With Token Uptick and Israeli Election Work, It's Been a Busy Year for Bancor's Founders
Bancor, the decentralized exchange (DEX) protocol, has seen a number of interesting developments in the first half of 2020.
Coinbase announced Wednesday it is considering listing Bancor’s BNT token, as well as 18 others, which already gave the asset’s global trading price a slight bump.
“Coinbase’s goal is to offer support for all assets that meet our technical standards and which comply with applicable laws,” the announcement said. “As part of the exploratory process customers may see public-facing APIs and other signs that we are conducting engineering work to potentially support these assets.”
Although Coinbase declined to comment further, it’s not hard to imagine why BNT made the list. The token project itself saw a resurgence in May, facilitating nearly $10 million worth of trading volume and rising from roughly $0.20 a token at the start of the month to $0.85 by the end.
Bancor’s growth, despite the broader economic crisis in 2020, may be due to a systems upgrade in April. But market analyst Andrew Kang said some of the transactions associated with the surge were related to a wallet affiliated with Bancor CTO Yudi Levi. According to the Bancor analytics site Blockchair, BNT in particular was used in more than 10,457 transactions on Friday, May 29, out of 2.67 million transactions total since 2017.
When asked about the surge, Bancor spokesperson Nate Hindman said the Bancor team practically invented automated market makers (AMMs), which he said are now organically popular.
“After introducing AMMs in 2017 and having seen their meteoric rise in the last two years, we are thrilled to solve some of the key obstacles to their widespread adoption and continue to drive innovation in this key area of decentralized finance [DeFi],” Hindman said of the upgrade in April. “AMMs are now used in a wide range of DeFi products and protocols.”
The network analytics site Dune Analytics estimates the decentralized exchange (DEX) software and token have been used to process more than $1.4 billion worth of transactions to date.
BNT’s growth comes as other DEX tokens have surged in recent months. Kyber Network (KNC) surged promptly after being listed by Coinbase in February 2020 and became one of this year’s hottest crypto assets. Ethereum-friendly DEX tokens like KNC and BNT appear to be increasingly lucrative in 2020.
Yet, even after the jump, BNT tokens are now selling for far less than they were during the initial sale in 2017. The overall DEX system, however, is only growing in value as the Bancor team garners political clout in addition to their considerable token holdings. As such, some blogs continue to promote the idea that BNT is “undervalued.”
It’s proving to be an eventful year for the Bancor team even beyond the token activity.
On March 2, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Bancor co-founders Eyal Hertzog and Guy Benartzi, along with their business partner, LiquidApps CEO Beni Hakak, for their “help” using “data” to win the March election. Hertzog and Benartzi were among roughly two dozen campaign leaders mentioned in both the victory speech and featured in the official photo of the celebration in Netanyahu’s office.
Stepping back, the token founders – who declined to comment on the election – raised more than $153 million in 2017 for the DEX project now serving hundreds of people a day. Still, it's unclear if the crypto companies, Bancor and LiquidApps, had anything to do with this software system during the Israeli election.
Most likely, the token founders were acting as private citizens rather than corporate donors or contractors. Either way, Israeli professor Anat Ben Dov said the Netanyahu campaign’s data strategy “was turning citizens into informants” by using both Facebook and a mobile app called Elector. This strategy encouraged voters to enter sensitive information about all Israeli citizens, Ben Dov said.
“The more people you added to the app, the higher your rank was. You could get stars, like military ranks,” Ben Dov said of the app’s gamified leaderboard. “The campaign was said to transport data from Facebook to Elector … it’s also a social supervision system.”
Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that“data was the game changer in March 2020” because Netanyahu used Facebook data to push “proactive” notifications to influence voters.
“Using personal data to win an election is not unique to Israel, it’s also happening all around the world,” Altshuler said. “This is similar to what was done in America in 2016.”
Ben Dov agreed, adding this “wouldn’t be possible because of the GDPR,” but it “might be possible in the United States.”
Indeed, Netanyahu leaned heavily on American advisers for this data strategy, including President Donald Trump’s campaign strategist John McLaughlin. Netanyahu also relied on another American consultant, former Breitbart journalist Aaron Klein. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon credited Klein with the idea of interviewing former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s sexual assault accusers ahead of an October 2016 presidential debate. Altshuler said Netanyahu and Trump have similar, and complementary, digital media strategies.
“On the surface, you have leaders trying to be as extreme as they can,” Altshuler said. “The deeper layer is using personal data to target these messages and spread them through specific social groups.”
On the other hand, both Netanyahu and Trump fans see such strategies as effective leadership in an age of voter apathy and high-tech tools.
Regardless of the Bancor founders’ political activism, their proximity to such data strategies may offer a competitive advantage. Understanding how to compliantly encourage specific behaviors, whether it’s voting or trading, is part of the digital casino game. Plus, Coinbase appears to be ramping up DeFi governance features in 2020.
Update (June 12, 16:40 UTC): A passage in an earlier version of this article mis-paraphrased a tweet by market analyst Andrew Kang. He attributed a price spike on a specific day to the Bancor CTO's wallet, not the token's overall performance.
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