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Franz Schrepf

Franz Schrepf

5 months ago

What I Wish I'd Known About Web3 Before Building

More on Web3 & Crypto

Nathan Reiff

Nathan Reiff

9 months ago

Howey Test and Cryptocurrencies: 'Every ICO Is a Security'

What Is the Howey Test?

To determine whether a transaction qualifies as a "investment contract" and thus qualifies as a security, the Howey Test refers to the U.S. Supreme Court cass: the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. According to the Howey Test, an investment contract exists when "money is invested in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits from others' efforts." 

The test applies to any contract, scheme, or transaction. The Howey Test helps investors and project backers understand blockchain and digital currency projects. ICOs and certain cryptocurrencies may be found to be "investment contracts" under the test.

Understanding the Howey Test

The Howey Test comes from the 1946 Supreme Court case SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. The Howey Company sold citrus groves to Florida buyers who leased them back to Howey. The company would maintain the groves and sell the fruit for the owners. Both parties benefited. Most buyers had no farming experience and were not required to farm the land. 

The SEC intervened because Howey failed to register the transactions. The court ruled that the leaseback agreements were investment contracts.

This established four criteria for determining an investment contract. Investing contract:

  1. An investment of money
  2. n a common enterprise
  3. With the expectation of profit
  4. To be derived from the efforts of others

In the case of Howey, the buyers saw the transactions as valuable because others provided the labor and expertise. An income stream was obtained by only investing capital. As a result of the Howey Test, the transaction had to be registered with the SEC.

Howey Test and Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin is notoriously difficult to categorize. Decentralized, they evade regulation in many ways. Regardless, the SEC is looking into digital assets and determining when their sale qualifies as an investment contract.

The SEC claims that selling digital assets meets the "investment of money" test because fiat money or other digital assets are being exchanged. Like the "common enterprise" test. 

Whether a digital asset qualifies as an investment contract depends on whether there is a "expectation of profit from others' efforts."

For example, buyers of digital assets may be relying on others' efforts if they expect the project's backers to build and maintain the digital network, rather than a dispersed community of unaffiliated users. Also, if the project's backers create scarcity by burning tokens, the test is met. Another way the "efforts of others" test is met is if the project's backers continue to act in a managerial role.

These are just a few examples given by the SEC. If a project's success is dependent on ongoing support from backers, the buyer of the digital asset is likely relying on "others' efforts."

Special Considerations

If the SEC determines a cryptocurrency token is a security, many issues arise. It means the SEC can decide whether a token can be sold to US investors and forces the project to register. 

In 2017, the SEC ruled that selling DAO tokens for Ether violated federal securities laws. Instead of enforcing securities laws, the SEC issued a warning to the cryptocurrency industry. 

Due to the Howey Test, most ICOs today are likely inaccessible to US investors. After a year of ICOs, then-SEC Chair Jay Clayton declared them all securities. 

SEC Chairman Gensler Agrees With Predecessor: 'Every ICO Is a Security'

Howey Test FAQs

How Do You Determine If Something Is a Security?

The Howey Test determines whether certain transactions are "investment contracts." Securities are transactions that qualify as "investment contracts" under the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

The Howey Test looks for a "investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits from others' efforts." If so, the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 require disclosure and registration.

Why Is Bitcoin Not a Security?

Former SEC Chair Jay Clayton clarified in June 2018 that bitcoin is not a security: "Cryptocurrencies: Replace the dollar, euro, and yen with bitcoin. That type of currency is not a security," said Clayton.

Bitcoin, which has never sought public funding to develop its technology, fails the SEC's Howey Test. However, according to Clayton, ICO tokens are securities. 

A Security Defined by the SEC

In the public and private markets, securities are fungible and tradeable financial instruments. The SEC regulates public securities sales.

The Supreme Court defined a security offering in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. In its judgment, the court defines a security using four criteria:

  • An investment contract's existence
  • The formation of a common enterprise
  • The issuer's profit promise
  • Third-party promotion of the offering

Read original post.

Yogesh Rawal

Yogesh Rawal

11 months ago

Blockchain to solve growing privacy challenges

Most online activity is now public. Businesses collect, store, and use our personal data to improve sales and services.

In 2014, Uber executives and employees were accused of spying on customers using tools like maps. Another incident raised concerns about the use of ‘FaceApp'. The app was created by a small Russian company, and the photos can be used in unexpected ways. The Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed serious privacy issues. The whole incident raised questions about how governments and businesses should handle data. Modern technologies and practices also make it easier to link data to people.

