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Challenges Associated with Smart Contracts and Its Implications

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Smart contracts

From vending machines to sophisticated algorithms that have driven human beings off the trading floor of NASDAQ, business logic coded as software has been automating and revolutionizing the world around us, long before the materialization of virtual currencies. In essence, smart contracts are here to stay.

Blockchain has a substantial promise of application in executing contractual obligations and undeniably multiple organizations are exploring different use cases for smart contracts. Applying blockchain technology enables the production of smart contracts with full automation in determining and enforcing contractual obligations without the need for third parties.

Bitcoin’s growth and adoption is proof that smart contracts can work in a public environment. Bitcoin’s cryptographic primitives based on simple scripting language allow the currency itself to exist.  It would be sensible then to expect Ethereum and its fully-fledged language—Turing-complete—to open up a whole world of new possibilities.

However, there are fundamental challenges facing smart contracts.  And until these challenges are overcome, it is still premature to presuppose their capabilities in enforcing actual legal contracts that have been concluded by parties.

Hurdles Facing Smart Contracts

Below are at least five hurdles are facing smart contracts.

#1: There is no guarantee of transaction execution

Miners wrap transactions into blocks that are sent around the network for different nodes to confirm and run smart contracts. However, there is no contractual requirement that compels a miner to include the transaction in a block. You can attach a high fee with the transaction but it can still be disregarded by miners because of censorship, collusion, or just plain bad luck.

This means that some business models will not work. For instance, E-Trade provides a “2-second execution guarantee” which is not possible in bitcoin or Ethereum systems where transaction execution is based on game theory instead of service levels.

#2: Smart contracts are still slow

Bitcoin acts as a public ledger for keeping track of balances. The mathematical operation of addition is commutative (i.e., when crediting the balance, x+y=y+x, and when debiting the balance, x+ (-y) = (-y) +x)). Therefore, it does not matter how miners package their transactions in the block since the net result will always be the same.

There could be a dependency chain, but usually transactions will be isolated from one another to allow a node to process transactions immediately as they arrive instead of waiting for the mined block to be received.

However, things are quite different with the Ethereum smart contracts.

Consider a simple calculator that has a balance of 500.

If two incoming transactions tell the calculator to divide the balance by 100 and subtract 3, the result will be 2. However, if the order of transactions were to be reversed, the output will be 4.7. Because a Turing-complete smart contract can theoretically perform anything to the global state, smart contracts can only be executed in chronological order—parallel processing isn’t supported.

The net result is that a node in the Ethereum network must sit idle waiting for a new block to arrive and the exact order of transactions must be known. Otherwise, early processing will produce results that are inconsistent with that of the other nodes. With both Ethereum and bitcoin, if a computer is unable to finish its computations before the next block arrives, that computer will fall behind the rest of the network.

Ethereum’s target of new blocks arriving every 15 seconds is quite ambitious and can raise the risks of a node drowning in the backlog of work.  And the trade-off is clear—smart contracts will yield slow Blockchains.

#3: Scaling is a hurdle

The Ethereum network has been referred to as a “world computer.” Yet its model where every node must execute every smart contract just doesn’t scale.  This is the complete opposite of what the “world computer” should be.  The launch of Cryptokitties and its impact on traffic has raised more controversies about the future of Ethereum protocol.

Decades of research into real-world grid computing and parallel processing teaches us that when there is a lot of work to be processed, it is best to divide it into small tasks which are then distributed amongst the network nodes. This isn’t the case with Ethereum smart contracts.

The Ethereum community is aware of this hurdle and one proposed solution is to shard the computations by namespace i.e. split the network into smaller networks. Other ideas that have been mooted include fee markets for off-chain computations. Bitcoin protocol faces similar scaling hurdles and ideas such as sidechains and lightning, if deployed, can effectively shard the network too.

However, it remains to be seen whether any of the proposed solutions can maintain the key selling points of a public blockchain—decentralized, trustless, and permissionless.

#4: Public blockchains are struggling to remain decentralized

In the recent past, centralization has been the blockchain’s burning issue. End users prefer to execute lightweight software that prunes transactions to focus on their own.  The number of fully-validating computers has been declining and this presents a danger to the security model of the public blockchain.

Ethereum faces the same hurdles as it gains popularity and greater demands are placed on the network, proof of this already being seen in the proposal towards sharding of smart contract execution. So, here’s a question that we should ask ourselves: “If decentralization isn’t a fundamental obligation, why jump through the hoops when we can deploy smart contracts on private blockchains or conventional servers?”

