Facebook Warns Investors That Libra Stablecoin May Never Launch (#GotBitcoin?)
Facebook has warned its investors that its Libra stablecoin may never be released, CNBC reports on July 29. Facebook Warns Investors That Libra Stablecoin May Never Launch (#GotBitcoin?)
Engaging with regulator “critical to Libra’s success”
Facebook told its investors in its latest quarterly report that — while the firm expects to launch Libra next year — some factors could prevent its release. Iin the risk factors section of the document, the company admits that it recognizes the significance of the pushback shown by regulators towards Libra.
CNBC also reported that a Facebook spokesperson told the outlet on Monday that:
“Engaging with regulators, policymakers, and experts is critical to Libra’s success. This was the whole reason that Facebook along with other members of the Libra Association shared our plans early.”
Libra Piques Criticism And Interest
As Cointelegraph reported earlier this month, Alexander Lipton, a connection science fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and adjunct professor of mathematics at New York University, has claimed that Libra’s white paper copied concepts for a coin proposed in his academic work.
Also, earlier this month online brokerage Monex Group Inc., owner of the hacked Japanese crypto exchange Coincheck, announced that the company plans to join the Facebook Libra cryptocurrency project and had filed an application to join the Libra Association.
Libra Members Consider Quitting Project Due To Gov’t Pressure: Report
At least three of Facebook’s early backers for its planned Libra stablecoin launch are considering withdrawing their support in light of the fierce regulatory pushback.
A report from the Financial Times on Aug. 23 alleges that two founding partners of Facebook’s Libra Association have held discussions about what their “right next steps” should be.
One further — again unnamed — backer is purportedly concerned that their public support for Libra will draw unwanted regulatory scrutiny of their own, independent businesses.
As previously reported, the Libra Association is the newly-established, independent governance consortium for Libra. It counts 28 founding members — including Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and Uber and Spotify — each of which was required to invest $10 million to join.
In an interview with the Financial Times, one partner noted that:
“I think it’s going to be difficult for partners who want to be seen as in compliance [with their own regulators] to be out there supporting [Libra].”
Another backer criticized the social media giant for its ill-conceived strategy, saying that:
“Some of those conversations [about regulation] should have taken place before the launch, to understand how regulators would think about this, so there wasn’t so much pushback.”
The tension reportedly goes both ways. One partner admitted that Facebook is itself becoming “tired of being the only people putting their neck out.”
Both Facebook and the Libra Association have reportedly declined to comment.
Regulators Swoop In
As reported this week, the European Commission’s antitrust regulators — have become the latest to join the rounds of regulatory probes into Libra since the project’s unveiling this June.
The regulatory backlash governments, regulators and central bankers worldwide reached such a fever pitch that by late July, Facebook was prompted to warn its investors that the stablecoin may never be released.
During a hearing at the United States House of Representatives Financial Services Committee earlier that month, lawmakers had asked Facebook how they could be expected to trust a firm whose collection, storage and misuse of customer data had landed it a $5 billion penalty.
The furore has not, nonetheless, quite prevented new potential members from pursuing their interest — including Monex Group Inc — owner of the hacked Japanese crypto exchange Coincheck — Taiwanese digital currency trading platform Maicoin, and even Zckerberg’s arch-rivals, the Winklevoss Twins.
Facebook’s Libra Nodes Are Live on ‘Pre-Mainnet,’ Roadmap Confirms
Facebook’s Libra digital currency developers have released a new roadmap outlining steps toward its mainnet launch.
The update from the Libra Foundation published on Oct. 2 highlights various points of interest for both developers and those who operate the protocol’s nodes.
Devs Focus On Mainnet Preparations
Currently running as a testnet, Libra aims to iron out technical challenges prior to a mainnet launch, yet without an official launch date. The roadmap reads:
“Launching the Testnet has allowed the team to quickly improve Libra Core by making it easy to troubleshoot, diagnose, and resolve software edge cases. The Testnet demonstrates Libra network functionality and provides early access to developers. Following the Testnet, we hope to have a successful launch of the Libra Mainnet.”
Pre-Mainnet Gathers Nodes
Libra developers have also created a staging environment dubbed “Pre-Mainnet”. It is currently only accessible to partner nodes to allow them to connect to each other. Several partners “have already deployed their nodes and have them communicating,” the roadmap states, adding:
“We expect to have more partners coming online shortly. We want to ensure the Libra network can meet rigorous performance benchmarks and overall system stability before opening access.”
Libra’s Issues With Regulators
As Cointelegraph reported, Libra continues to face various hurdles following its initial announcement several months ago.
