What we learned from the collapse of $550,000 crowdfunding.
Kickstarter is a place for optimists. The crowdfunding website relies on those with a "can do" attitude to stake their money on ideas ranging from the barmy to the brilliant. But the very nature of the website also makes it vulnerable to fraudsters looking to take the money from the credulous and run, and so the site’s creators have to remain vigilant in order to protect its reputation.
That in mind, the collapse of WeTag’s $550,000 campaign for their battery-less tracking system iFind makes for an interesting study in crowdfunding. On the morning of June 26 backers of the project were greeted with a message from Kickstarter suspending the campaign, assuring it would return all the money that had been donated to the prospective customers.
The crowdfunding site accused WeTag of pledging money to its own project, misleading potential backers in the product’s description, and providing inaccurate information to the site itself. "We only suspend projects when we find strong evidence that they are misrepresenting themselves or otherwise violating the letter or spirit of Kickstarter’s rules," Kickstarter said, refusing to comment on the subject further.
It is a decision that seemingly confirms the suspicions of an assembled online mob, alongside several tech sites that publicised allegations the project was a scam. These included ExtremeTech, who described it as "a slow-motion bank robbery". A Google document put together by the mob hailed the decision as "Science: 1, Scammers: 0", adding that everyone could now get back to the World Cup.
WeTag claimed their product would be "the world’s first Bluetooth item locator that requires no battery", instead drawing energy from a "power bank" charged through electromagnetic harvesting, drawing power from radio waves. Previous attempts to harvest ambient energy have met with some success, but only on products not requiring much power, such as radio sets from about a century ago.
When prompted for evidence that they could provide this sort of technology, the company posted a number of sketchy drafts, claiming that it could not be more forthcoming with the details due to fears of rivals pinching their ideas. No records could be found of patents said to be pending approval on either side of the Atlantic, adding to fears the project was illegitimate.