#5: Oracles can break the trust model

The bitcoin protocol can operate as a pure trustless network because its primary function is to help move an internal token around a closed system. However, for smart contracts to be useful they have to execute computations using real-world data such as election results, stock prices, or football score.

Oracles—entities that provide this data—may not be trustworthy. In other words, can we trust oracles? And how will their reputation be determined? Who will record the potentially vast volumes of data to be used by an Oracle so that a particular node can replay the blockchain from the genesis block?

Final Word

Public blockchains are so far transparent but are yet to provide the level of privacy that consumers and businesses are accustomed to with regard to enforcing contractual obligations.  Human involvement is still required to settle the legal disputes that may arise.  Centralized systems provide vastly superior performance in terms of response time.

The absence of a clear use case, compelling business advantage or even social benefits seems to be little reason to deploy an application into production based on smart contracts on a blockchain – a technology that is still in embryonic phase.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 9 rated postsHira Saeed is a tech geek girl with a passion to write on latest technology trends. She is the Founder of Tech Geeks community in Pakistan and also runs her copywriting and social media agency, Digital Doers. Follow her on @heerasaeed.




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Op-Ed

Crypto Spoofing & Washing: How Whales are Eating Your Lunch

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When it comes to the cryptocurrency markets, there are two tactics that the whales have been using with killer effects over the past year.

These are order spoofing and Wash trading. These tactics are methods of market manipulation that they have been using to reap outsized returns. These returns have all come at the expense of the retail cryptocurrency trader who fell for the dirty tricks.

In this post, we will take an in depth look at these tactics by analysing previous episodes of crypto spoofing and wash trading. We will also give you information about how to spot these attempts and avoid falling victim.

Before we get onto that, let us start with some of the basics…

What is Order Spoofing?

Quite simply, order spoofing is a form of market manipulation where an individual will create a host of fake orders with no intention of ever having them executed. This is done in order to create a certain perception around where the market is heading.

The individual who is doing the spoofing is hoping that this market sentiment will impact on the price of the asset in question. They will usually have a position in the asset that will benefit from a movement in the price.

Order spoofing is actually a tactic that has been outlawed by the SEC and has been actively prosecuted in the past. However, when it comes to the still unregulated and anonymous cryptocurrency markets, things are not as easy as they seem.

Sometimes order spoofing is combined with other tactics such as stop loss hunting where the trader will try identify where stop orders have been placed.

What is Wash Trading?

Wash trading is the practice of faking volume. This is done by a trader or a group of traders buying and selling their own orders for a particular coin. It gives the market the perception that there is interest in a coin when there isn’t really.

It is also sometimes practiced by shady exchanges in order to create the perception that a great deal of trading is taking place. This will dupe potential retail traders into using the exchange.

Just like order spoofing, this has been outlawed in traditional financial markets since the passage of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) in 1936. Wash trading is also very hard to get away with in traditional financial markets as the exchanges have a number of built in protections to avoid it.

Now that we have an understanding of the basics of the manipulation, let’s take a look at some examples in practice.

Spoofing and Washing in the Wild

You may have come across Bitcoin order spoofing before. You would have observed a large buy or sell wall in an exchanges order books that would have appeared and disappeared seemingly out of nowhere. This is the trader placing and removing the order at the chosen times.

For example, if you take a look at the below order books from the Bitifinex exchange a few weeks ago. You can see a massive buy wall with a large order of slightly more than 11,000 BTC at a price of $7,750.

Recent Buy Wall with Large Order. Image source: Cryptowatch

If you were a cryptocurrency trader who was just observing the order books as an indication of market sentiment, you may perceive this a bullish indicator. It will lead you to buy Bitcoin in anticipation of a rally.

Many other traders will follow in your footsteps and the price will rally in response to it. However, what you do not know is that the Whale that has placed this order actually has a long position in Bitcoin and is looking for buyers where he can offload his position at a profit.

The moment that the whale has secured a certain amount of profit from his spoofing endeavours, he will pull the orders from the book. Consequently, that solid buy wall will disappear in front of your eyes. Below is another image from the Bitfinex order books from late last year.

Buy wall disappears from Order Books. Image source: Bitfinex’ed

On the left is the order books attempting to create an illusion of a Bitcoin buy wall with a large order at $8,900 for 502BTC. However, on the right is the exact same order book a mere 5 minutes later. As you can see, the massive buy wall has just evaporated.

It’s likely that the person who had placed that 502BTC order had no intention of it ever getting executed. In this case, the trader realised that their spoof was not convincing the market and decided to remove their orders.

How would this effect you?

Well, if you thought that this was a bullish sign of movement you could have placed a buy order at $8,899. This would have been executed but you would also have noticed that the market had in fact retreated. The expected bullish sentiment was nothing but a fake.