This week, it emerged several potential node operators had concerns about their regulatory standing by being involved in the project. Prior to that, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared unwilling to confirm previous assumptions Libra would launch in late 2020.
Mastercard, Visa, eBay Drop Out of Facebook’s Libra Payments Network
Move by the biggest payments companies leaves Facebook without the muscle it assembled to launch its ambitious cryptocurrency project.
The biggest financial companies that Facebook Inc. recruited to launch a world-wide cryptocurrency-based payments network have backed out of the project, threatening to derail an ambitious initiative to remake global finance before it ever gets off the ground.
Visa Inc., Mastercard Inc.,Stripe Inc. and eBay Inc. said Friday they were withdrawing from the coalition of companies that had originally signed on to help launch the libra cryptocurrency, following PayPal Holdings Inc., which dropped out of the Libra Association last week.
The moves came after lawmakers, central bankers and regulators expressed deep concerns about the libra project.
The loss of four of the largest payments companies in the world leaves Facebook without much of the muscle it assembled for libra, a digital currency it hoped would make it a player in e-commerce and global money transfers. The project now mostly hinges on smaller payments companies, telecommunications providers, venture-capital firms, e-commerce merchants and nonprofits.
“I would caution against reading the fate of Libra into this update,” David Marcus, the Facebook executive overseeing the project, wrote Friday on Twitter. “Of course, it’s not great news in the short term, but in a way it’s liberating. Stay tuned for more very soon. Change of this magnitude is hard. You know you’re on to something when so much pressure builds up.”
While some of the companies left open the possibility of rejoining the network in the future, the loss of Visa and Mastercard is an especially painful setback for libra. The credit and debit cards that run over their networks would have made it easier for consumers to buy the digital coins.
“Our ultimate decision will be determined by a number of factors, including the Association’s ability to fully satisfy all requisite regulatory expectations,” a Visa spokesperson said in an email. Mastercard believes “there are potential benefits in such initiatives and will continue to monitor the Libra effort,” a spokesperson said.
For Facebook, the withdrawals imperil one of the company’s two major strategy shifts announced in the past year. The other, a push toward more encrypted messaging, was also called into question earlier this month when Attorney General William Barr asked the company to delay implementation, citing public safety.
Both projects to some extent were designed to lessen the social-media giant’s near-complete dependence on targeted advertising for revenue.
Coming in the wake of multiple privacy scandals and public-relations fiascoes, Facebook’s approach to Libra was uncommonly cautious, with the company pledging to move slowly and work with regulators. It said its initial goal with Libra would be to make international financial transactions and remittance payments cheaper and more accessible, and it committed to turning over full control of the project to the Libra Association.
When Facebook unveiled the project in June, it announced that 27 other companies and organizations had agreed to back it. The idea was that merchants including eBay, Uber Technologies Inc. and Spotify Technology SA would accept libra as a form of payment, and that Mastercard, PayPal and Stripe and would enable consumers and merchants to convert their national currencies into and out of libra.
Lawmakers and regulators were quick to criticize Facebook for not supplying enough information about libra’s defenses against money laundering and other financial crime. In response, Facebook pledged not to launch libra until regulators grew comfortable with the project. Mr. Marcus, the network’s architect, insisted that libra wouldn’t pose a threat to global financial stability.
The regulatory backlash stunned the projects backers. Several companies that initially signed onto the project believed that Facebook and the Libra Association had overstated their involvement when it unveiled the project, people familiar with the matter said. Facebook described them as “founding members,” yet they had signed nonbinding letters of intent to join the association that gave them the option to withdraw at any time.
The pressure on libra’s financial partners intensified after the U.S. Treasury Department sent letters to Mastercard, PayPal, Stripe and Visa asking for a complete overview of their compliance programs and how libra would fit into them.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Visa, Mastercard and other financial partners were reconsidering their involvement in the network. Mr. Marcus pledged to keep the project on track.
“I can tell you that we’re very calmly, and confidently working through the legitimate concerns that Libra has raised by bringing conversations about the value of digital currencies to the forefront,” he wrote on Twitter earlier this month. “Change of this magnitude is hard and requires courage + it will be a long journey.”
Facebook has shown no signs of dropping its effort to convince lawmakers and regulators that its digital currency initiative poses no threat.
On Wednesday, the House Financial Services committee said Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg had agreed to testify in a one-man hearing titled “An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors.” That hearing is scheduled for Oct. 23.
Libra’s remaining partners are set to gather Monday in Switzerland to formally sign on to the project.