As a result, governments and regulators have taken steps to protect user data. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was introduced by the EU to address data privacy issues. The law governs how businesses collect and process user data. The Data Protection Bill in India and the General Data Protection Law in Brazil are similar.
Despite the impact these regulations have made on data practices, a lot of distance is yet to cover.

Blockchain's solution

Blockchain may be able to address growing data privacy concerns. The technology protects our personal data by providing security and anonymity. The blockchain uses random strings of numbers called public and private keys to maintain privacy. These keys allow a person to be identified without revealing their identity. Blockchain may be able to ensure data privacy and security in this way. Let's dig deeper.

Financial transactions

Online payments require third-party services like PayPal or Google Pay. Using blockchain can eliminate the need to trust third parties. Users can send payments between peers using their public and private keys without providing personal information to a third-party application. Blockchain will also secure financial data.

Healthcare data

Blockchain technology can give patients more control over their data. There are benefits to doing so. Once the data is recorded on the ledger, patients can keep it secure and only allow authorized access. They can also only give the healthcare provider part of the information needed.

The major challenge

We tried to figure out how blockchain could help solve the growing data privacy issues. However, using blockchain to address privacy concerns has significant drawbacks. Blockchain is not designed for data privacy. A ‘distributed' ledger will be used to store the data. Another issue is the immutability of blockchain. Data entered into the ledger cannot be changed or deleted. It will be impossible to remove personal data from the ledger even if desired.

MIT's Enigma Project aims to solve this. Enigma's ‘Secret Network' allows nodes to process data without seeing it. Decentralized applications can use Secret Network to use encrypted data without revealing it.

Another startup, Oasis Labs, uses blockchain to address data privacy issues. They are working on a system that will allow businesses to protect their customers' data. 

Conclusion

Blockchain technology is already being used. Several governments use blockchain to eliminate centralized servers and improve data security. In this information age, it is vital to safeguard our data. How blockchain can help us in this matter is still unknown as the world explores the technology.

Vitalik

Vitalik

9 months ago

Fairness alternatives to selling below market clearing prices (or community sentiment, or fun)

When a seller has a limited supply of an item in high (or uncertain and possibly high) demand, they frequently set a price far below what "the market will bear." As a result, the item sells out quickly, with lucky buyers being those who tried to buy first. This has happened in the Ethereum ecosystem, particularly with NFT sales and token sales/ICOs. But this phenomenon is much older; concerts and restaurants frequently make similar choices, resulting in fast sell-outs or long lines.

Why do sellers do this? Economists have long wondered. A seller should sell at the market-clearing price if the amount buyers are willing to buy exactly equals the amount the seller has to sell. If the seller is unsure of the market-clearing price, they should sell at auction and let the market decide. So, if you want to sell something below market value, don't do it. It will hurt your sales and it will hurt your customers. The competitions created by non-price-based allocation mechanisms can sometimes have negative externalities that harm third parties, as we will see.

However, the prevalence of below-market-clearing pricing suggests that sellers do it for good reason. And indeed, as decades of research into this topic has shown, there often are. So, is it possible to achieve the same goals with less unfairness, inefficiency, and harm?

Selling at below market-clearing prices has large inefficiencies and negative externalities

An item that is sold at market value or at an auction allows someone who really wants it to pay the high price or bid high in the auction. So, if a seller sells an item below market value, some people will get it and others won't. But the mechanism deciding who gets the item isn't random, and it's not always well correlated with participant desire. It's not always about being the fastest at clicking buttons. Sometimes it means waking up at 2 a.m. (but 11 p.m. or even 2 p.m. elsewhere). Sometimes it's just a "auction by other means" that's more chaotic, less efficient, and has far more negative externalities.

There are many examples of this in the Ethereum ecosystem. Let's start with the 2017 ICO craze. For example, an ICO project would set the price of the token and a hard maximum for how many tokens they are willing to sell, and the sale would start automatically at some point in time. The sale ends when the cap is reached.

So what? In practice, these sales often ended in 30 seconds or less. Everyone would start sending transactions in as soon as (or just before) the sale started, offering higher and higher fees to encourage miners to include their transaction first. Instead of the token seller receiving revenue, miners receive it, and the sale prices out all other applications on-chain.

The most expensive transaction in the BAT sale set a fee of 580,000 gwei, paying a fee of $6,600 to get included in the sale.

