Digital Currency Group (DCG), a venture capital firm focused on the cryptocurrency market, is facing growing scrutiny from the cryptocurrency community. Just last week, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin blasted CoinDesk, a subsidiary of DCG, for improper journalistic practice. In the blast, Buterin scolded CoinDesk for being complicit in cryptocurrency scams, practicing sensational and gotcha journalism and for overcharging for admission to its annual event, Consensus.
More recently, Steffen Vogt of The Tangler, a popular publication that is independent of the IOTA Foundation, has called for a boycott of DCG for what he deems to be a coordinated misinformation campaign against IOTA. In a series of Tweets, Vogt states that Zooko Wilcox, CEO of Zcash, a notable holding of DCG, has actively worked to spread ‘FUD’ by Tweeting what he calls a “negative yellow press article.” In the article, the author sheds light on the reasoning behind the Centre for Blockchain Technologies (CBT) at University College London (UCL) announcing that it is no longer associated with the IOTA Foundation. Further adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Grayscale, an investment subsidiary of DCG with a Zcash investment product, liked the Tweet.
Founder of Zcash retweets negative yellow press article about #IOTA. Grayscale investment ($BTC $BCH $ETH $ETC $LTC $XRP $ZEC– Established '13 by Digital Currency Group (COINDESK) likes the tweet.
You guys are not even covering your dirty agenda. Breathtaking. Cryptoland 2018
— Tangleblog.com (@tangleblog) April 28, 2018
The Tweet in question:
University College London (UCL) severs ties with IOTA Foundation https://t.co/4WtubCCzu7
— zooko (@zooko) April 28, 2018
Controversy has been growing ever since an investigation by researchers from MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) found what they believed to be a vulnerability in the project’s code.
“We have found serious cryptographic weaknesses in the cryptographic hash function used by IOTA, Curl. These weaknesses threaten the security of signatures and PoW in IOTA as PoW and Signatures rely on Curl to be pseudo-random and collision resistant.”
However, months later, emails between IOTA and DCI were leaked, seemingly showing that DCI’s findings are not as crucial as the research group had first emphasized. In the correspondence, the IOTA team indicated that the issue surfaced when DCI applied attack vectors that are irrelevant to the system architecture by which IOTA operates. CoinDesk, among other publications, had already run with the story and published detailed articles on the perceived results of the investigation in September.
In March 2018, an independent investigator took a deeper look into whether there was any collaboration between ZCash, DCI and DCG. His report outlines a web of conflicts of interest that could potentially demonstrate a framework for collaboration between the parties. He also argues that CoinDesk journalist Morgen Peck had been overtly pushing pro-Zcash stories and was even invited to Zcash events, while simultaneously being critical of IOTA.
“The Digital Currency Group, the Digital Currency Initiative, CoinDesk and Morgen Peck as their journalistic tool combine their efforts in order to strengthen their portfolios or simply to give competing projects such as IOTA a rough time.”
In mid-April 2018, CoinDesk added fuel to the fire by publishing another scathing review of IOTA, this time written by Alyssa Hertig, who has written pro-Zcash articles in the past. In the article, she provides multiple arguments against IOTA’s technology and community management.
“The IOTA team of 150 developers, cryptographers and others can’t always keep their stories straight, and have other times dealt poorly with criticism, especially as it relates to security holes in its architecture.”
According to her bio on CoinDesk, Hertig does not currently hold any cryptocurrencies.
Since the controversy began, a few within the IOTA community have noticed a substantial change to the Zcash team page. According to observers, Zcash has removed its investors from the team page, including DCG. The previous version of the web page can still be viewed as an archived copy and compared to what is currently live.
In response, Wilcox tweeted, “The investor’s page is available on the Wayback Machine if you want it. They were important to getting the project off the ground in the first place but they aren’t very relevant today.”
— grubles (@notgrubles) April 22, 2018
While some members of the IOTA community are up-in-arms over the allegedly coordinated sabotage, others see it as far more benign. One Reddit user said in response to the whole situation, “Can we stop fighting and just let [IOTA Foundation] get their work done[?] The work should speak for itself. Hopefully, the new wallet will be a good assurance to many on the sidelines. Tired of seeing words like fight associated with IOTA. Can we just ignore the doubters and go in a more positive direction?”
Further confusing matters are the stark differences between IOTA and Zcash. IOTA is a public distributed ledger that utilizes a novel invention called “Tangle,” a new data structure based on a Directed Acyclic Graph. On the other hand, Zcash is a privacy coin that leverages a zero-knowledge proof for anonymous transactions. Given that the two projects are not in any immediate or direct competition, apart from perhaps the long-term disruptive potential of IOTA’s architecture, many believe the coordinated assault, whether real or fictitious, isn’t particularly serious.
Since there are no established markets currently available to take out short contracts for cryptocurrencies (outside of bitcoin), arguments that it could be financially advantageous to smear a coin unrelated to anything held in a portfolio are weak at best. However, the sheer oddity of the entire situation leaves many questions unanswered.
Digital Currency Group has not provided any official statement related to any of the recent developments, but it is clear that a sense of distrust towards the venture firm and its major subsidiaries is beginning to grow across several crypto communities