Ethics statement on buying NFTs

By William Entriken

3 minutes

How can you tell if a blockchain enthusiast is shilling? Their lips are moving.


I have been around the NFT scene since the beginning of the modern era, since ERC-721.

The exceptions are some test transactions, trades and inputs to other work. For example, demonstrating a vulnerability in Number Board. I routinely do vulnerability research.

Until now, I have never purchased any NFTs (see side note for exceptions). Or coins, or tokens, for that matter.

This article documents my ethics policy and what I am changing effective today.

Why care?

My mission in the blockchain world is simple:

Verify seller claims & authenticity for most things you buy

This explains the grand strategy of how blockchain, and specifically NFTs, are leading to a world where consumers can lookup and research about things they buy. This is important to me, and I am very proud to have been on the teams that brought to the world: brand verification for vaccines, government authentication of COVID testing, private DNA testing, weekly free classes on open source.

Here are are my ambitions which are affected by these ethics policies:

  1. Present in web3 workshops as a disinterested academic
  2. Review projects as a trusted name in the industry
  3. Work with governments to recommend industry regulations
  4. Work specifically with a government in China to launch NFTs differently than the west (“2023 China plan”)

So my ethics policy needs to support these ambitions and my mission.

What could go wrong?

A serious problem in the web3 world (blockchain, tokenomics, NFTs) is the liquidity. There is so much liquidity that it creates an apparent shill out of everybody.

Breitling is a client of my client.

If you walk into a party and you are wearing a Breitling watch, that is normal behavior. And if you start talking about how great your watch is, still normal. But what if you go to a party and everything on your body—your watch, your hat, shirt, pants, your face, the accessories on your face—all of it has a literal price tag dangling from it. You are at a social event, is it still appropriate to talk about how great your watch is? Yes. There is no mischief about this, and people can make their own judgments about the worth of what you’re saying.

That was the easy thought experiment. Now comes the realistic one.

What if you go to the same party and you own a piece of everything in the room. Everything! Including your watch, other people’s watches, the floor, the music, other people’s glasses, the companies that process other people’s credit card transactions. And all of those things you own are for sale, and the markets are so liquid that you are simultaneously buying and selling all those things you own, processing transactions dozens of times each every minute. But nobody else knows about your ownership interest. This is not the future, this situation is typical in web3 today.

In this scenario, is it appropriate to talk about how much you like the drinks?

A path forward

I have discussed my no-buying-NFTs, no-buying-coins policy for years on Twitter and in conferences to see if it’s necessary and if it’s working as intended. Overall people have been supportive—they say it makes sense or it is okay but overkill. Thank you.

But better than a policy for me, I’m looking for a policy everybody can use.

You never lose money with art if you are buying things you want.

There is nothing inherently wrong about buying cute pictures. And there is nothing inherently wrong about buying coins/tokens in a project, whatever your expectations are for them. It is a little ridiculous that I design NFT drop systems but I’ve never actually been on the other side of any of them.

So here is my policy going forward:

  1. NFTs I buy will be on my accounts listed at in the footer, all my official accounts are there.
  2. I will publish/link to this account list disclosure in any contexts where I’m talking and there is potential for shilling.
  3. If I’m talking about something where I have some non-trivial interest I will disclose this fact inline.
  4. I will make mistakes and I will welcome your feedback on how I’m doing. Hold me to the highest standard and don’t be shy.

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