Many ICOs after that tried various strategies to avoid these gas price auctions; one ICO notably had a smart contract that checked the transaction's gasprice and rejected it if it exceeded 50 gwei. But that didn't solve the issue. Buyers hoping to game the system sent many transactions hoping one would get through. An auction by another name, clogging the chain even more.

ICOs have recently lost popularity, but NFTs and NFT sales have risen in popularity. But the NFT space didn't learn from 2017; they do fixed-quantity sales just like ICOs (eg. see the mint function on lines 97-108 of this contract here). So what?

That's not the worst; some NFT sales have caused gas price spikes of up to 2000 gwei.

High gas prices from users fighting to get in first by sending higher and higher transaction fees. An auction renamed, pricing out all other applications on-chain for 15 minutes.

So why do sellers sometimes sell below market price?

Selling below market value is nothing new, and many articles, papers, and podcasts have written (and sometimes bitterly complained) about the unwillingness to use auctions or set prices to market-clearing levels.

Many of the arguments are the same for both blockchain (NFTs and ICOs) and non-blockchain examples (popular restaurants and concerts). Fairness and the desire not to exclude the poor, lose fans or create tension by being perceived as greedy are major concerns. The 1986 paper by Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler explains how fairness and greed can influence these decisions. I recall that the desire to avoid perceptions of greed was also a major factor in discouraging the use of auction-like mechanisms in 2017.

Aside from fairness concerns, there is the argument that selling out and long lines create a sense of popularity and prestige, making the product more appealing to others. Long lines should have the same effect as high prices in a rational actor model, but this is not the case in reality. This applies to ICOs and NFTs as well as restaurants. Aside from increasing marketing value, some people find the game of grabbing a limited set of opportunities first before everyone else is quite entertaining.

But there are some blockchain-specific factors. One argument for selling ICO tokens below market value (and one that persuaded the OmiseGo team to adopt their capped sale strategy) is community dynamics. The first rule of community sentiment management is to encourage price increases. People are happy if they are "in the green." If the price drops below what the community members paid, they are unhappy and start calling you a scammer, possibly causing a social media cascade where everyone calls you a scammer.

This effect can only be avoided by pricing low enough that post-launch market prices will almost certainly be higher. But how do you do this without creating a rush for the gates that leads to an auction?

Interesting solutions

It's 2021. We have a blockchain. The blockchain is home to a powerful decentralized finance ecosystem, as well as a rapidly expanding set of non-financial tools. The blockchain also allows us to reset social norms. Where decades of economists yelling about "efficiency" failed, blockchains may be able to legitimize new uses of mechanism design. If we could use our more advanced tools to create an approach that more directly solves the problems, with fewer side effects, wouldn't that be better than fiddling with a coarse-grained one-dimensional strategy space of selling at market price versus below market price?

Begin with the goals. We'll try to cover ICOs, NFTs, and conference tickets (really a type of NFT) all at the same time.

1. Fairness: don't completely exclude low-income people from participation; give them a chance. The goal of token sales is to avoid high initial wealth concentration and have a larger and more diverse initial token holder community.

2. Don’t create races: Avoid situations where many people rush to do the same thing and only a few get in (this is the type of situation that leads to the horrible auctions-by-another-name that we saw above).

3. Don't require precise market knowledge: the mechanism should work even if the seller has no idea how much demand exists.

4. Fun: The process of participating in the sale should be fun and game-like, but not frustrating.

5. Give buyers positive expected returns: in the case of a token (or an NFT), buyers should expect price increases rather than decreases. This requires selling below market value.
Let's start with (1). From Ethereum's perspective, there is a simple solution. Use a tool designed for the job: proof of personhood protocols! Here's one quick idea:

Mechanism 1 Each participant (verified by ID) can buy up to ‘’X’’ tokens at price P, with the option to buy more at an auction.

With the per-person mechanism, buyers can get positive expected returns for the portion sold through the per-person mechanism, and the auction part does not require sellers to understand demand levels. Is it race-free? The number of participants buying through the per-person pool appears to be high. But what if the per-person pool isn't big enough to accommodate everyone?

Make the per-person allocation amount dynamic.

Mechanism 2 Each participant can deposit up to X tokens into a smart contract to declare interest. Last but not least, each buyer receives min(X, N / buyers) tokens, where N is the total sold through the per-person pool (some other amount can also be sold by auction). The buyer gets their deposit back if it exceeds the amount needed to buy their allocation.
No longer is there a race condition based on the number of buyers per person. No matter how high the demand, it's always better to join sooner rather than later.

