Instant Message App Telegram Plans to Auction Off Usernames for Crypto

The app that promotes its secure, anonymous messaging system now wants to sell usernames like "@store" and let users pawn off their digital identities.

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A silhouette of a hand holding a phone with the TON coin logo on it in front of a Telegram messaging app logo.
Telegram has been rather hands off on its old TON Blockchain it developed years ago, but now the company wants to let users sell their own name for profit.
Photo: nikkimeel (Shutterstock)

How much is your digital identity worth to you, or at least, how much is it worth in crypto? Well thanks to instant messaging app Telegram, you can soon find out. Telegram has plans to let users hang their digital identifier up on a public marketplace to see whether other folks think your name is also worth a good chunk of change.

Telegram announced in an official thread Thursday that the company is almost ready to release an auction platform for usernames on the TON blockchain, AKA the The Open Network, which was originally developed and operated by Telegram. Transactions will supposedly use the blockchain’s native cryptocurrency Toncoin.

Back in August, Telegram founder Pavel Durov mentioned he was interested in such an auction house after seeing how much crypto people made off auctioning wallet and domain names on their old blockchain.

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“If TON has been able to achieve these results, imagine how successful Telegram with its 700 million users could be if we put reserved @ usernames, group and channel links for auction,” Durov wrote. He added that ownership of these usernames would be “secured” on the blockchain akin to NFTs. He also mentioned that other elements of Telegram such as stickers, channels, or even emojis could also go up for auction.

The founder also said that in addition to users’ t.me addresses (in other words, their usernames), he said all “four-letter usernames” could be put up for auction, which would include “@bank, @club, @game, @gift.” Not to be lewd, but there’s a few other “four-letter words” I would think to include in response to trying to sell the very concept of digital identity.

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If, like me, your brain lingered in protracted silence as you heard the news, followed by a question asked in a thin whisper, “why?” then you’d be interested to hear that selling usernames isn’t all that original. As pointed out by The Block, usernames on the Ethereum blockchain have long been up for sale through Ethereum Name Service. You don’t have to look far to find plenty of other projects that have come onto the scene announcing their intent to sell NFTs of users’ own digital identifier for online gaming.

Telegram has experimented with crypto before, though its had to abandon efforts on its own Telegram Open Network and Gram cryptocurrency after they were investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for selling unregistered securities. After a federal judge ruled in favor of the SEC, Telegram called it quits on Gram and withdrew from development on the blockchain. The developers handed control of the blockchain over to the TON Foundation in 2021.

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According to BusinessofApps, Telegram has 500 million active monthly users and has become widely used in countries like Iran thanks to its end-to-end encryption allowing anonymous messaging. This anonymity is a key selling point for Telegram. According to the Korea Herald, the app gained a small boost of popularity recently after the South Korean company Kakao and its app KakaoTalk recently suffered a several-day blackout that cut off communications for millions of users.

But this adherence to anonymity has caused some friction with governments. This week, Germany fined Telegram $5 million for not setting up systems to report illegal content. Telegram is often used by many far radical online right wing groups as well as political dissidents because of its anonymous nature.

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There are other privacy-minded apps available, including Signal. While Durov and Telegram have gone after fellow messaging apps like WhatsApp for its obvious connections to the data whirlpool that is Meta, Signal’s new president Meredith Whittaker has criticized Telegram for using cloud backups.