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How ‘DeFi’ eclipsed ‘Blockchain’ in crypto asset rebranding

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Remember when Long Island Ice Tea Corp. sent its shares soaring by reinventing itself as a crypto company before crashing and burning? Well, it’s happening again in the digital-asset sphere, but instead of adding “blockchain” to a name, DeFi is the moniker of choice.

DeFi, or decentralized finance, has become part of more and more company promotions this year. Nucleus Vision, a data-sourcing project started in 2014 to provide consumer insights to retailers, recently announced that it’s “DeFi for Retail Purchase Loans.” Tao Network, which has been around since 2015, now states it’s “building DeFi of entertainment.” Tron, an operating system active for at least three years, just issued its own DeFi coin.

In many cases, the rebranding efforts are prompting a surge in token prices not seen since the peak of the Bitcoin bubble in late 2017. The market value of Tron’s TRX coin, which is tied to a new DeFi token called Sun Genesis Mining, jumped by $800 million in the three days after the announcement of the new coin.

DeFi has been the hottest thing in crypto the past year. DeFi apps are supposed to let people lend, borrow, trade and take out insurance directly from each other, without use of intermediaries like banks. That has also lead to multiple get rich quick schemes such as yield farming that often promise triple-digit returns.

“Crypto rebranding has been going on as long as there has been crypto, and since DeFi has been hot for about the last 18 months, a lot of crypto have been emphasizing their DeFi aspects,” said Aaron Brown, a crypto investor who writes for Bloomberg Opinion. “It’s not hard, since DeFi is not always defined rigorously, and most crypto is decentralized and most has some financial aspect, so it’s not hard to rebrand.”

Technically, DeFi apps – whose financial functions are supposed to be run entirely by software – ought to have no central administrator or authority, but that’s often not the case even with the latest projects. Often developers retain some measure of control, in case a bug in an app’s code renders it unusable, or vulnerable to hackers.

“It dilutes the phenomenon somewhat, which explains why we’ve seen more efforts to pin down the concept, rebrand to open finance, and point out critical points of centralization,” said Nic Carter, co-founder of researcher Coin Metrics. “All of these are attempts to maintain the purity of the movement.”

In September, Justin Sun, who founded Tron, launched Sun Genesis Mining meme coin “to promote the vigorous development and possibilities of TRON’s DeFi self-governance community,” he said in a blog. The coin debuted with a nearly $38 million market capitalization, and pushed TRX’s price up as well since users have to make TRX deposits to get the new coin. Twenty DeFi projects currently use Tron’s technology, according to ranker DappRadar, while several hundred use Ethereum.

EOS, another open-source protocol, recently claimed it will “unleash DeFi.” EOS supports 11 DeFi projects, according to DappRadar.

Many projects are adding new features, as well as rebranding. Project Nucleus Vision on Aug. 3 announced Nucleus Vision 2.0 that “will aggregate existing DeFi lending protocols, partner with liquidity providers, and partner with global retailers and brands to enable crypto users to leverage their assets to buy real world products.”

The venture’s coin, whose market cap peaked at about $200 million in 2018, briefly spiked from $3 million to $8.3 million on the announcement, before sliding down again, according to crypto data tracker CoinMarketCap.com.

TRON has been investing into the DeFi ecosystem for years and now has become one of the most popular blockchains that supports DeFi, a spokesperson said. EOS declined to comment, while Nucleus and Tao didn’t return requests for comments.

“They kind of executed rhetorical pivots to DeFi rather than anything structurally changing,” Carter said. “There’s nothing illegitimate about it, but some perceive it as trying to take advantage of the hype surrounding DeFi.”

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The final 2020 presidential debate

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After last week’s second debate was canceled when President Donald Trump refused to agree to debate virtually, Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will go head to head one last time on Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee.

NBC News reporter Kristen Welker will moderate the debate, which will run from 9 to 10:30 pm ET. Welker announced the six topics last Friday: Fighting Covid-19, American Families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership.

Those topics have already prompted some controversy. The Trump campaign wrote to the Commission on Presidential Debates demanding the debate focus on foreign policy. Trump sees foreign policy as a winning issue for him, and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, accused the debate commission of “pro-Biden antics.” Biden’s campaign responded by saying Trump was the one trying to dodge questions. TJ Ducklo, Biden’s national press secretary, said both campaigns and the debate commission agreed months ago that the moderator would select the topics.

