Cryptocurrency ads reach record levels on London transport | Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrency firms bombarded Londoners with a record number of ads on public transport during 2021, prompting calls for a ban to prevent people from being drawn into risky investments.

The surge in advertisements for crypto-assets, which are not regulated in the UK, has raised concerns about the risk of addiction and financial harm, especially given the extreme volatility of the price of digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which reached record levels last year before the crash. repeatedly.

It also emerged that TfL had not implemented a ban on gambling advertising promised by Mayor Sadiq Khan, allowing the industry to ramp up its marketing in the meantime.

Records obtained by The Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act show that TfL Services displayed 39,560 encrypted ads from 13 companies in the six months between April and September 2021.

Among the main advertisers are the eToro trading platform, floki – Elon Musk’s dog-named ‘meme’ – Crypto.com and Luno Money, whose campaign has been telling people it’s time to buy bitcoin, which has been banned by the ad regulator for being “unlawful”. Responsible”.

The roadshow overshadowed previous years, as advertisers took advantage of the popularity of smartphone trading apps and the rise in awareness of digital currencies such as bitcoin and ether.

In 2019, the only advertiser offering crypto services on TfL buses and trains was trading platform eToro, which paid for just five digital screens and 40 tall stickers on the side of double-decker buses.

Despite the prevalence of working from home in 2020, the volume of crypto ads has increased, with companies such as Luno Money and Coinfloor buying 1,595 ads between them.

Before the recent boom, 2018 was the busiest year for cryptocurrency announcements on TfL since it began recording data in 2017.

Until then, 15,000 were offered in 12 months, compared to 39,560 just six months in 2021, including promotions for relatively obscure companies like Hex, Kraken, BOTS and Puglife.

In total, crypto companies have spent £825,245 advertising on TfL tube and rail services since 2018. The organization does not keep spending data for buses.

A separate Freedom of Information request filed by The Guardian revealed that the advertising push for cryptocurrencies was mirrored by a surge in gambling ads, as Khan’s April 2021 promise to ban gambling ads appeared to have stalled.

In 2018-19, online casinos and bookmakers spent £783,476 advertising TfL services, then £1 million the following year, followed by £1.16 million in 2020-21.

But they spent £1.17m in the first three months of the 2021-22 period. While the European Football Championship is likely to have fueled the increase in part, spending was about six times higher than it was in 2018, the year the last World Cup was held.

Khan pledged to ban gambling advertising in his statement, which was published nearly nine months ago, but a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said it had not yet been enacted.

Sian Berry, a former co-leader of the Green Party and now a member of the London Assembly, urged Khan to go ahead with the ban and extend it to crypto advertising.

Investment bubbles have always worked by dragging more and more inexperienced suckers towards the end of the cycle. This is the stage where some of these projects might be with all this publicity.

“The risk is that they attract people who are more likely to lose money than not, which is pretty much the equivalent of gambling and I think these promotions should be banned by Transport for London in the same way.”

“People are struggling right now and may have taken a hit on their life chances. They may have lost their livelihood or their home and are vulnerable to get-rich-quick schemes.”

“Does TfL do proper checks to determine if these are legitimate businesses?”

A TfL spokesperson said that all ads contain a disclaimer stating that crypto is not regulated in the UK and that the value of investments may go down.

The Transport Authority screens advertisements before they are displayed and understands that it rejects any language that uses language similar to that which has been banned or investigated by the ASA. He has written to both the FCA and the ASA for further guidance.

“eToro fully supports measures, including regulations, designed to protect and educate investors about cryptocurrency and other financial asset classes,” said Dan Mozolsky, managing director of eToro UK.

When asked about the concerns raised about their ads, many crypto companies responded saying that any risks were well reported and not unique to crypto assets.

Floki, whose ads are being investigated by the ASA, said blocking encrypted ads would amount to “censorship” and ads should be regulated and a disclaimer included.

He also said that cryptocurrencies are “just a bubble” and will “change the world as we know it.” Bubbles “generally don’t last more than a decade,” Kraken said, with a high degree of adoption by institutions.

All investments were accompanied by risk, BOTS said, noting that the 2008 financial crisis showed that conventional finance is not without risk.

Luno Money, which the ASA banned its bitcoin advertising last year, said it would welcome “more formal guidance,” which it hopes will emerge this year.