The DAO is considered to be a decentralized, autonomous, organization, but some say it is neither. It certainly is not an organization in the traditional sense of the word.

In its foundations the DAO is literally code. It is not autonomous as the DAO cannot quite operate by itself and its decentralized aspect is now being questioned.

How great is DAO curators’ power?

As with any decentralized protocol, the DAO has a 51% attack vector. A user who controls the majority of total tokens can steal all of DAO’s money, running away with the funds of 49% token holders.

To prevent this attack, the role of curators was created, tasked with whitelisting smart contract business proposal addresses. Although this may seem innocuous, the events of the past week indicate that they hold far greater power than many thought.

Vlad Zamfir, one of the DAO curators, stated in a post before adding that some expect the curators to protect the DAO from attacks and have a greater responsibility:

“My understanding was my responsibilities were solely to be a certificate authority that checks whether payment addresses are truly associated with proposals and that contract addresses truly have EVM that corresponds with the advertised Solidity code.”

De facto moratorium

The 12 curators, mostly ethereum programmers, have implemented a de facto moratorium, essentially freezing all DAO activity, because a number of attack vectors have been exposed. As solutions are proposed, the undefined role of the curators has been raised as a topic of concern.

Zamfir told Epicenter Bitcoin:

“[C]urators can whitelist proposals, but if there is a yes bias then they are choosing who the money goes to by deciding the order in which proposals go forward.”

Vlad Zamfir

Alex van de Sande, one of the curators, listed his whitelisting criteria in a public statement. It includes subjective elements such as the proposer “made a public effort to reach out to the community wherever they would be to explain their business model,” or that he would not whitelist a proposal that asked for “more than 30% of the total funds” or any proposal that was against his own personal ethics.

In a short interview for Cointelegraph, Sande stated that “If the token holders show a very strong support for a project that asks for more than [30%], of course I’d change my mind.”

Good proposals and potential attack vectors

Further explaining that there was no “official” channel to submit proposals and there should not be one. Therefore, “a good proposal should be submitted to slack, to reddit, to the forums” and through any other platform.

Sande says to Cointelegraph:

“The DAO is not a top-down organization, curators are not the managers, it’s up to the community to step up and debate contracts and verify them. We will only begin to whitelist them once the token holders are asking us to.”

He has recently proposed a smart contract framework to address a number of potential attack vectors. It includes a three weeks cooling off cancellation period during which the DAO token holders can hold a second vote to cancel a previously vote approved proposal in case “someone finds out a way to attack the voting in a way that a impopular project was approved when it shouldn’t.”

Can the DAO token holders replace the curators?

Sande says the three-week cancellation period was just a suggestion, could be 2 weeks, could be 4 weeks. In response to whether the business proposal smart contract framework had any benefit of advice from a lawyer specialising in contracts, adding that most contractual relationships can be cancelled at any time with a one or two months’ notice period if there is a breach as well as whether any experienced VCs or any other non-coding professionals related to DAO’s fields were providing any input, Sande stated that these matters were “up to the token holders”.

He explains to Cointelegraph:

“[Curators] only exist because sometimes what the code does is not what users expected it to do. I see it as human-training wheels for the autonomous bike and I hope we will be able to code ourselves out of this task soon.”

That may be true as the DAO token holders can, at any time, replace the curators and enforce their own will due to maintaining full control of the funds at all time.

However, it may be the case that in the meantime the curators hold much influence on the direction of the DAO as the disorganized token holders look for leadership on how to move forward in this great experiment.