The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is diving into the murky waters of cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings (ICOs). According to The Wall Street Journal, the SEC has "issued scores of subpoenas and information requests" asking tech companies to fill them in on their ICO dealings.
The SEC is responsible for maintaining "fair, orderly, and efficient" markets for investors, and given that investors have pumped an estimated $8.7 billion into ICOs — a thus-far unregulated way for cryptocurrency startups to raise funds — it was only a matter of time before the commission took a closer look at the practice.
Depending on who you ask, the exact number of subpoenas and information requests varies. CoinDesk reports the figure could be anywhere from about 80 to hundreds. "They are shotgunning these. We've been warning people about this for months now," one lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, told CoinDesk.
We don't yet know which companies have received those requests. However, at least one has stepped out of the shadows: online furniture company Overstock.com, which plans to use an ICO to raise $250 million for its crypto subsidiary, tZero.
"While the SEC is trying to determine whether there have been any violations of the federal securities laws, the investigation does not mean that the SEC has concluded that anyone has violated the law,” Overstock wrote in a formal notice to investors. “Also, the investigation does not mean that the SEC has a negative opinion of any person, entity, or security.”
Despite Overstock's assurances, the value of the company's shares dipped in the aftermath of the announcement. If an SEC inquiry can shake public trust in a company as big as Overstock, such probes into smaller companies or startups might be enough to leave them dead in the water.
The value of bitcoin, the world's largest crypto and one far beyond the ICO stage, even dropped after news of the SEC inquiries broke.
Still, the SEC's mission is to ensure investors aren't ripped off, and a number of ICOs have done just that. These subpoenas and information requests could prevent unscrupulous companies from moving forward with their ICOs while providing the SEC with the information needed to craft regulations that protect investors in the future.
Cryptocurrencies have the potential to improve nearly every aspect of our world, and ultimately, this temporary agitation of the market could bring us one step closer to that crypto-supported future. After all, if the SEC is looking into ICOs and crypto, it at least means they're taking them seriously.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.