How Facebook Libra Has Been Influencing Crypto, Politics and Finance
Facebook’s Libra remains hot on the agenda despite the fact that no new announcements have come; instead, the world continues to react to the stablecoin...
Over the past few days, a number of Libra-related announcements have been made — only, they weren’t from Facebook, the Libra Association, Calibra wallet or any other party involved in its development.
First, top crypto exchange Binance announced a project called “Venus” — coincidentally, another astrology-themed name — which will focus on developing “localized stablecoins” worldwide; the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) said it is almost ready to launch its government-backed digital currency, reportedly admitting that Libra prompted it to speed up; and Erik Finman, ostensibly the youngest Bitcoin (BTC) millionaire, launched a crypto peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app, called “Metal” — daringly marketing it as "the Libra killer."
Libra has been making waves since its white paper was released in mid-June, prompting regulators across the world to form global task forces, United States legislators to hold multiple hearings in the Senate and crypto firms to roll out competing projects.
However, Libra itself is still far from seeing the light of day: Its initial release is scheduled for 2020, but given the scale of regulatory backlash it has been facing, the future of Facebook’s crypto venture is hardly set in stone. Nevertheless, just two months in, its influence on the space is already palpable.
Libra and the regulatory splash
Libra, a stablecoin-like digital asset and a blockchain-based financial infrastructure project, was officially announced on June 18, when Facebook published its white paper. The release followed several media reports suggesting that the social media titan was developing a cryptocurrency that will facilitate payments across its platforms — WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — which boast a combined 2.7 billion monthly users.
The project seeks to target the unbanked population, which accounts for around 1.7 billion adults across the globe, with a focus on cross-border remittance. The latter aspect puts Libra alongside the likes of Visa and Mastercard — both of which have invested in the project — as well as some fellow cryptocurrency firms like Ripple and the XRP token.
The project will be governed by the Libra Association, a not-for-profit consortium headquartered in Switzerland, which includes Mastercard, PayPal, Visa, eBay, Coinbase, Andreessen Horowitz, Lyft and Uber among a total of 28 founding members.
There is also Calibra, a Facebook subsidiary, which is developing an eponymous digital wallet to facilitate Libra transactions, while the currency will be supported by third-party wallets — as the software powering the Libra blockchain is open source, as its developers have said. Once ready, the wallet will be available to all of the social media’s users.
The looming release of Facebook’s new project caused immediate regulatory resentment, triggering a new wave of national-level discussions on the legal status of cryptocurrencies. The company’s infamous reputation for being involved in privacy-related scandals — the most recent being Cambridge Analytica, which resulted in a record-breaking $5 billion fine — its all-encompassing scale and its barefaced interest in cryptocurrencies made it an unmissable target for regulators across the world.
In July, U.S. congressional hearings on the matter began, and Calibra CEO David Marcus was interviewed twice before Congress. The key take-away from those meetings was that Facebook won’t launch Libra until regulators’ concerns are fully addressed, as Marcus explicitly reassured both lawmakers and investors. That has not entirely mitigated the pushback, however, as the European Union antitrust regulators have launched a probe into Libra.
Meanwhile, U.S. legislators — including vocal Libra skeptic Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) — are travelling to Switzerland, the home of the Libra Association, to meet with Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner Adrian Lobsiger to exchange views about digital currencies.
John Todaro, director of research and provider of institutional trading tools for digital currencies at TradeBlock, summarized the main reasons behind the intensified scrutiny in a comment for Cointelegraph:
“The primary attention Libra is getting is because of the size of Facebook, its resources, and its ability to integrate a low cost, efficient digital currency payment channel across a number of its own platforms which could bring significant adoption to the space. Other projects have not seen the same level of interest, mainly because they do not have an ability to accelerate adoption of a stablecoin so quickly, which Facebook could accomplish.”
The scale of the regulatory backlash is not surprising, despite the rawness of Facebook’s project, experts say. Konstantinos Stylianou, assistant professor of competition law and regulation at the University of Leeds, told Cointelegraph that for regulators, it is never too early to start worrying about potential problems. He elaborated:
“Financial regulators are right to go in first, because financial regulation aims to ensure that Libra and its clones comply with set standards before they launch. Other regulators, like the European Commission's antitrust arm, which recently started an investigation into Libra, have a long way to go, because they need to prove actual harm. But even so, their early activity sends a message to the industry that the regulator's watchful eye is there to stop illegal activity at its inception.”
Other experts, like Lars Seier Christensen, chairman of Swiss blockchain identity network Concordium and former CEO at Saxo Bank, are even surprised that Facebook has not foreseen some of the regulators’ worries. Christensen explained to Cointelegraph:
“I actually fully understand the concerns of regulators as Libra raises a host of major issues because of the potential scale of the project. I think Facebook may have been a little too quick off the block here, because many of the concerns about systemic risk, disruption of money markets, and moral hazard were easily predictable and could have been addressed from the beginning.”
Libra and its killers: Chinese government, Binance and Walmart
While many of the aforementioned jurisdictions were busy discussing the potential ways to regulate Libra, China took a somewhat different approach. For the East Asian powerhouse, where the sale of cryptocurrencies is explicitly banned, Facebook's project turned out to be the prime motivator in hastening the development of its own state-con