Trump had harsh words for the moderator of the first debate, Chris Wallace of Fox News, and for Today show anchor Savannah Guthrie, who hosted the president’s town hall last Thursday. This time, he has gone on the attack against the moderator before the debate, calling Welker a “radical Democrat” and saying she will be “no good.”

Follow along below for Vox’s debate coverage, including how to watch, breaking news updates, analysis, and more.

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Facebook Staff Urged to Snitch on Zuckerberg Over Election Disinformation

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Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman of Facebook, speaks on the second day of the 56th Munich Security Conference, 15 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich (Tobias Hase/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images​)

Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman of Facebook, speaks on the second day of the 56th Munich Security Conference, 15 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich (Tobias Hase/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Logo_Disinfo Dispatch Padding

Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it’s causing, and what we should do about it.

It has come to this: Facebook’s own employees are being urged to snitch on their employer in order to help save the integrity of the presidential election.

The campaign, which is being organized by Free Press, a nonpartisan digital rights group, is urging Facebook employees to speak up if they have seen something that “could threaten the integrity of the election.”

Using Facebook’s own ad platform, Free Press is rolling out a series of ads that will target those working inside the company, urging them to become whistleblowers and share information directly and confidentially with the New York attorney general’s office, which has opened an investigation against Facebook.

“If we’re going to protect our democracy and crackdown on disinformation and voter disenfranchisement, then those with knowledge of the company’s inner workings must speak up,” Craig Aaron, CEO of Free Press said in an emailed statement. “That’s the only way the truth will emerge.”

Here’s an example of the type of ads Facebook employees will see, directing them to this page with more information about how they can make a confidential submission to the New York AG’s office:

The campaign is counting on the fact that employees at Facebook are privy to information about how the company is enforcing its own policies to prevent the spread of disinformation.

“At this critical juncture for our country, this ad campaign is Free Press’ effort to encourage people at Facebook to share what they know with those in a position to do something about it,” Aaron said. “Our message to Facebook employees is simple: If you’ve seen something, please say something.”

Facebook has long been criticized for failing to prevent its platform from being weaponized by those seeking to spread disinformation. Free Press is just the latest activist group to launch a campaign targeting Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg.

In recent weeks, the high-profile Real Facebook Oversight Board — which is not the Facebook-sanctioned Oversight Board — has held a number of events to highlight Facebook’s failings in the lead up to the election.

And the trend is set to continue: Accountable Tech, which as its name suggests is trying to hold Big Tech companies accountable, will broadcast an ad slamming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It will air during the final presidential debate on Thursday night.

The ad is aiming to show the disparity between Zuckerberg’s public pledges and the reality of the dangers posed by the platform he controls.

The 30-second spot starts out with old footage of Zuckerberg saying that he wants his daughters to “grow up and be proud” of what he has built at Facebook. The ad then cuts to the company’s failure to flag the threat posed by an armed militia event in Kenosha, which was advertised on Facebook.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Free Press campaign or the Accountable Tech ad.

Here’s what else is happening in the world of election disinformation.

So many questions, so few answers

On Wednesday night, the Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray held a hastily-arranged press conference (which just happened to coincide with a press conference by former President Barack Obama).

In very brief statements, the intel chiefs revealed that Iran was behind a campaign of voter intimidation emails that was made to look like it came from the Proud Boys. They added that both Tehran and Moscow had obtained an unspecified number of voter registration details — much of which is freely available online for anyone to see.

The announcement raised many questions about the speed at which this email campaign was attributed to Iran. In 2016, it took months for the FBI to point the finger conclusively at Russia for the DNC hack. This time around it took just days.

While Iran’s cyber operations are not as sophisticated as Russia’s and might be easier to detect, Ratcliffe seems to have been a bit hasty in his conclusions. U.S. officials told Reuters that “the evidence remains inconclusive” as to whether Tehran was behind the attacks.

U.S. intel is throwing everything it has at Russia’s efforts to disrupt the election

Despite their boss dismissing the threat from Moscow as insignificant, U.S. intel is throwing the kitchen sink at Russia’s efforts to undermine the 2020 elections, the Washington Post reports.

