Facebook is backpedaling from its ambitious vision for Libra

Facebook is backpedaling from its ambitious vision for Libra

Enlarge / David Marcus, head of blockchain at Facebook, speaks at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

David Marcus, the head of Facebook’s new Calibra payments division, appeared before two hostile congressional committees this week with a simple message: Facebook knows policymakers are concerned about Libra, and Facebook won’t move forward with the project until their concerns are addressed.

While he didn’t say so explicitly, Marcus’ comments at hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday represented a dramatic shift in Facebook’s conception of Libra. In Facebook’s original vision, Libra would be an open and largely decentralized network, akin to Bitcoin. The core network would be beyond the reach of regulators. Regulatory compliance would be the responsibility of exchanges, wallets, and other services that are the “on ramps and off ramps” to the Libra ecosystem.

Facebook now seems to recognize

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Donald Trump blasts Facebook’s Libra, demands strict regulation

Donald Trump blasts Facebook’s Libra, demands strict regulation

Enlarge / Donald Trump speaks at the White House on July 11, 2019. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is not a fan of Libra, Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency, the president made clear in a series of tweets on Thursday evening.

“Facebook Libra’s ‘virtual currency’ will have little standing or dependability.,” Trump tweeted. “If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks.”

Trump is the latest—and most high-profile—public official to raise doubts Facebook’s cryptocurrency plans. On Wednesday, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell warned that “Libra raises many serious concerns regarding privacy, money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability.”

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There’s a big problem with Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency

There’s a big problem with Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

Mark Zuckerberg is known for his boundless ambition. He’s had a longstanding fascination with Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor who (in Zuckerberg’s words) “established 200 years of world peace.” So having conquered social networking, Zuckerberg has his eyes on something bigger: reshaping the global financial system.

Payment services from rivals like Apple and Google essentially offer an improved user interface for conventional credit card networks. Facebook, by contrast, is aiming to use blockchain-like technology to build a new payment network from scratch, complete with its own currency.

Facebook has assembled an impressive roster of launch partners for its Libra project. Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal are backing the effort. So are Uber and Lyft, as well as several venture capital firms and non-profit organizations.

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Facebook launches cryptocurrency with Visa, MasterCard, Uber, and others

Facebook launches cryptocurrency with Visa, MasterCard, Uber, and others

Enlarge / Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2017. (credit: Mark Zuckerberg)

Facebook is leading a broad coalition of companies and organizations launching a new cryptocurrency, the company announced on Tuesday. The cryptocurrency, called Libra, will be backed by a basket of conventional currencies and other stable assets, preventing the wild price swings that have plagued bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies.

The new cryptocurrency will serve as the foundation for a new payment feature for Facebook Messenger and the Facebook-owned Whatsapp. Facebook says it is creating a new subsidiary called Calibra to oversee its payment initiatives. This is partly to reassure people who are concerned about Facebook’s privacy record.

“Aside from limited cases, Calibra will not share account information or financial data with Facebook or any third party without customer consent,” Facebook says. “This means Calibra customers’ account information and financial data will not be used to improve ad targeting

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