“Although the makeup of the Association members may grow and change over time, the design principle of Libra’s governance and technology, along with the open nature of this project ensures the Libra payment network will remain resilient,” Dante Disparte, the head of policy and communications for the Libra Association, said in an email.
US Congressman: Facebook Should Add Bitcoin, Not Create Libra
United States Rep. Warren Davidson (R) has said that Facebook adding Bitcoin (BTC) to its Calibra wallet would be a “way better idea” than creating its new currency, Libra.
In an interview for the Noded Bitcoin podcast on Oct. 11, the Congressman said that “part of the beauty” of Facebook’s unveiling its proposed Libra stablecoin is that it crystallized all of the problems that already exist on the social media platform today.
“Do We Want Filtered Transactions Or Freedom?”
Davidson argued that the Congressional hearings devoted to Libra this July had compounded the intense pressure Facebook is already under, noting that “a lot of the questions weren’t even about Libra.”
He said that the social media titan’s bid to launch a proprietary cryptocurrency had served to intensify focus on many of the platform’s existing operations, arguing that:
”Facebook already filters content — some people say with bias, some people say it’s great, they’re protecting my safe space […] So do we want filtered speech or free speech? Do we want filtered transactions or freedom?”
Podcast host Pierre Rochard argued that the Congressional hearings had nonetheless been an ideal vehicle through which observers — many of them hailing from the traditional financial sector — were able to come to a better understanding of Bitcoin through coming to realize the problems inherent to a centralized and private initiative such as Libra.
Davidson agreed that this had been the effect on many he had spoken to, yet also noted that for those convinced of the need for central authorities as stewards of global finance, the hearings only cemented their antagonism toward distributed ledgers and decentralized cryptocurrencies, and intensified their desire to crack down on the space more broadly.
Libra — as a means of payment — could undoubtedly destabilize the status quo, Davidson said, pointing to the fluidity with which monolithic tech giants such as Facebook and Google almost begin to acquire quasi-sovereign properties, challenging governments’ authority.
Libra Focuses Attention On Facebook’s Prior Failings
During the congressional hearings devoted to Libra this July, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters — chair of the United States House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee — made the explicit connection between concerns raised during earlier Facebook controversies and the platform’s bid to launch a stablecoin.
Waters had already requested that Facebook halt work on Libra in the middle of June, soon after the project’s unveiling.
She contended that the tech giant had a “demonstrated pattern of failing to keep consumer data private” and that it had “allowed malicious Russian state actors to purchase and target ads” to — purportedly — influence the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
U.S. lawmakers have also pointedly asked Facebook how they could be expected to trust a firm whose collection, storage and misuse of customer data had landed it a $5 billion penalty.
Inside Facebook’s Botched Attempt to Start a New Cryptocurrency
Major partners bolted after Washington challenged the social-media giant’s foray into finance.
David Marcus gathered a team inside Facebook Inc. ’s headquarters in May to toast a skunk works project a year in the making: a bitcoin-like payments system that the social-media giant figured would upend the global flow of money.
“We’re going to change the world,” Mr. Marcus, a Facebook executive and the project’s architect, told employees as they sipped Champagne, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Turns out, changing the world isn’t so easy.
Five months later, the libra project is on life support after high-profile backers dropped out of the network under pressure from lawmakers and regulators. President Trump, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Rep. Maxine Waters, the Democratic chair of the House Financial Services Committee—three people who agree on little—have all criticized it. European officials are trying to halt its launch.
With libra, Facebook barreled into the world of finance with techno-utopian bravado, then found itself caught in a tangle of regulatory skepticism and entrenched interests. Lawmakers, already uncomfortable with how Facebook handled privacy around users’ photos and posts, have drawn the drawbridge on users’ money.
The Treasury Department said it was concerned that libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financiers. Payment companies played down their role in libra in private meetings with regulators and lawmakers’ offices, and big banks approached by Facebook declined to sign on.
Facebook executives seemed unsure how to navigate the bureaucracy of finance, once showing up to a meeting at the Treasury Department and another at the Federal Reserve with brief overviews of libra that left unanswered questions.
To achieve its grand ambitions to mint a new currency, Facebook leaned on a loosely knit alliance of companies, many of whom signed up amid wariness of the tech giant treading on their turf. When libra came under fire, partners including Visa Inc., Mastercard Inc. and PayPal Holdings Inc. quickly jumped ship.
Libra’s bumpy rollout is a big setback to Facebook’s efforts to reduce its near-total reliance on targeted advertising. It is also a warning to technology giants that are expanding into financial services. Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Google are each working on payments projects of their own, which could give them access to sensitive personal financial data at a time when public trust in Silicon Valley is eroding.