For months, intel chiefs have been warning the public that Russia remains a significant threat to the integrity of the 2002 elections and these actions reflect those assessments. 

The effort targeting the Kremlin includes thwarting foreign hackers, preventing people with links to Russia from entering the country and freezing their assets, sharing intelligence with social networks, and knocking Russia’s cyber operations offline while helping local and state governments shore up their defenses.

Conservatives think making it harder to retweet is another form of censorship

Having to click twice to retweet a message rather than once is the latest effort by Twitter to silence conservative voices.

At least that’s what pro-Trump accounts said in response to Twitter’s latest effort to slow the spread of disinformation on its platform.

On Wednesday, the social network rolled out a new feature that prompts users to add a comment to a tweet they want to retweet. The effort Twitter says is designed to make people think twice about sharing content, particularly if they haven’t read the articles they’re trying to share.

Sean Davis, the founder of the conservative magazine The Federalist, responded by saying Twitter is “knee-capping their own business to stick it to Republicans and prevent any pro-Trump narratives from taking hold.” 

Davis’ tweet has been retweeted — without comment — 7,500 times. 

LeBron is tackling disinformation that targets Black voters

Black voters once again being targeted with a deluge of disinformation seeking to dissuade them from voting ahead of next month’s election.

Activist groups across the country are trying to counter those messages, and now they have one of the greatest basketball players of all time on their side.

LeBron James announced Wednesday his involvement with More Than a Vote, a collective of athletes trying to combat misinformation in Black communities before Election Day.

“We believe that Black people, our community, we’ve been pushed away from our civic duty. We’ve been fed misinformation for many years,” James told the New York Times.

“And I’m in a position where I can educate people and, through More Than a Vote, educate people on how important this movement is, and how important their civic duty is. Not only to empower themselves, but to give back to their community as well.”

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The future of the office has been put on hold

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So far, the office of the future looks a lot like the office you left seven months ago — though you probably haven’t seen it. Most of those who have been able to work at home during the pandemic haven’t gone back to the office and don’t want to go back until there’s a vaccine.

It’s not clear when, if ever, offices will return to their previous level of activity. As of mid-October, less than 15 percent of office workers have returned in New York City, the largest office market in the United States, according to Partnership for New York City. In big cities nationwide, office building occupancy rates are hovering around 25 percent on average as many of the country’s workers remain stuck in limbo. It’s not yet safe to return to full capacity, and it’s not clear if offices operating at partial capacity are a better solution than people working from home.

Real estate leasing has also slowed to a crawl as the office class has taken more permanently to working in their living rooms and bedrooms. Tech juggernauts like Facebook and Microsoft are offering employees the opportunity to work remotely forever. Meanwhile, even less digitally savvy companies are weighing the future of their real estate and the location of their workers.

The entire landscape of office work has shifted, but the physical workspaces themselves have yet to change much. The open floor plan still predominates the office landscape, and germ-killing robots are still mostly the stuff of science reporters’ dreams. Instead, to goad workers back into offices, employers have enacted a raft of minor precautions to make their offices safer — or to give the appearance of safety — but most have put off major, expensive alterations to their office space until there’s more certainty about a coronavirus vaccine, and, in turn, more certainty about the future of the office.

Those who have returned to their offices have only been able to do so because so many others haven’t. Most businesses are adopting a hybrid work model, which lets people work at home and in the office. And since the majority of people are choosing to work from home most of the time, that frees up space in the offices for those who want or need to come in to have adequate social distancing.

In a way, this hybrid model represents the situation overall. Offices and office workers are in a holding pattern, not ready to commit to working from home or the office. And the future of the office, if it’s going to be substantially different, has yet to be realized for many reasons that have nothing to do with the office itself. A whole spate of other issues — transportation, child care, trust in society and coworkers — is informing employees’ decisions not to go back just yet.

Of those who responded to our recent survey about returning to work in an office, about half said they feel safe there and think their employers have done a good job. But for the most part, employers aren’t forcing employees back, perhaps as a nod to the difficulty of those issues or as an acknowledgment that they can’t guarantee their safety.

Still, many employers want workers back in the office, and many employees want to be back. Both employers and employees, however, say the availability of a vaccine is a main consideration before returning to the office. A widely available vaccine may not be a reality until the middle of next year.