Here's another idea if you like clever game mechanics with fancy quadratic formulas.

Mechanism 3 Each participant can buy X units at a price P X 2 up to a maximum of C tokens per buyer. C starts low and gradually increases until enough units are sold.

The quantity allocated to each buyer is theoretically optimal, though post-sale transfers will degrade this optimality over time. Mechanisms 2 and 3 appear to meet all of the above objectives. They're not perfect, but they're good starting points.

One more issue. For fixed and limited supply NFTs, the equilibrium purchased quantity per participant may be fractional (in mechanism 2, number of buyers > N, and in mechanism 3, setting C = 1 may already lead to over-subscription). With fractional sales, you can offer lottery tickets: if there are N items available, you have a chance of N/number of buyers of getting the item, otherwise you get a refund. For a conference, groups could bundle their lottery tickets to guarantee a win or a loss. The certainty of getting the item can be auctioned.

The bottom tier of "sponsorships" can be used to sell conference tickets at market rate. You may end up with a sponsor board full of people's faces, but is that okay? After all, John Lilic was on EthCC's sponsor board!

Simply put, if you want to be reliably fair to people, you need an input that explicitly measures people. Authentication protocols do this (and if desired can be combined with zero knowledge proofs to ensure privacy). So we should combine the efficiency of market and auction-based pricing with the equality of proof of personhood mechanics.

Answers to possible questions

Q: Won't people who don't care about your project buy the item and immediately resell it?

A: Not at first. Meta-games take time to appear in practice. If they do, making them untradeable for a while may help mitigate the damage. Using your face to claim that your previous account was hacked and that your identity, including everything in it, should be moved to another account works because proof-of-personhood identities are untradeable.

Q: What if I want to make my item available to a specific community?

A: Instead of ID, use proof of participation tokens linked to community events. Another option, also serving egalitarian and gamification purposes, is to encrypt items within publicly available puzzle solutions.

Q: How do we know they'll accept? Strange new mechanisms have previously been resisted.

A: Having economists write screeds about how they "should" accept a new mechanism that they find strange is difficult (or even "equity"). However, abrupt changes in context effectively reset people's expectations. So the blockchain space is the best place to try this. You could wait for the "metaverse", but it's possible that the best version will run on Ethereum anyway, so start now.

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Nick Nolan

Nick Nolan

4 months ago

In five years, starting a business won't be hip.

Photo by Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash

People are slowly recognizing entrepreneurship's downside.

Growing up, entrepreneurship wasn't common. High school class of 2012 had no entrepreneurs.

Businesses were different.

They had staff and a lengthy history of achievement.

I never wanted a business. It felt unattainable. My friends didn't care.

Weird.

People desired degrees to attain good jobs at big companies.

When graduated high school:

  • 9 out of 10 people attend college

  • Earn minimum wage (7%) working in a restaurant or retail establishment

  • Or join the military (3%)

Later, entrepreneurship became a thing.

2014-ish

I was in the military and most of my high school friends were in college, so I didn't hear anything.

Entrepreneurship soared in 2015, according to Google Trends.

Screenshot from Google Trends

Then more individuals were interested. Entrepreneurship went from unusual to cool.

In 2015, it was easier than ever to build a website, run Facebook advertisements, and achieve organic social media reach.

There were several online business tools.

You didn't need to spend years or money figuring it out. Most entry barriers were gone.

Everyone wanted a side gig to escape the 95.

Small company applications have increased during the previous 10 years.

Screenshot from Oberlo

2011-2014 trend continues.

2015 adds 150,000 applications. 2016 adds 200,000. Plus 300,000 in 2017.

The graph makes it look little, but that's a considerable annual spike with no indications of stopping.

By 2021, new business apps had doubled.

Entrepreneurship will return to its early 2010s level.

I think we'll go backward in 5 years.

Entrepreneurship is half as popular as it was in 2015.

In the late 2020s and 30s, entrepreneurship will again be obscure.

Entrepreneurship's decade-long splendor is fading. People will cease escaping 9-5 and launch fewer companies.

That’s not a bad thing.

I think people have a rose-colored vision of entrepreneurship. It's fashionable. People feel that they're missing out if they're not entrepreneurial.

Reality is showing up.

People say on social media, "I knew starting a business would be hard, but not this hard."