Now lets take a look at an example of some wash trading.

This is a practice that exchanges can easily manage given the amount of funds that they have on their books. In the below image we have a well-researched example of some wash trading on the OKex exchange for LTC / BTC. Notice anything weird?

OKex Volumes on LTC/BTC Pairs. Image source: Sylvain Ribes

As you can see from the volume, the one thing that immediately sticks out is regularity of it. The volume goes through regular peaks and troughs throughout the day. It is highly unlikely that this is as the result of manual market flows through the books of OKEX.

All one need do is take a look at the LTC order books of another large exchange such as Poloniex or Bitstamp and you will see no such volume irregularities.

When fake volume is created, it makes the market think that there is activity in a coin or exchange when there is really none at all. There have also been other exchanges which have more recently been accused of these tactics.

How to Avoid Falling Victim

When it comes to order spoofing, there are generally quite a few things you can do in order to determine where the activity is taking place and how to spot it.

Firstly, before deciding on an exchange to trade with, you study their market statistics with tools such as cryptowatch. Here, you can take a look at all the exchanges and monitor their books in order to spot irregularities.

What you will be looking for are the large buy / sell walls that are often present on exchanges. If these walls have appeared at a time when there is not that much market news or movement, then it should already have piqued your interest.

What you will then want to do is monitor that buy / sell wall with a particular interest on the large order at the top of the wall (closest to market rates). If this order is pulled quickly after it has been formed then it is likely to have been a spoof and an attempt to manipulate the markets.

When it comes to washing, you should always be cautious when you observe high volume on an exchange that you have not heard a great deal about. This is especially true for those newer exchanges that have only been operating for a few months.

However, if you wanted to be able to spot wash trading as it happens, you will usually see a host of rapid executions at a stable price for a particular coin. Below is an example of some washed trades that were placed in an order book. As you can see, there was a whole host of “wash sells” that were placed at a price of $293.

Numerous washed sell orders on exchange. Image source: Cryptocurrency Facts

If you have observed these in the order books it should have raised suspicion that you could be witnessing a large wash trade.

An Ongoing Challenge

Although these tactics are able to help you by identifying suspicious activity, the malicious traders are also evolving. Nowadays most of the spoofing and wash trading is done with advanced high frequency trading bots.

These bots make use of the high through-put API connections on multiple exchanges in order to move markets more quickly than a manual trader. These trading bots have also previously been identified and given unique and interesting names such as the “Picasso trading bot“.

There is reason to be hopeful though.

The authorities are now quite aware of these tactics and are actively getting involved with enforcement. In fact, the US DOJ has recently released a criminal probe into the market manipulation practices on cryptocurrency exchanges.

As these opaque exchanges face more regulatory scrutiny, they are likely to adapt their procedures to actively stamp out the practice. They could also borrow a number of oversight mechanisms that are currently being used on stock exchanges for example.

Conclusion

Cryptocurrencies have taken off quicker than the traditional financial system and regulators have been able to adapt. While that has led to reams of innovation, it has also meant that malicious actors could take advantage of the lack of oversight.

Order spoofing and wash trading are those market manipulation tactics that are being employed in these “Wild West” markets. Although there are moves afoot to stamp these out, the tactics are evolving and innovating just like the underlying technology.

In the end, only you can really protect yourself from this manipulation. As long as you are aware of what to look for and which exchanges to avoid, you can prevent yourself from being a crypto whale’s “lunch”.

Featured Image via Fotolia.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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5 stars on average, based on 3 rated postsNic is an ex Investment Banker and current crypto enthusiast. When he is not sitting behind six screens trading Bitcoin, he is maintaining his numerous mining rigs.




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Decentralization

Cache Me If You Can: Crypto Trading, Decentralized

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Spot exchanges, over-the-counter/OTC trading desks, and futures contracts would likely rank amongst the most popular methods for trading cryptocurrencies between two or more parties.

Despite their popularity though, most of these trading venues utilise centralised infrastructure in at least one area of their operations.

When combined with the endemic security threats which crypto trading services regularly face: centralized fundamental functions are a considerable threat to users who value the privacy of their transactions.

“A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”

Cryptocurrency is still a burgeoning industry, with the number of ICOs and market investment having increased by several multiples even just over the past eight months when compared to the whole of 2017.

Despite this: concerning conventions have already established themselves that challenge the original vision prescribed by Satoshi Nakamoto for Bitcoin.

The enigmatic Satoshi Nakamoto became a legend upon publication of his seminal cryptocurrency white-paper entitled ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’ (and if you haven’t read it, you really should!).

