What’s the geo-mining app COIN all about?

From the point of view of an Ingress and Pokemon Go player, COIN, a geo-mining app, sounds interesting.

The COIN app website is high on the hyperbole, but its mission is on the bottom of the page:

COIN is a mobile app enabling over 500,000 to earn digital assets for validating geospatial location data when traveling, commuting, jogging or moving about the real world while interacting with each other and enjoying in-app challenges.

I assume it’s “over 500,000 people”, though they haven’t specified that bit. But the concept of “validating geospatial location data” sounds interesting. What is geo-mining? It tells us:

When you click the pickaxe button in the app, you’re confirming your location and sharing that with the XYO Network. In exchange for that valuable data, you receive an amount of COIN Tokens. Sometimes this amount can be HUGE, and it’s also 12X larger if you have an XYO SentinelX with you as you travel.

I travel a fair bit (well, before the stupid virus), and I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, so I got a XYO SentinelX. They’re free: “you just pay for the shipping”, says the website, which is US $17.95 to send it to Australia. And on that page, it’s pretty clear what you’re helping with:

XYO’s goal is simple — reduce the world’s reliance on centralized technologies.To make this happen, we need to build out a mesh network of IoT devices that spans the globe. That’s where you come into play.

Because you’ll be anonymously verifying location data, which enterprises such as e-commerce deliveries and more find value in, we’re able to pay for the cost of your device for you in order to help build the next major geospatial location network!

You earn “coin”, which you can change for cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or ETH, or goods, or the company’s own cryptocurrency called XYO.

So I help them produce a location database (so the only one out there isn’t Google, and that’s a good thing), and I get some of the company’s own crypto currency for helping, which I might be able to turn into real money one day. And because I travel a fair bit, I should get lots of crypto currency. So this is all good, right?

I’ve played with this for a few weeks to discover more.

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The app is collecting virtually nothing in terms of ‘geospatial data’. The only permission the app has is “location”: it’s literally tracking GPS signals (not wifi signals, cell signals, visual cues or other forms of location data). The app listens to your GPS chip and tells somebody those co-ordinates. That’s it.

But perhaps that’s what the ‘XYO SentinelX’ device is for?

What surprised me about the XYO SentinelX is that it didn’t come with any packaging. I wondered why: it was in a white card box, with a piece of paper with it telling me to download the COIN app.

I took a closer look at the XYO SentinelX. It’s quite a cool hexagonal thing, with “XY” on it (but no mention of ‘COIN’). It has virtually no other markings on it, other than a serial number and an FCC ID, which is 2ADLNXY4D1.

That FCC ID led me to its test results, which includes the manual for the device. Which is probably why there wasn’t any packaging with it: since it it’s actually… a bluetooth key tracker. Here it is.

You can even get an app for your phone. And, yes, it works.

The way these devices work is that it’s detected by your phone. If your phone goes more than 50m away, your phone can no longer detect it. There’s no GPS functionality or anything else on this device. Your phone “knows where your stuff is” by simply remembering where you last were when your phone saw the tag attached to your stuff. If someone else picks up your stuff and runs away with them, the ‘tracker’ won’t tell you where they ran to.

I can’t see it doing anything particularly for the app from a technical standpoint. There’s nothing in this device other than a BLE Bluetooth beacon. It’s used for spotting when there’s another COIN ‘player’ standing close to you, but that’s it.

So, how about these claims? A “mesh of IoT devices”? Not really: unless you count the app as being an IoT device.

A method of “anonymously verifying location data”? This is verifiably nonsense: the app collects nothing that it can “verify”. It’s literally receiving GPS data.

The only data this app has is my email and my geolocation. It might be selling that to advertisers — but with just my email address, there’s a limit to what they can do with it.

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So: what’s the business model of this company, and how can they afford to pay me all this exciting crypto currency (aka ‘coin’)?

The business model of the company appears to be:

  1. Sell mobile ads. You can watch these to earn crypto currency. I don’t know how these are charged by advertisers, but assuming it’s a $10 CPM model after sales fees, they earn 10c every view. They normally ‘pay’ about 6 coin per view (which is worth $0.0042). If I watch two 30" ads, I might earn a bit less than a cent.
  2. Sell “Sentinels” for US $17.95. I don’t know what the profit margin is on these, but I suspect quite little. But still, they’ve probably got a load of these key trackers in some warehouse somewhere, and they probably need to shift them.
  3. Sell a pricey subscription for real money, in order for users to earn the company’s own crypto currency back again. If I spend $34.95, I will earn much more coin, and therefore it’ll be worth it for me to spend that money for a monthly subscription perhaps.

You know, all of these are fine. I might pay $2.99 for a fake car in Asphalt 9, in order to keep playing it. I might watch an ad in order to get cards in Asphalt 9, and once I have 45 of those cards I might be able to get another fake car.

The “value” for playing Asphalt 9 is a fun game with racing cars. The value for ‘playing’ COIN is potentially a lot of people with crypto currency, and a promise of riches in the future if you can change the crypto currency into something that can buy you things (aka real money).

If I earn 318,000 coin, I can order some US $159 Apple Airpods. Or, if I earn 311,470 coin, I can turn that into 1 Ethereum token, another crypto thing, but I can THEN turn that Ethereum token into US $128 in cash.

Based on my play so far, that’ll take three years.

I think I’ll delete it. But, hey, I’ve got a bluetooth tracker for my keys…