More negative posts on entrepreneurship:

Screenshot from LinkedIn

Luke adds:

Is being an entrepreneur ‘healthy’? I don’t really think so. Many like Gary V, are not role models for a well-balanced life. Despite what feel-good LinkedIn tells you the odds are against you as an entrepreneur. You have to work your face off. It’s a tough but rewarding lifestyle. So maybe let’s stop glorifying it because it takes a lot of (bleepin) work to survive a pandemic, mental health battles, and a competitive market.

Entrepreneurship is no longer a pipe dream.

It’s hard.

I went full-time in March 2020. I was done by April 2021. I had a good-paying job with perks.

When that fell through (on my start date), I had to continue my entrepreneurial path. I needed money by May 1 to pay rent.

Entrepreneurship isn't as great as many think.

Entrepreneurship is a serious business.

If you have a 9-5, the grass isn't greener here. Most people aren't telling the whole story when they post on social media or quote successful entrepreneurs.

People prefer to communicate their victories than their defeats.

Is this a bad thing?

I don’t think so.

Over the previous decade, entrepreneurship went from impossible to the finest thing ever.

It peaked in 2020-21 and is returning to reality.

Startups aren't for everyone.

If you like your job, don't quit.

Entrepreneurship won't amaze people if you quit your job.

It's irrelevant.

You're doomed.

And you'll probably make less money.

If you hate your job, quit. Change jobs and bosses. Changing jobs could net you a greater pay or better perks.

When you go solo, your paycheck and perks vanish. Did I mention you'll fail, sleep less, and stress more?

Nobody will stop you from pursuing entrepreneurship. You'll face several challenges.

Possibly.

Entrepreneurship may be romanticized for years.

Based on what I see from entrepreneurs on social media and trends, entrepreneurship is challenging and few will succeed.

Trevor Stark

Trevor Stark

2 months ago

Economics is complete nonsense.

Mainstream economics haven't noticed.

Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash

What come to mind when I say the word "economics"?

Probably GDP, unemployment, and inflation.

If you've ever watched the news or listened to an economist, they'll use data like these to defend a political goal.

The issue is that these statistics are total bunk.

I'm being provocative, but I mean it:

  • The economy is not measured by GDP.

  • How many people are unemployed is not counted in the unemployment rate.

  • Inflation is not measured by the CPI.

All orthodox economists' major economic statistics are either wrong or falsified.

Government institutions create all these stats. The administration wants to reassure citizens the economy is doing well.

GDP does not reflect economic expansion.

GDP measures a country's economic size and growth. It’s calculated by the BEA, a government agency.

The US has the world's largest (self-reported) GDP, growing 2-3% annually.

If GDP rises, the economy is healthy, say economists.

Why is the GDP flawed?

GDP measures a country's yearly spending.

The government may adjust this to make the economy look good.

GDP = C + G + I + NX

C = Consumer Spending

G = Government Spending

I = Investments (Equipment, inventories, housing, etc.)

NX = Exports minus Imports

GDP is a country's annual spending.

The government can print money to boost GDP. The government has a motive to increase and manage GDP.

Because government expenditure is part of GDP, printing money and spending it on anything will raise GDP.

They've done this. Since 1950, US government spending has grown 8% annually, faster than GDP.

In 2022, government spending accounted for 44% of GDP. It's the highest since WWII. In 1790-1910, it was 3% of GDP.

Who cares?

The economy isn't only spending. Focus on citizens' purchasing power or quality of life.

Since GDP just measures spending, the government can print money to boost GDP.

Even if Americans are poorer than last year, economists can say GDP is up and everything is fine.

How many people are unemployed is not counted in the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate measures a country's labor market. If unemployment is high, people aren't doing well economically.

The BLS estimates the (self-reported) unemployment rate as 3-4%.

Why is the unemployment rate so high?

The US government surveys 100k persons to measure unemployment. They extrapolate this data for the country.

They come into 3 categories:

  • Employed

People with jobs are employed … duh.

  • Unemployed

People who are “jobless, looking for a job, and available for work” are unemployed

  • Not in the labor force

The “labor force” is the employed + the unemployed.

The unemployment rate is the percentage of unemployed workers.

Problem is unemployed definition. You must actively seek work to be considered unemployed.

You're no longer unemployed if you haven't interviewed in 4 weeks.

This shit makes no goddamn sense.

Why does this matter?

