephanos’ rating came with the exact wording we provided

We refused to release additional information about Stephanos as our research was never intended to crucify individual and indisputably deceptive actors, but rather to uncover systemic problems in the ICO rating sector and push companies like ICObench to change their dubious business practices and stop damaging the reputation of the entire crypto scene. ICObench has since deleted Stephanos’ expert profile. In turn, Stephanos turned to us and requested that we remove his profile image from our article. We complied with his request and pixelated the image.

While we condemn his deceptive behaviour, cases like Stephanos’ seem to represent just the tip of the iceberg, one whose entire magnitude will only be visible once the crypto community decisively joins together to tackle fraud and non-transparency. ICObench’s artifice in punishing Stephanos, one single expert and scapegoat for the failure of the entire ICObench platform, is a clear indicator to us: a rating system based on dubious expert ratings seems incapable of addressing the systemic deception that is currently part and parcel of the ICO rating sector.

There are still a number of open questions for ICObench

Not only is ICObench’s reaction lacking, it is also a slap in the face for all those investors that continue to place their trust in the rating platform. Although ICObench responded to our research in the comments section of our original Medium post, the company otherwise only reached out to its users with a mere Telegram message laying the blame on individual fraudulent experts.

The Telegram message from ICObench highlights that the company appears to have little interest in real improvement and clarification of existent abuses. For ICObench users, there are still a number of open questions: What happens to people who relied on evidently

purchased ICObench ratings to make investment decisions? What happens to the affected ICO profiles of those who purchased expert ratings? How will ICObench guarantee that experts no longer sell ratings to ICOs in the future, but instead offer independent evaluations?

The ICObench business model feeds further suspicion

ICObench would immediately answer these and a host of other questions if the company were actually interested in keeping investors informed and protected. However, this is unlikely to happen. A closer look at ICObench’s business model would lead one to suspect that the buyable ratings we uncovered are part of the actual business model. The reason for this hunch: anyone who wants to become an ICObench expert must apparently first pay a fee of two bitcoins (around 13,000 USD at the current exchange rate) before being listed as an expert — an absurd concept if you consider that companies generally compensate experts for their work and expertise and not the other way around. This fact alone implies that ICObench at least tacitly acquiesces to experts listed on its platform refinancing the fee they pay to ICObench for their expert status through the sale of ratings. Because how else would it be lucrative for an expert to pay around 13,000 USD to subsequently perform an unpaid service? As mentioned, there is no proof to back this accusation. However, in light of this business model and the proven abuses involving ICObench, it hardly seems far-fetched.

It’s a matter of trust and credibility

Nevertheless, it is ultimately inconsequential whether and to what extent ICObench is actually involved in the deceptive conduct of some experts. What matters far more is that the platform on the whole is an obstacle to the progress of the blockchain ecosystem, that it prevents the whole crypto market from being perceived as a reliable and credible partner. It is dubious rating platforms such as ICObench that constantly confirm and fuel the Wild West image of the crypto sector that prevails across large segments of society thus complicating the mass market adoption of crypto solutions. Platforms such as ICObench are indeed a threat to every genuine blockchain startup working on technological innovations with ambition because they cast an entire industry in disrepute and make it difficult for every individual market participant to gain urgently needed trust. We at Alethena are working on remedying exactly this problem and establishing a sustainable trust by making independent ICO ratings possible through our clear rating methodology and, in so doing, finally providing the vitally necessary transparency that is absent from the current ICO market.

About Alethena

Alethena has prototyped a due diligence methodology for the evaluation and rating of initial coin offering (ICO) and post-ICO projects based on the decisive technical, business, legal, and governance factors. Alethena’s primary aim is to make the cryptomarket more transparent, thereby facilitating more sustainable long-term investing. Since part of the information aggregation can be automated by self-learning algorithms, Alethena aims to develop continuous and highly informative crypto-research at a reasonable price and share it with the public via ratings to enhance transparency as the fundamental right of value democratisation.

Alethena is the project of Equility AG, a public limited company founded in August 2017 and registered in the Commercial Registry of the Canton of Zug under the number CHE−460.255.304.

Alethena is the first Blockchain-Asset Rating Agency made in Switzerland that is 100% independent, transparent, and neutral. Visit www.alethena.com for more information.