“Do you really think people should trust Facebook with their hard-earned money?” Senator Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) asked Mr. Marcus during a congressional hearing in July.
Facebook shows no signs of abandoning libra; representatives from its remaining backers met Monday in Switzerland to move the project forward. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to answer questions about it at a congressional hearing next week.
“The core of the financial system hasn’t changed in 50 plus years. There’s a reason for that,” Mr. Marcus said in an interview. “This is hard change.”
When Facebook went public with thinly sketched plans for libra in June, it hoped to delegate the details to a coalition of partners, the Libra Association, and position the effort as more of a public utility than a corporate land grab. It was envisioned as a digital alternative to government-backed currency, widely accepted by merchants world-wide and capable of being sent instantaneously across borders at low cost.
Still, the loss of key corporate partners—payments startup Stripe Inc. and online vacation site Booking Holdings Inc. also have dropped out—makes a planned 2020 launch a challenge. Some of the companies were supposed to provide the technical wherewithal to get users’ money into the system. Remaining partners include Uber Technologies Inc., several venture-capital firms and PayU, a European payments processor.
Mr. Marcus said that he would have preferred it if the big payments companies stayed in the Libra Association, but that they can still choose to enable consumers and merchants to use the new coin without being official members.
“The nice thing about the way we’ve designed this, all of them can still do that. My bet is they will,” Mr. Marcus said.
Facebook has been experimenting with consumer payments for more than a decade. The company introduced its own coin, Facebook Credits, in 2009 that could be used to buy virtual goods inside videogames and from its online gift shop. A Facebook subsidiary has licenses to transmit money in 48 states.
Mr. Marcus joined Facebook five years ago from PayPal to run its Messenger unit. In May 2018, he took on a new role exploring how Facebook might use the blockchain technology that underpins bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
The strategy he landed on was more ambitious than what any U.S. tech company had tried in financial services. Facebook would create its own digital wallet that would enable libra to be used to buy things online and off, pay bills and send money domestically and overseas to friends and family members. A user would spend dollars to buy libra coins from authorized resellers, hold them in a digital wallet and then spend them on purchases at libra-friendly retailers or send them to others.
The company sees the product as a way to keep people plugged in to Facebook longer, and have it travel with them around the web and offline. It also said its goal is to make financial services more accessible to people world-wide, especially those without access to the regular banking system.
In Mr. Marcus’s telling, dozens of other companies, eager to reach Facebook’s massive user base, would join the Libra Association, contribute $10 million apiece to build out a global payments network and build their own apps to interact with it. To overcome the volatility that had undermined bitcoin, libra’s value would be pegged to a pool of currencies and government-backed assets.
Mr. Zuckerberg, who has led Facebook into one new area after another—advertising, hardware, original TV shows—greenlit the project. Others had a less optimistic view. Finance chief David Wehner asked Mr. Marcus how libra would recoup its costs and make money. Staff at WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook, viewed integrating libra into the app as a low priority.
Facebook began lining up partners, targeting incumbent payments giants whose support would help underpin the project and ensure they wouldn’t publicly criticize libra from the sidelines.
In pitches to Visa, Mastercard and PayPal, Mr. Marcus’s team played to their fear of missing out as people started conducting their financial transactions in the same online social spheres where they hung out with friends (Facebook), shared messages (WhatsApp) and interacted with their favorite brands (Instagram). Already in China, hundreds of millions of consumers shunned credit cards in favor of WeChat Pay, a digital wallet built into one of the country’s biggest messaging platforms.
Those companies faced a dilemma familiar to many that find themselves in the way of Silicon Valley’s ambitions: Join or risk being left behind. Attaching their names to libra and making a small investment—the $10 million Facebook wanted is about one-third of Visa’s profit in a day—would earn the card networks access to billions of potential customers. Even though libra transactions would take place outside their systems, credit and debit cards could be used to load money into libra wallets, which could earn fees for the card networks.
PayPal was among the first to join. The project was championed by Bill Ready, PayPal’s chief operating officer. He and Mr. Marcus had been close allies since 2013, when Mr. Marcus, then PayPal’s president, negotiated a deal to buy a startup led by Mr. Ready for about $800 million.
From there, Facebook moved on to online merchants interested in cutting their card processing bills. Uber, Lyft Inc. and Booking Holdings signed on. Visa and Mastercard were among the last to lend their support, doing so after hearing about others already on board.
Mr. Marcus’s team spent relatively less time with regulators before the libra announcement in June. When Facebook executives met with officials of the U.S. Treasury, they responded to many questions by saying details would be ironed out later, concerning officials.