You can't interview if there are no positions available. You're no longer unemployed after 4 weeks.

In 1994, the BLS redefined "unemployed" to exclude discouraged workers.

If you haven't interviewed in 4 weeks, you're no longer counted in the unemployment rate.

Unemployment Data Including “Long-term Discouraged Workers” (Source)

If unemployment were measured by total unemployed, it would be 25%.

Because the government wants to keep the unemployment rate low, they modify the definition.

If every US resident was unemployed and had no job interviews, economists would declare 0% unemployment. Excellent!

Inflation is not measured by the CPI.

The BLS measures CPI. This month was the highest since 1981.

CPI measures the cost of a basket of products across time. Food, energy, shelter, and clothes are included.

A 9.1% CPI means the basket of items is 9.1% more expensive.

What is the CPI problem?

Here's a more detailed explanation of CPI's flaws.

In summary, CPI is manipulated to be understated.

Housing costs are understated to manipulate CPI. Housing accounts for 33% of the CPI because it's the biggest expense for most people.

This signifies it's the biggest CPI weight.

Rather than using actual house prices, the Bureau of Labor Statistics essentially makes shit up. You can read more about the process here.

Surprise! It’s bullshit

The BLS stated Shelter's price rose 5.5% this month.

House prices are up 11-21%. (Source 1Source 2Source 3)

Rents are up 14-26%. (Source 1Source 2)

Why is this important?

If CPI included housing prices, it would be 12-15 percent this month, not 9.1 percent.

9% inflation is nuts. Your money's value halves every 7 years at 9% inflation.

Worse is 15% inflation. Your money halves every 4 years at 15% inflation.

If everyone realized they needed to double their wage every 4-5 years to stay wealthy, there would be riots.

Inflation drains our money's value so the government can keep printing it.

The Solution

Most individuals know the existing system doesn't work, but can't explain why.

People work hard yet lag behind. The government lies about the economy's data.

In reality:

  • GDP has been down since 2008

  • 25% of Americans are unemployed

  • Inflation is actually 15%

People might join together to vote out kleptocratic politicians if they knew the reality.

Having reliable economic data is the first step.

People can't understand the situation without sufficient information. Instead of immigrants or billionaires, people would blame liar politicians.

Here’s the vision:

A decentralized, transparent, and global dashboard that tracks economic data like GDP, unemployment, and inflation for every country on Earth.

Government incentives influence economic statistics.

ShadowStats has already started this effort, but the calculations must be transparent, decentralized, and global to be effective.

If interested, email me at trevorstark02@gmail.com.

Here are some links to further your research:

  1. MIT Billion Prices Project

  2. 1729 Decentralized Inflation Dashboard Project

  3. Balaji Srinivasan on “Fiat Information VS. Crypto Information”

Dung Claire Tran

Dung Claire Tran

3 months ago

Is the future of brand marketing with virtual influencers?

Digital influences that mimic humans are rising.

Lil Miquela has 3M Instagram followers, 3.6M TikTok followers, and 30K Twitter followers. She's been on the covers of Prada, Dior, and Calvin Klein magazines. Miquela released Not Mine in 2017 and launched Hard Feelings at Lollapazoolas this year. This isn't surprising, given the rise of influencer marketing.

This may be unexpected. Miquela's fake. Brud, a Los Angeles startup, produced her in 2016.

Lil Miquela is one of many rising virtual influencers in the new era of social media marketing. She acts like a real person and performs the same tasks as sports stars and models.

The emergence of online influencers

Before 2018, computer-generated characters were rare. Since the virtual human industry boomed, they've appeared in marketing efforts worldwide.

In 2020, the WHO partnered up with Atlanta-based virtual influencer Knox Frost (@knoxfrost) to gather contributions for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Lu do Magalu (@magazineluiza) has been the virtual spokeswoman for Magalu since 2009, using social media to promote reviews, product recommendations, unboxing videos, and brand updates. Magalu's 10-year profit was $552M.

In 2020, PUMA partnered with Southeast Asia's first virtual model, Maya (@mayaaa.gram). She joined Singaporean actor Tosh Zhang in the PUMA campaign. Local virtual influencer Ava Lee-Graham (@avagram.ai) partnered with retail firm BHG to promote their in-house labels.

Maya and Tosh Zhang in PUMA Rider campaign. Credits to Vulcan Post

In Japan, Imma (@imma.gram) is the face of Nike, PUMA, Dior, Salvatore Ferragamo SpA, and Valentino. Imma's bubblegum pink bob and ultra-fine fashion landed her on the cover of Grazia magazine.

