What’s a little fraud between friends?
The latest controversy to hit the crowd funding scene is all about the GoBe by Healbe, a wearable device that promises to take the all of the nitty-gritty detail work of self-tracking calorie intake and exercise by measuring glucose levels through a wrist-watch like bracelet. The problem? It appears to be completely bogus. And it has already taken Indiegogo members for nearly a million dollars.
The controversies surrounding the science of the GoBe have been covered on other sites with greater detail and specificity than I care to delve into (lest I suffer an outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease). So for my purposes, it should suffice to say that the product simply can’t work in the way it’s described, which seems to be pretty magical, in light of, you know, how bodies work and stuff. What I’m actually interested in is Indiegogo’s obligation to vet projects before letting them go live.
Indiegogo has a review process that Healbe, and any other would-be project creator must go through in order to launch a project. Therefore, Healbe must have passed the sniff test.
However, since launch, it’s become apparent that the Healbe team has either misrepresented themselves (claiming to have a Silicon Valley presence, when they seem to be entirely Russian) or simply have no virtual identities preceding the launch of the project—both somewhat suggestive of an attempt to deceive if not defraud.
So my first question is, to what extent should Indiegogo—or any other crowdfunding site—vet creators’ identity claims? My realistic answer is “minimally so.” That is, yes, they should perhaps investigate a company’s web presence. But should they necessarily investigate each team member with some appeal to data forensics? I’d say no—it’s time consuming, and it falls into the category of ‘stuff backers should do by way of due diligence.’ In other words, do not back whom you do not trust. For Indiegogo’s purposes, verifying that the company has a website, a back account, and a coherent project page should be enough.
The identity question, however, is small potatoes in the face of the big question that this whole situation raises, and that is: what obligation do crowd funding sites have to evaluate the concept, or the scientific claims made by creators? Certainly, most of the vocal outrage around this project stems from the claims that the science behind the GoBe is dubious or non-existent. And it is. But who are Indiegogo to evaluate that? Let’s imagine that there is a breakthrough scientific principle behind the GoBe (there isn’t—it’s really pretty scammy), who in the context of the crowdfunding platform is qualified to make the determination that it is or is not viable? I’m thinking, well, no one.
Imagine if the Indiegogo existed circa 1900 and that two guys named Orville and Wilbur wanted to run their idea for a funky little flying machine up the crowdfunding flagpole and see who stood at attention. Would such a preposterous notion—that, like, dudes can fly, man–be seen as so unlikely by the masses, that Ye Olden Tyme Indiegogo would have no choice but to kill the project at the dissenters’ request? Who’s to say? But I’d like to think that it falls to the would-be backers to evaluate the feasibility and merits of every project, and not the platform provider.
In my mind, all of the controversy: the experts, the bloggers, and the backers who are raising a collective stink, are exactly the right kind of response to a project that seems to good to be true. The system is working.
By the way, I wouldn’t back the GoBe if I were you. It looks like junk science to me, and those guys seem pretty shady…