In the meantime, employers are doing what they can — without expending excess cash in a recession — to make the space feel safer for their workers.

If you’re one of the few returning to the office soon, here’s what you might expect.

Office space largely looks the same

Back in the early days of the coronavirus, when legions of office workers were sent to work from home for the first time, many were making ambitious predictions about the future of work. (I declared the end of the office as we know it.) They thought the future of the office would bring touchless entry, completely remodeled office spaces, state-of-the-art filtration systems, and, of course, those germ-killing robots.

The reality has been more mundane. So far, the changes to offices have largely been superficial and temporary.

“To reconfigure a space takes money,” Julie Whelan, head of occupier research for the Americas at CBRE, told Recode. “Not a lot of organizations are willing to deploy capital right now because of the uncertainty of what the future of office space is.”

Juliana Beauvais, research manager in IDC’s enterprise applications practice, put it another way.

“It’s still hard for companies to make the ROI argument for a lot of these more sophisticated technologies, especially if they involve hardware or equipment investments,” Beauvais said. “Do companies really need to spend money right now, when people don’t feel safe or comfortable coming back to the office anyway?”

In their existing spaces, many employers have mostly forgone major construction in exchange for simpler, less expensive, and more temporary fixes that capitalize on the fact that fewer people are coming in.

“These are table stakes to manage a building in the Covid environment,” according to Kevin Smith, executive managing director of asset services at Cushman & Wakefield.

Instead of building more walled-in private offices, for instance, desks have been taped off or chairs removed in order to ensure at least 6 feet of space between employees. Common areas are off-limits and bulk bins of office snacks have gone by the wayside.

Most offices don’t have sophisticated hospital-grade HVAC systems that can handle filtering viruses out of the air, though Smith says some of the wealthier landlords are looking into it. Rather than complete overhauls of air conditioning systems, building managers are opting to upgrade their filters and change them more regularly. Many have also placed smaller air filtration devices around the office.

Plexiglas dividers have popped up to create physical divisions between workspaces and colleagues, though it’s not clear how effective these shields actually are. Indeed, many post-coronavirus measures amount to little more than hygiene theater, an effort to make people feel safe rather than actually making them so.

Nonetheless, Plexiglas dividers and other types of lightweight barriers are seeing a spike in demand, according to office furniture company Steelcase, which has also seen a growth in demand for mobile office equipment like tables and carts with wheels. Such requests represent employees’ wanting to be able to construct the space around them and respond to the changing situation.

“All the things we thought in March and April changed in May and June and seem to be shifting again right now,” Steelcase’s VP of workplace innovation Gale Moutrey told Recode, referring to the ways in which our understanding of the virus and how it spreads have changed drastically since this spring.

An illustration of a businessman in a suit and tie and face mask spraying cleaning solution from a backpack onto a desk, laptop, and papers. Sorbetto/Getty Images

Getting into and moving around offices is more complicated

Many of the changes to offices have manifested less in the physical space than they have in how we behave in that space. Signage is everywhere, cautioning people to stay 6 feet apart, instructing them in which direction to walk, and reminding them to wear masks.

Mask-wearing, which is often required by law these days, is ubiquitous in many offices, but the degree to which individuals comply with the law varies from job to job. Other less visible changes to office space include cleaning, health checks, and scheduling protocols.

Offices are being cleaned much more frequently than they used to be. (This includes notifying people that the space has been cleaned.) Hand sanitizer — once an impossible-to-find item — is being placed everywhere.

While welcome, many of these changes probably won’t do much to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which scientists believe travels primarily through airborne particles, not so much on surfaces. Rather, they convey the idea that employers are thinking of their employees’ safety.

Health screenings are also common. Thanks to local government mandates, many offices have implemented employee questionnaires — Do you have symptoms? Were you exposed to someone with the coronavirus? Have you traveled recently? — and temperature checks to avoid letting obviously sick employees in the building. This, too, can be a bit of theater. The CDC has said such screenings have “limited effectiveness,” since people transmitting the diseases don’t necessarily have a fever or symptoms.