Since then, the document has served as an conceptual blueprint which has been referenced by a great number of subsequent altcoins: evident by the widespread implementation of Bitcoin’s core mechanics. An example of this is has come to be known as cryptocurrency mining, or the ‘Proof of Work’ consensus algorithm.

P2P vs  P2intermediary2P?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) denotes transactions that are made between two parties without the need for an intermediary to facilitate or authorise the trade.

Mike Orcutt, associate editor at the MIT Technology Review wrote in April 2018 that:

“The whole point of using a blockchain is to let people—in particular, people who don’t trust one another—share valuable data in a secure, tamperproof way…

“One supposed security guarantee of a blockchain system is ‘decentralization.’ If copies of the blockchain are kept on a large and widely distributed network of nodes, there’s no one weak point to attack, and it’s hard for anyone to build up enough computing power to subvert the network”

Whilst this is true for many blockchains and their associated blocks for decentralized cryptocurrencies: most middle-man’ who process trades and transaction utilise a centralised system known as an ‘order book’ upon which future transaction and trade values are calculated.

In June 2009, mere months after Nakamoto’s Bitcoin paper was released to the world, a cross-departmental team from Stanford University published a related and highly recommended investigation into the contemporary status of the order-book.

The authors state that:

“most markets are order-driven, where any market participant is free to provide liquidity by submitting a buy or sell order. Submitted orders are amalgamated by price to create a limit order book. The[re is a] rule driven execution of orders in these limit order books and [also] extensive data that is available for order driven markets.”

With  a centralised order-boook; all the data pertaining to transactions: such as receiver and sender addresses, value of tokens, and dates could be all-but-publicly accessible in the case of a hack or successful unwanted intrusion.

Peer-to-Peer Trading: What Can Be Done?

One solution which we have seen numerous examples of are organisations which claim to be ‘decentralized exchanges’.

On the 9th of August 2018, for example, well-known yet controversial ex-China based cryptocurrency exchange Binance launched a pre-alpha build of their highly anticipated decentralized exchange which they call ‘DEX’.

Conversely, Binance has been subject to more than their fair share of negative press and public feedback as of late and earning trust for their future projects will be no easy feat. They have to contend with hackers, pundits, and a 5.9/10 ranking on Trustpilot.

Another notable release comes from blockchain development platform Stratis, a competitor to Ethereum’s ‘platform for platforms’ and ranked in 50th place on CoinMarketCap as of writing.

The ‘Breeze Wallet with Breeze Privacy Protocol’ launched on the 1st August 2018, and it is a means of facilitating pure peer-to-peer, user-to-user, fully decentralized transactions. As a result, Breeze hopes to introduce centralized intermediaries to the realm of obsolescence, by way of a token-tumbling protocol called ‘TumbleBit’.

If you know of any more projects which have been making recent progress – please let us know in the comments section!

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Op-Ed

Disrupting the Cloud: ANKR Network

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Since the creation of bitcoin and the introduction of the “Proof of Work” (POW) algorithm, many have been concerned about the vast use of computing power and energy and their negative side effects. Currently, cloud computing is projected to be a trillion dollar market, yet it is monopolized by some of the largest tech conglomerates in the world. Only giants in the likes of Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud can afford the high human capital cost and upfront server costs to run a successful cloud operation that spans the globe. However, the aforementioned companies tend to charge the customer with a higher margin of cost.

New developments in blockchain technology aim to resolve these issues by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of cloud computing. Being an innovative solution to this computing and consumer problem, Ankr Network brings the benefits of decentralization to cloud computing and balances value between buyers and sellers via crypto economics, Oracle service and distributed computing.

Ankr Network

Ankr Network is an innovative platform, which aims to create a resource-efficient blockchain architecture for a distributed cloud computing system and an easy-to-use infrastructure for the building of business applications. Ankr is the first cloud computing solution to leverage both blockchain and trusted hardware of Intel SGXs. The SGX hardware will allow developers of applications to protect data from unauthorized access and modification and preserve the confidentiality and integrity of information.

Technical solutions include:

  • Consensus Algorithm Proof of Useful Work (PoUW)
  • Platform for distributed cloud computing (DCC)
  • Oracle integrated service
  • Structural support for sidechains

The consensus looks like this:

Anrk upgrades mining with its consensus “Proof of Useful Work” (PoUW), which provides a sustainable block structure. Specifically, PoUW directs power and computing capacity which was used on hashes in POW algorithms such as bitcoin for processing tasks provided by businesses and consumers on the blockchain. Therefore, one can say Ankr upgrades mining to a higher level, allowing equipment holders to receive a financial incentive for block creation and real-world tasks processing.

