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Chat app Kik yesterday helped launch a legal battle that could result in greater clarity around whether digital tokens are currencies or securities.

Backstory: Kik in 2017 raised nearly $100 million in an initial coin offering for a token called Kin that would be used to buy and sell digital services. The SEC later reached out for more info and eventually sent Kik a Wells notice that indicates some sort of enforcement action will be forthcoming.

  • In short, Kik wants Kin to be viewed as a currency rather than a security. But, as Kik investor Fred Wilson notes, "the SEC is regulating by enforcement, not new rulemaking."
  • SEC officials previously declared both Bitcoin and Ether to be currencies, although its corp finance director did hint that the initial sale of Ether tokens should likely have been considered securities.

Kik's top argument is that Kin doesn't meet the Howey Test, which was created by the Supreme Court in 1946 to determine if certain transactions (like an ICO) are investment contracts (and, thus securities).

  • It's no slam dunk. Kik argues in its Wells notice response that Kin buyers had no expectations of profits from buying tokens, thus not meeting the Howey Test, but 2017 comments by Kik CEO Ted Livingston tell a different story.

Yesterday Kik launched a crowdfunding effort to take its fight to court, contributing an initial $5 million worth of digital tokens.

  • The crypto industry hope is that judges will decide this currency vs. security questions once and for all, effectively creating an updated Howey Test.
  • And it should be the SEC's hope as well, to both save it headaches and to establish common rules of the digital road.

The bottom line: Kik and other crypto-related startups aren't trying to operate outside of regulatory regimes, despite their industry's lawless reputation. They want specific rules. But, so far, the U.S. government hasn't complied.

Go deeper: The promise of Facebook's GlobalCoin

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: President Trump becomes increasingly rash, and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.