That hasn’t stopped a whole cottage industry from popping up around these sorts of checks, with badge-in company Kastle, airport biometric ID company Clear, and health care concierge Eden Health all pivoting to include coronavirus screenings in their offerings. Kastle only allows an employee ID card access to a building once their questionnaire has been completed. Clear uses kiosks equipped with biometric technology, allowing employees to complete their questionnaire and temperature screening on the same device that checks their identity. Eden Health offers not only health screenings on their app but also coronavirus testing on site or at home. Rent the Runway, for example, instituted coronavirus tests monthly for its employees. while a financial services client is getting weekly at-home tests.

Many employers use scheduling tools — or more simply public calendars — to limit how many people can be in the office at once and to book space within the office. Employees can see who else will be in the office and decide when or whether they’re going in based on that information. To a lesser extent, different groups or teams alternate coming into the office by the day of the week.

Real estate is also in a holding pattern

Like offices themselves, the office market at large is also a bit stuck. Companies have stopped expanding their real estate footprints, deferring non-essential leasing until there’s more certainty about the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more office space is coming on the market than is being leased, and many are choosing to sublease space they already have, according to data from CBRE.

In some markets, this has led to rising vacancy rates and declining rents. However, it’s not yet clear whether these changes are stem from work-from-home policies or are simply reflective of being in a recession, which always results in a real estate contraction, according to Whelan from CBRE.

Those companies that are shopping for new space are also asking questions about safety parameters, HVAC systems, and cleaning protocols, according to Michael Colacino, president of office leasing platform SquareFoot.

“We haven’t had anybody reject a building because they didn’t like the answers,” Colacino said, “but there’s no question people are putting it in a metric of things to consider that they didn’t a year ago.”

Companies are also looking for more space per person than before, despite the added cost, he said. In the past, businesses had typically asked for around 250 square feet per person; now they want more like 300-400 square feet, according to Colacino, who attributes the increase to a need for more collaboration space and a desire to add social distancing.

“When you actually sit down and do the logistics of half-baked plans of rotating through offices, the easiest solution is to take a little more space,” Colacino said.

Nina Broadhurst, a principal and leader of the work studio at Cuningham Group Architecture, thinks when everything shakes out, offices will take up less space. Thanks to working from home and desk-sharing in the office, she’s operating on the assumption that offices will require about 70 percent of their existing footprints.

An illustration of a top view of people working in cubicles in an office. Jesussanz/Getty Images

What the future of work looks like

While the wide variety of solutions to improving the office space in a pandemic may seem slipshod, CBRE’s Whelan thinks of them as all part of a larger effort to build up “multiple lines of defense.” She added, “No one solution we know is going to be perfect.”

As for any big changes — either in the vein of what we thought about this spring or something entirely new — they aren’t off the table yet.

“Real estate is historically an industry that takes a long time to change,” Whelan said. “We can talk about all the great things that are coming, but it’s going to take time to really unfold and show itself in the physical portfolio.”

And those changes might not have much to do with the coronavirus at all; they could represent jumps forward in trends that were already underway.

“When people thought it was going to be tamer — when we thought we could go back in June and September with precautions — we saw more 6-foot gaps and one-way traffic and Plexiglas,” said Cuningham Group’s Broadhurst said. “The more they haven’t made that leap, the more they’re starting to look forward rather than make adjustments for a temporary situation.”

Broadhurst and others see the future of the office as a place of collaboration, where people come in to work together and to maintain an office culture. They see a future in which fewer people go into the office all of the time, while the vast majority still want office space they can go to some of the time. When they do, they want to be able to work with others. The coronavirus made working from home more widely acceptable, but it also made being together more important than ever.

In the office of the future, the decades-long push toward fitting as many people into the office as possible may finally reverse. But also expect more flexible seating as well as larger and more robust and more numerous conference and other group spaces.

Whelan estimates that offices of the future will have more common space than personal space. Traditional offices are approximately 80 percent cubicles and offices and 20 percent common space; she expects that ratio could flip.

It’s notable that some of these trends feel antithetical to coronavirus precautions. Instead, they could represent what offices will look like after a coronavirus vaccine. The pandemic could effectively be, as Broadhurst put it, “an opportunity to maybe reset how we go about working when we start again.”

“Some of these trends were already underway. Coronavirus has just accelerated them and made people start to really consider them,” Broadhurst said. “People always say, ‘don’t waste a good crisis.’”


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