Mr. Marcus said that Facebook was taking a consultative approach with regulators and wanted to hear any “profound concerns” they had early on. He added that answers to some questions could only be provided after the Libra Association had been formed and members agreed on an approach.
“In early meetings we didn’t have all the answers, but that was by design,” Mr. Marcus said. “For something that at that point in time was a white paper with an idea to launch in 2020, I think that’s fairly normal.”
In June, Facebook unveiled the currency by publishing a conceptual document that explained how the currency would work and naming 27 other “founding members” as diverse as streaming-music service Spotify Technology SA and telecom giant Vodafone Group PLC. The goal was to build a financial system that didn’t rely on central bankers or Wall Street middlemen.
Washington, which has had Facebook in its sights for some time, wasn’t impressed. Rep. Waters asked Facebook to declare a moratorium on libra’s launch and members of her committee drafted the “Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act” to limit Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants from expanding deeper into financial services. Lawmakers grilled Mr. Marcus over two days of hearings in July, and he promised libra wouldn’t launch until regulatory hurdles were overcome.
Around that time, representatives from several companies in the Libra Association hopped on a conference call to coordinate their responses to the growing backlash. A cacophony of voices drowned out potential solutions: A glitch in the call-organization software turned on many people’s microphones at once.
The social-media giant positioned itself as just one member of the association that, on its own, didn’t have the power to dictate how the network would function. It asked some other partners to publicly lobby for the project. They demurred.
Meanwhile, some of Mr. Marcus’s allies were sidelined. PayPal announced in June that Mr. Ready was stepping down as the company’s chief operating officer, removing a key voice of support for libra.
Frustrated, regulators and lawmakers began asking Facebook’s partners for answers. Over the summer, the Treasury Department sent a letter to companies including Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and Stripe asking for an overview of their money-laundering compliance programs and how libra would fit into them. Some of the companies felt hamstrung in responding without more clarity from Facebook.
As the pressure grew, Facebook tried to rally its partners. It invited Libra Association members to an Oct. 14 meeting in Geneva to review the group’s charter and to pick a board of directors.
Association members hadn’t yet ponied up the $10 million per partner that Facebook was seeking. They had signed a nonbinding letter that allowed them to walk away from the project if they changed their minds.
Some companies thought Facebook overstated their involvement when it announced the project in June and resented being described as “founding members.”
“It’s important to understand the facts here and not any of us get out ahead of ourselves,” Visa Chief Executive Al Kelly said on the company’s earnings conference call in July. “No one has yet officially joined.”
The invitation to the Geneva meeting called the partners “initial members,” instead.
But by early October, support from several partners was crumbling. At a meeting for Libra Association members in Washington to prepare for the Geneva summit, attendees were asked to voice their concerns. Mastercard and Visa executives said they were likely to remain members but hadn’t made final decisions. PayPal skipped the meeting and pulled out of libra the next day.
Lawmakers turned up the heat. Sens. Brown and Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) warned the CEOs of Visa, Mastercard and Stripe that if they stayed involved, they could “expect a high level of scrutiny from regulators not only on libra-related payment activities, but on all payment activities.”
Visa and Mastercard sent executives to meet with the senators’ staffers. Soon after, they announced they were dropping out of the project, as did Stripe. Booking Holdings, eBay Inc. and Mercado Pago, an Argentine payments provider, also withdrew.
The loss of Visa and Mastercard’s support threatened to remove one of the main ways users would have moved money into and out of the libra system—a potentially crippling blow.
“As far as Visa and Mastercard were concerned, I have to commend them for having the boldness and willingness to explore something that’s that radically different,” Mr. Marcus said. “Given the pressure they all got, it’s hard to blame them [for leaving].”
Tensions have grown within Facebook. Senior executives have asked Mr. Marcus why a new cryptocurrency—with all the baggage that comes along with one—is necessary to advance Facebook’s finance ambitions. Couldn’t the company work with dollars or bitcoin, they asked?
Mr. Marcus, undeterred, has been reaching out to major U.S. banks about joining libra, according to people familiar with the matter, which could allow consumers to load money into their libra wallets from their checking accounts.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., however, had rejected Facebook’s invitation back before the June announcement. Both declined in part because they worried a cryptocurrency could be used for criminal activities that would violate strict money-laundering and sanctions rules.
On Monday in Geneva, 21 companies, including Facebook, committed to the libra project and elected five board members to oversee the Libra Association. Mr. Marcus said the next task is hiring a full-time managing director for it.
Despite Mr. Marcus’s pronouncement of changing the world at the May celebration, libra is expected to start small, by helping friends and family members send money to each other at a low cost.
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