Sovereignty is a Double-Edged Sword

brought to you by Yago

January 5, 2021



adjective: sovryn
possessing supreme or ultimate freedom, independence or self-authority

noun: sovryn

A self-sovereign individual, a member of the Sovryn community

Sovryn is named after its primary aspiration and goal: to create the technology and tools to provide individuals with complete self-sovereignty over every aspect of their finances. Sovereignty means that you have no masters, or rather, that you are your own master. It is the power of self-determination. But, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Freedom is the freedom to make mistakes… and pay for them

When it comes to your finances, the global status quo treats individuals paternalistically, like children who cannot be trusted to manage their own affairs. Regulations the world over limit what individuals can invest in, how they can spend their funds and where they can hold their savings. Bitcoin, DeFi and Sovryn do not - indeed cannot - place such limitations on users. This is the essence of permissionless, uncensorable finance. However, this places the burden of responsibility on the user. There is no authority looking after you, protecting you from folly or even from theft. The price of freedom is accountability. There is no freedom without the freedom to make your own mistakes - and suffer the consequences.

Real and Expensive Consequences

Recently, a user of the Sovryn protocol discovered the dark side of freedom, to their horror. The user was not doing anything exotic, they were using the system for a typical reason - borrowing funds. To do this, they connected to the system via the mobile version of the MetaMask wallet. MetaMask is optimized for Ethereum, not for Bitcoin, so it defaults to the Ethereum gas fees, which are high and paid in ETH, not Bitcoin. As a result, MetaMask defaults to paying much more in gas fees then is required when using Sovryn.

The devs working on Sovryn built a method to correct for this - each transaction automatically contains information for the wallet that adjusts the fees to what Sovryn typically requires. This is an automated fix that is sent to the user wallet. Usually, it would correct the problem without the user having to do anything. However, this precaution built into the Sovryn system does not - indeed cannot - control user wallets, so there is no way to enforce the fee adjustment.

Unfortunately, the mobile version of MetaMask ignores the Sovryn fee adjustment. As a result, the transactions the user approved included gas fees that were mind-numbingly expensive. Instead of paying fees in the range of $0.60 USD, the user paid fees in the thousands of dollars. He unfortunately sent Bitcoin miners thousands of dollars of his precious Bitcoin.

This terrible mistake was avoidable. Wallets show the user the fees they are going to pay for each transaction. However it is all too easy to click “approve” without paying close attention. Users must remember that each time they click approve, they are irreversibly sending funds.

Learning Sovryn Lessons

For the Sovryn developers, this situation represented a dilemma. On the one hand, we are building Sovryn because we believe in sovereignty and all it implies, good and bad. On the other hand, we do not want to see users lose funds. In particular, we cherish our early users. These OG Sovryns are taking on the greatest risk and helping to uncover issues with the platform. They are taking risks so that others don’t have to. Their patience, understanding and feedback are invaluable to Sovryn, and paves the way for everyone to have a more Sovryn future. We have the greatest debt of gratitude and thanks for these pioneering users.

It is our responsibility as a community of developers to capitalize on the lessons OG users teach us. So what did we learn from this event?

In response to this event, we made a few collective decisions:

  1. We decided to reimburse this user from our own funds, We think of this as a bug bounty. Users should not expect that funds they lose through their own actions will be reimbursed in the future.
  2. We have disabled the interface for mobile wallets through the webpage. Sovryn is still young, and we still have enough control to be able to limit access via the web dapp, which is how most users connect to the system. However, even now, we cannot fully prevent users from connecting with mobile MetaMask, or in many other ways we cannot anticipate.
  3. We have added much more prominent warnings on the web dapp, such as reminders to users that Sovryn is not to be blindly trusted. Users can make mistakes, the system could have errors, hacks are a possibility. Sovryn users use Sovryn at their own risk - and the risks are real.
  4. We are writing this post as a reminder of the risks involved when you take full responsibility for your finances.
  5. We will be proposing a constitution for Sovryn on how to handle user losses in the future. The community will be able to collaborate on this and it will be ratified by the Sovryn Bitocracy.
  6. Finally, from the outset we have created SOV tokens as a way for Sovryn stakeholders to mitigate and assume part of the risks to which users are exposed. It is envisioned that SOV stakeholders will - under circumstances where fault clearly lies with the protocol and not with the user - have the ability to provide a degree of protection to users.

The Price of Sovereignty: No Guarantees

Self-sovereignty is uncommon. For many it might be uncomfortable. To be Sovryn, you must be vigilant. You must be self-accountable. You must do your own research. You must remember that you cannot blindly trust the protocol, the developers, the wallets or anything else. You must accept the risks you take with open eyes. Some may decide that, for them, the price is too high. That is ok. Sovereignty, with its challenges and responsibility, is a path not everyone will take. There are many centralized platforms that you can use that will provide you with, at least, the illusion of safety and convenience. If you do not wish to embrace the full freedom and responsibility that Sovryn provides and demands, you have literally the entire world as an alternative.

By using Sovryn, you are actively asserting that you are Sovryn. You are actively taking back control. Sovryn will provide you with the tools, but nobody can offer you guarantees.

Stay Sovryn. Stay Vigilant.

And stay in the know:

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