To explain this better, consider the following: the golden standard algorithm is one where the nodes on the blockchain require:

1) That tasks performed to solve problems is actually quantifiable work;

2) That the processing of these tasks provides some form of value to any party on the network

The Ankr Network appears capable of achieving this gold standard. Alternatively, existing POW in networks such as bitcoin and Ethereum only achieve the first point – nodes use computing power and energy to prove that work was done (but such amount of work is wasted without any utility).

Ankr solves this key technical limitation in bitcoin and Ethereum by including a second point in its consensus algorithm, thus making all the work done by nodes directed on the processing of tasks that could bring added value utility to the network participants.

Ethereum processes all smart contracts on one chain in a serial sequence, which bottlenecks throughput and dramatically reduces the usability, especially when there are large contracts with complicated data on the chain. Plasma is a protocol to solve the scalability issue by building a tree structure of blockchains, where various application chains (Child or Plasma Chains) are connected to a single root chain (Main Chain). Plasma chains can allow applications to handle their specific smart contracts transactions on side chains, thus balancing potential overload of the network.

The efficiency of the main chain can be significantly improved by offloading a number of transactions from the main chain to Plasma chains, especially if proper incentives are given to Plasma operators. Currently, Oracle solutions exist separately from the blockchain framework and are limited in compatibility. Ankr proposes a user-friendly universal AP (application programming interface) I for each child chain to connect to off-chain entities. Existing business can build decentralized autonomous applications on the child chain with powerful computing power and native data feed service provided by the main chain.

 

The Native Oracle (NOS) service provides an authenticated data feed by using both cryptographic primitives and a trusted execution environment (TEE). Thanks to a standardized API for transferring data from existing data sources like websites, NOS allows customers to simplify business in the real world. Basically, this means that blockchain can allow integrating smart contract execution with data sources through a protected gateway.

Intel SGX

Intel SGX (Software Guard Extensions) is a new set of instructions that permits execution of an application inside a hardware enclave, which protects the application’s integrity and confidentiality against certain forms of hardware and software attacks, including hostile operating systems. This lowers entry barriers for miners and provides security and privacy.

Distributed Cloud Computing (DCC) Platform

As internet technology advances, massive amounts of data including text, audio, video, etc. have been created. However, most of this data is neither organized nor relevant to each other. Processing the data in a serial sequence (traditional blockchain) becomes less and less resource efficient and can’t be tolerated by the rapid velocity of business development.

Ankr overcomes these shortcomings through its DDC platform, which enables P2P transactions. Miners will provide their computing power to support the blockchain, as well as sending surplus power for cloud computing calculations.

A P2P network allows application owners and individual users (i.e., requesters) to rent computing power from other users (suppliers). Currently, the cloud computing resources in popular blockchain networks such as bitcoin or Ethereum are exclusively controlled by the centralized cloud service providers and are subject to rigid operation models. A decentralized cloud computing platform can incorporate a blockchain-based payment system, which can allow for direct payment among operators (requesters), sellers (suppliers) and software developers.

Now, we will cover what other projects in this field are doing in comparison to Ankr as a reference project.

Golem

Users of Golem are only incentivized for cloud computing and Golem is using third party computing containers like Docker.

SONM

This project is very similar to Golem, but with a different application field. Golem is focused on rendering, but SONM is focused on the adoption of existing architectures (currently server hosting).

IExec

This project is also similar to Golem and SONM, but its application focus is decentralized cloud computing in specific research applications.

In comparison with the projects above, users of Ankr have different incentives that come from mining, transaction (or smart contract) and cloud computing. Also, Ankr does not use third party platforms for computational power; instead, it uses the computing power of miners.

In my opinion, an additional limitation of Golem, SONM, and IExec is that they have based their development on traditional computing architectures, which are used in data centers, thus limiting their potential computing power and scope of tasks. The reason lies in the fact that data center architecture is working on one technical parameter, which is not optimal for distributed computing where the topology of each device changes frequently and will result in a costly overhead in data transfer and decrease the stability of the network. Ankr technology allows bypassing such limitations, which results in a wider applicability and scope of their network.

Overall, if the Ankr network team can create a network that uses PoUW to reach consensus by applying all the computational energy to useful use and not wasting it, then cloud computing services as Amazon Web, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure are likely to face serious competition soon.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.9 stars on average, based on 10 rated postsVladislav Semjonov has a legal and financial background. He has been involved in crypto space since early 2017 in both ICO advising positions in several ICO consultancy firms, and as an ICO analyst for VC. He began contributing for Hacked.com in April 2017.




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