More than 2 million people in 180 countries have reportedly signed up for Initiative Q, an invite-only payment network that aims to set the stage for a new digital currency. If you know someone who belongs to the network, you likely got an email asking you to sign up and invite others.

The first invites for Initiative Q went out to a select group of people five months ago, but in recent weeks, the invites have reached the masses, leading to write-ups in places like Forbes and Google searches for “Initiative Q” to spike. The goal is that so many people join the network that the proposed currency, known as Qs, will one day have monetary value.

“We invited 200 people we knew, and they invited their friends,” Initiative Q founder Saar Wilf told Vox. “In the past few weeks, it’s started to get out to a pretty wide audience. There’s been a gradual process of growth and virality.”

A former PayPal employee, Wilf launched Initiative Q with the help of economist Lawrence White, who developed the economic and monetary models for the proposed currency. As the initiative has gained a massive following, it has sparked predictions that Qs might just be “the next Bitcoin.”

Initiative Q, however, is offering people who join the network early the chance to obtain its would-be currency for free. Although the payment network has created buzz, it has also faced criticism, specifically concerns that it is a sophisticated pyramid scheme, since its success largely rests on how many people sign up.

As curiosity about Initiative Q grows, those behind it are using social media and an online FAQ to address questions and conspiracy theories about the payment network. At present, Initiative Q is exactly what its name suggests, more of an idea than anything concrete, because the currency doesn’t exist in any official capacity. Those who’ve registered for the initiative, however, are counting on Q becoming a real, and profitable, entity.

Saar Wilf’s vision for Initiative Q

For more than 20 years, Saar Wilf has dreamed of developing a digital currency, he told Vox. Based in Tel Aviv, the entrepreneur is no stranger to payment systems. He skipped college to work as a developer and programmer, and launched his first payment startup in 1997. Wilf later established the payment security company Fraud Sciences, acquired in 2008 by PayPal, where he worked until 2010.

With Initiative Q, Wilf intends to use the technological advancements that have occurred in the payment industry over the past few decades to develop a payment network that costs little to operate. The technology for such a system has been around for years, the Initiative Q website states, but it hasn’t been put to use because “No buyer wants to join a new network with no sellers, and no seller will offer a payment option that no buyer uses.”

That’s why Initiative Q is focusing on creating a payment network and a global currency called Qs. The currency has drawn comparisons to bitcoin and cryptocurrency, the digital funds that use encryption methods to safeguard transactions without banks.

Unlike bitcoin, though, there will not be a fixed supply of Qs or measures to sidestep government oversight. Two trillion Qs will be issued — 80 percent of which will go toward incentivizing people to sign up for the network; 10 percent to the Q payment company; and 10 percent to the Q monetary reserves. More Qs will be issued after the first round is distributed.

“We expect to be able to, within a year, start preparing to launch in several geographies,” Wilf said.”

Initiative Q has amassed followings in cities in Argentina, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Spain, India, Germany, Canada, and the US, according to Wilf. In a year or two, he hopes Qs are operational; in a decade, he hopes the system will be the world’s leading payment network.

But this will only happen if the network goes live. Initiative Q is enticing people to sign up early by offering them “free” access to the currency. And the earlier people join the network, the higher their reward will be — the more Qs they will receive. These aspects of Initiative Q have raised the most suspicion.

Could Initiative Q pose potential risks to users?

“Even if it’s not an out-and-out scam, it’s setting bad precedents, and it’s inherently rife with risks.”

That’s how Breaker magazine’s David Z. Morris described Initiative Q in a November 6 article called “Initiative Q Is All the Bad Parts of Crypto and None of the Good Ones.” In the piece, Morris objects to Initiative Q’s “aggressive” marketing approach and questions whether it’s really innovative since payment systems like Apple Pay, Google Pay, AI fraud prevention, and smartcard systems have already implemented some of the fraud-reducing techniques it proposes. And Morris particularly takes issue with the fact that the earlier members join the network, the higher reward they receive.

“Initiative Q’s creators may be on the level, but they’ve presented their plans to the world with all the trappings of a scam. You can only ‘join’ Initiative Q if you’re ‘recruited,’ and each new joiner gets five invites to send out to friends … and recruiting others rewards you with more future ‘Q’ currency. Even without a buy-in price, that’s quite literally a pyramid scheme.”

Wilf disagrees with this take on his initiative. He said there is a major difference between a pyramid scheme and Initiative Q.

“The main issue with a pyramid scheme or a Ponzi scheme is that people earn money at the expense of other people who earn money,” he said. “That is basically a scam. Q does not take money from users. You only gain Qs by joining and bringing in friends, by the fact that everyone joins, and there’s a large base of support, and then the currency gains value. There is no money being changed from one person to another in the Q network.”

Morris’s piece criticizing the network came after David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts, raised concerns about Initiative Q. Gerard questioned if the names and emails of people collected by the network will remain secure if it never goes live. Will this data become a treasure trove for hackers and scammers?

Initiative Q responded to those concerns on Twitter, saying that “collected data will not be shared or sold. If Q does not succeed we will destroy this database.”

While Initiative Q certainly has its critics, it also has some supporters. Forbes magazine contributor Lela London offered measured praise for the proposed payment network and global currency.

“Initiative Q, with an existing team of eight and no actual currency in circulation, is not the get-rich-quick scheme of dreams. But it is also not worth writing off,” she wrote last week. “…A ‘Q’ — which the company hopes will become as valuable as a dollar within a decade — is in the eye of the beholder. Initiative’s own timeline predicts nothing, hopes for everything, yet commits to utilising the most advanced technology to bring a new global currency to fruition. The capacity to create Bitcoin, but better.”

Clearly, there’s no consensus about Initiative Q and its proposed risks and benefits. During a time when scams are everywhere and the public still doesn’t have a strong grasp on alternative currencies, that’s to be expected.

“There are all kinds of suspicions when we have people offering free money,” Wilf said. “We’re told to be very afraid, that this is a big red flag. But this case is very unique. We’re building a new payment network, and the only way to do that is to distribute it to people. That’s the only way we know how to be able to solve this problem. Yes, it is technically free money, but it is not worth anything.”

The fact is, Initiative Q may never get off the ground. But whatever its fate, one thing is certain: Money, as we know it, is evolving.

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