The highly anticipated Merge upgrade in September 2022 marked a significant milestone for Ethereum. With this upgrade, Ethereum transitioned from the energy-intensive proof-of-work (PoW) consensus mechanism to the more sustainable proof-of-stake (PoS) model. While this upgrade promised improved scalability and reduced energy consumption, it also brought unforeseen challenges in terms of compliance with regulatory standards.
The transition to PoS had an unintended consequence on the compliance with Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations. OFAC compliance ensures that certain transactions on the Ethereum network are censored, which ultimately impacts the neutrality of the ecosystem. Prior to the Merge upgrade, Ethereum’s compliance with OFAC regulations was on the rise. Crypto exchanges and other entities opted to run censoring Minimum Extractable Value-Boost (MEV-Boost) relays on their validators, leading to exponential growth in compliance.
However, since the upgrade, the overall compliance with OFAC regulations has declined significantly. In November 2022, approximately 78% of Ethereum blocks complied with OFAC regulations. As of September 27, the compliance had dropped to a mere 30%, representing a 57% reduction. This decline raises concerns about the neutrality and censorship resistance of the Ethereum network.
MEV Watch data confirms that popular platforms like Binance, Celsius Network, Bitfinex, Ledger Live, Huobi, and Coinbase are among the top offenders when it comes to censorship on the Ethereum network. These platforms play a crucial role in the ecosystem but have seemingly prioritized certain compliance requirements over the principles of decentralization and openness.
To counter the decline in OFAC compliance, operators need to adopt relays that do not censor transactions based on OFAC requirements. Seven major MEV-boost relays are commonly used, including Flashbots, BloXroute, BlockNative, Manifold, and Eden. However, according to MEV Watch, only three out of these seven relays do not censor transactions according to OFAC compliance requirements. This highlights the need for more non-censoring relays to ensure the neutrality of the Ethereum network.
While OFAC regulations primarily target United States-based organizations, validators outside the U.S. must also consider the impact of compliance on the network. By running non-censoring relays, validators can help prevent the concentration of power and uphold the decentralized nature of Ethereum. It is vital for the global Ethereum community to collaborate in maintaining a censorship-resistant network that aligns with the principles of blockchain technology.
In the midst of Ethereum’s reduced OFAC compliance, Grayscale, a prominent digital asset investment firm, made a significant decision. Grayscale abandoned all the rights to Proof-of-Work Ethereum tokens (ETHPoW) due to the lack of liquidity in the market. This decision reflects the challenges faced by entities in navigating the evolving regulatory landscape and adapting to new consensus mechanisms.
While the Merge upgrade has brought about challenges to Ethereum’s compliance with OFAC regulations, it also presents an opportunity for the network to reevaluate its priorities. Balancing compliance requirements with the principles of decentralization and censorship resistance remains a delicate task. Stakeholders must collaborate and innovate to find solutions that preserve Ethereum’s core values while still adhering to regulatory standards.
The historic Merge upgrade has had a noticeable impact on Ethereum’s compliance with OFAC regulations. The decline in compliance after the transition to PoS raises concerns about the neutrality and censorship resistance of the network. As the Ethereum ecosystem evolves, it is essential for stakeholders to strike a balance between compliance and the fundamental principles of blockchain technology. Only through collaboration and innovation can the Ethereum network maintain its decentralized and open nature while also meeting regulatory expectations.