Dapper Labs’ popular NBA Top Shot non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace froze the account of a user whose handle is a reference to the basketball league’s fraught history with China.
After submitting a photo of their passport in an attempt to cash out the account’s balance, a user with the name “FreeHongKong” was banned by Dapper’s support team for “providing false or misleading information during the verification process,” according to a Dec. 30 email seen by CoinDesk.
CoinDesk was in touch with a Dapper Labs spokesperson on Wednesday morning but the firm did not provide a comment by press time. Hours later, FreeHongKong told CoinDesk their identity check had been verified though the account was still locked.
The user told CoinDesk the name is a reference to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and its controversial history of censorship over Hong Kong-related activism, dating back to a 2019 tweet by one of the league’s general managers, Darryl Morey.
The tweet expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, but NBA officials compelled him to delete the tweet and issue an apology in an effort to maintain Chinese viewership. The episode upset many fans and activists who felt freedom of speech was being stifled.
Not your keys, not your Moments
The user remains in an ongoing battle to reclaim their account, but Dapper Labs hasn’t paused the sales of the account’s collectibles.
In the days following FreeHongKong’s ban, the user received a message that one of the NFT “Moments” they had listed for sale had been purchased, though they were still unable to access the account.
While the reasoning behind the ban remains unconfirmed, and could be unrelated to the username entirely, the ability for closed platforms like NBA Top Shot to ban users seems to undermine the value proposition of digital ownership. What good are NFTs if their native platforms can restrict access at any moment?
The extent to which companies like Dapper Labs can be pressured by the corporate interests of its business partners remains unclear, but freedom from this type of censorship, which has long proliferated in the Web 2 era, remains at the heart of the vision many have for Web 3.
As mainstream users rush in, NFTs have become a lightning rod for censorship controversy. Leading NFT marketplace OpenSea faced blowback for censoring a political cartoonist in November, whose artwork was also pulled from the popular marketplace Rarible. Censorship resistance has long been a core tenet of Bitcoin and Ethereum developers.
Being a crypto middleman remains a lucrative business, however. OpenSea was valued at $13.3 billion in a recent funding round. Dapper Labs snagged a $7.6 billion valuation in its latest raise. Coinbase went public last April and currently boasts a $51 billion market cap.