Imma on Grazia cover. Credits to aww.tokyo

Lotte Home Shopping created Lucy (@here.me.lucy) in September 2020. She made her TV debut as a Christmas show host in 2021. Since then, she has 100K Instagram followers and 13K TikTok followers.

Liu Yiexi gained 3 million fans in five days on Douyin, China's TikTok, in 2021. Her two-minute video went viral overnight. She's posted 6 videos and has 830 million Douyin followers.

Liu Yiexi’s video on Douyin. Credits to Ji Yuqiao on Global Times

China's virtual human industry was worth $487 million in 2020, up 70% year over year, and is expected to reach $875.9 million in 2021.

Investors worldwide are interested. Immas creator Aww Inc. raised $1 million from Coral Capital in September 2020, according to Bloomberg. Superplastic Inc., the Vermont-based startup behind influencers Janky and Guggimon, raised $16 million by 2020. Craft Ventures, SV Angels, and Scooter Braun invested. Crunchbase shows the company has raised $47 million.

The industries they represent, including Augmented and Virtual reality, were worth $14.84 billion in 2020 and are projected to reach $454.73 billion by 2030, a CAGR of 40.7%, according to PR Newswire.

Advantages for brands

Forbes suggests brands embrace computer-generated influencers. Examples:

  1. Unlimited creative opportunities: Because brands can personalize everything—from a person's look and activities to the style of their content—virtual influencers may be suited to a brand's needs and personalities.

  2. 100% brand control: Brand managers now have more influence over virtual influencers, so they no longer have to give up and rely on content creators to include brands into their storytelling and style. Virtual influencers can constantly produce social media content to promote a brand's identity and ideals because they are completely scandal-free.

  3. Long-term cost savings: Because virtual influencers are made of pixels, they may be reused endlessly and never lose their beauty. Additionally, they can move anywhere around the world and even into space to fit a brand notion. They are also always available. Additionally, the expense of creating their content will not rise in step with their expanding fan base.

  4. Introduction to the metaverse: Statista reports that 75% of American consumers between the ages of 18 and 25 follow at least one virtual influencer. As a result, marketers that support virtual celebrities may now interact with younger audiences that are more tech-savvy and accustomed to the digital world. Virtual influencers can be included into any digital space, including the metaverse, as they are entirely computer-generated 3D personas. Virtual influencers can provide brands with a smooth transition into this new digital universe to increase brand trust and develop emotional ties, in addition to the young generations' rapid adoption of the metaverse.

  5. Better engagement than in-person influencers: A Hype Auditor study found that online influencers have roughly three times the engagement of their conventional counterparts. Virtual influencers should be used to boost brand engagement even though the data might not accurately reflect the entire sector.

Concerns about influencers created by computers

Virtual influencers could encourage excessive beauty standards in South Korea, which has a $10.7 billion plastic surgery industry.

A classic Korean beauty has a small face, huge eyes, and pale, immaculate skin. Virtual influencers like Lucy have these traits. According to Lee Eun-hee, a professor at Inha University's Department of Consumer Science, this could make national beauty standards more unrealistic, increasing demand for plastic surgery or cosmetic items.

Lucy by Lotte Home Shopping. Credits to Lotte Home Shopping on CNN

Other parts of the world raise issues regarding selling items to consumers who don't recognize the models aren't human and the potential of cultural appropriation when generating influencers of other ethnicities, called digital blackface by some.

Meta, Facebook and Instagram's parent corporation, acknowledges this risk.

“Like any disruptive technology, synthetic media has the potential for both good and harm. Issues of representation, cultural appropriation and expressive liberty are already a growing concern,” the company stated in a blog post. “To help brands navigate the ethical quandaries of this emerging medium and avoid potential hazards, (Meta) is working with partners to develop an ethical framework to guide the use of (virtual influencers).”

Despite theoretical controversies, the industry will likely survive. Companies think virtual influencers are the next frontier in the digital world, which includes the metaverse, virtual reality, and digital currency.

In conclusion

Virtual influencers may garner millions of followers online and help marketers reach youthful audiences. According to a YouGov survey, the real impact of computer-generated influencers is yet unknown because people prefer genuine connections. Virtual characters can supplement brand marketing methods. When brands are metaverse-ready, the author predicts virtual influencer endorsement will continue to expand.