David Marcus, the Facebook executive in charge of the project, told the press last week that the problems of banking the unbanked were technical — that banks were unable to move money fast enough without a blockchain. This is completely backward. Experts know how to move numbers on a computer. The slow part is settlement and compliance: making sure that money transmitters are solvent, honest, and not fronting for drug runners. Banking the unbanked is a slow, one-on-one social process. Libra’s public relations material describes this as if it were entirely a technical problem — and none of it is.The real motivation for the project seems to be ideological. Marcus was formerly at PayPal, and he understands payments and regulation. But he’s been a bitcoin fan since 2012 and was on the board of the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase in 2017.Marcus had been thinking about something like Libra for several years and had discussed the project with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg since January 2018. Zuckerberg was interested in the project and the ideas—“a high-quality medium of exchange for the world, on a blockchain that could scale,” as Marcus described it in a press conference on June 17.Facebook is under increasingly close attention from governments deeply suspicious of its track record on privacy, election manipulation, and fake information and its repeated defiance of calls to appear before elected representatives. Yet Facebook and its closest partners seem to think that they are large and powerful enough to swing a coup against the concept of government control of money. Libra directly states that its intent is “to shape a regulatory environment” —not to comply with the existing regulatory environment. Regulators will need to bend to Libra.The Libra token is a foreign exchange derivative, synthesized from a basket of national currencies. Libra wants to operate as a shadow bank, issuing Libra-denominated liabilities that are explicitly intended to function as money. Libra “will create a mirror banking system using your money,” said Carlos Maslatón, the head of treasury at the bitcoin payments provider Xapo, explaining the service in a private WhatsApp chat group.Libra seems to be particularly targeting countries with lots of Facebook users and unstable currencies—the other meaning of banking the unbanked. There are obvious money-laundering hazards. “Know your customer” (KYC) rules require anyone dealing in currency substitutes to track the sources of funds so as to cut off funding for criminals and terrorists. Libra says it will keep to the highest of KYC standards—but a Libra partner in a bad economy risks compromising the compliance of the whole Libra system, given that its intent is to move money around the world at the speed of cryptocurrencies. Libra will need to keep this tight and assure developed-world regulators that it has done so, or it will place the entire Libra system at risk.
he briefing was fascinating. The lead representative, the head of policy for Libra, kicked it off by admitting that the whole endeavor required a “suspension of disbelief.” They were asked about the timeline, and said they hoped to have Libra operational in about a year, which they kept suggesting was a prolonged timeline, but didn’t seem lengthy to anyone in the room.They kept selling Libra as a means of providing banking services to 1.7 billion unbanked people around the world. When challenged on how they were going to do that, and asked directly whether they’d figure out how exactly a digital currency would be an answer for people who can’t access credit currently, they said, “The short answer is no.” The phrase “the miracle of blockchain” was used at one point.Facebook said that they assumed the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) or the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) would regulate Libra. Questions were asked about what basket of currency would be used and other practicalities, and the answers were fairly vague. Gemini, another cryptocurrency, was referred to as a “regulated exchange” because I guess there are 43 states that have some form of protections on it (with the implication being that that is adequate).We were assured that even if a Libra user used WhatsApp or Messenger, WhatsApp/Facebook would not access specific information about their transactions beyond that they were interested in or using Libra. That would of course be enough information to know a lot more about users.Another question asked was what protections were in place to prevent collusion between Libra’s 27 partners. The answer was that the partners were well aware of the “reputational risks” they might incur should they violate privacy laws, etc. It was also pointed out that some of the partners are direct competitors, as if that has ever prevented them from colluding in the past.Ultimately we need more than a briefing. Currency backed by reserves is coinage. Because Facebook is proposing to take over a role traditionally under the purview of central banks, not private companies, we should expect the skepticism we heard in the room from staffers to be publicly aired by House Financial Services Committee members on July 17.
ARTICLE 19 has issued a warning about the promotion of blockchain technology as a solution to censorship. In a report published today, the freedom of expression organisation identifies some of the risks that arise from the use of blockchain technology. It also identifies steps that states, public organisations and tech companies should take to ensure that human rights are protected when this technology is used.
Areas of law covered include:
1 Government attitude and definition
2 Virtual currency regulation
3 Sales regulation
5 Money transmission laws and anti-money laundering requirements
6 Promotion and testing
7 Ownership and licensing requirements
9 Border restrictions and declaration
10 Reporting requirements
11 Estate planning and testamentary succession
The GLI to: Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Regulation 2019 covers government attitude and definition, cryptocurrency regulation, sales regulation, taxation, money transmission laws and anti-money laundering requirements, promotion and testing, ownership and licensing requirements, mining, border restrictions and more
Banks steer clear of Facebook’s Libra project Traditional lenders are working on their own faster, cheaper payments projects Facebook’s Libra threatens to break down banks’ role as gatekeepers of the global financial system © FT montage Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save Save to myFT Laura Noonan and Robert Armstrong in New York, Nicholas Megaw and Stephen Morris in London 12 HOURS AGO Print this page41 US and European banks are steering clear of Libra, Facebook’s project for a new cryptocurrency, for fear of antagonising regulators and cannibalising their own digital currency projects In the two weeks since Facebook announced its plans for a new digital currency, there has been silence from the banks about a project that threatens to break down their role as gatekeepers of the global financial system. “We’re still learning what it is and trying to work out where we stand on it; are we an opponent, partner or do we ignore?,” said a person familiar with the approach to the project of one of the world’s biggest banks. Up and down Wall Street, the City of London and Europe’s financial centres, senior industry executives reel off a litany of hurdles to participation, while some also criticise the way Facebook has approached the project so far. No banks were on the initial list of 27 other partners for the Libra Association, which will oversee the currency, though David Marcus, who is leading the project at Facebook, said he wanted to “absolutely and strongly deny the fact that we’ve approached banks and banks have said no”. “We have had conversations with banks. We still have conversations with banks. And my expectation is that by the time this thing launches next year you will have banks that are going to be members of this,” he told the Information. Senior executives at banks, however, tell a different story. At least one bank, the Netherland’s ING, responded to Facebook’s initial contact with a polite “no thank you”. Several other senior executives said there would be big hurdles for their future involvement, either as active members of the Libra Association or by helping people to convert traditional money in and out of Libra coins. Mike Corbat, head of Citigroup, recently said that even though he was a “true believer” in cryptocurrencies and their underlying blockchain technology, Citi’s capacity to participate is constrained, “The challenge with cryptocurrencies is the opaqueness as to the sources of the money,” he said, referencing anti-money-laundering standards banks are held to. “It would be outside our ability to take or send those monies on behalf [of people who hold them].” Facebook’s Libra coin: the truth behind the hype Meanwhile, several banks are pushing ahead with projects to speed up payments, which some said would overtake the Libra initiative. Mastercard, which is part of the Libra project, is working with six Nordic banks to build a payments system that would allow real-time transfers, and be used across multiple currencies in multiple countries. Paul Stoddart, Mastercard’s president of new payment platforms, said he expected to see “more initiatives like this around the world where there are groups of countries or regions that are economically more tightly integrated”. In the US, The Clearing House, a payments company backed by a coalition of 25 large banks including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup, offers domestic real-time payments on a network, launched in 2017, that already connects half of the country’s deposit accounts. And on June, 13 of the world’s biggest banks including UBS, Lloyds Banking Group and MUFG, announced plans to launch their own digital coin for use in wholesale banking. Recommended Libra: Facebook’s digital currency Will Facebook’s Libra currency shake up financial services? A senior executive at one of the banks involved said: “Facebook is right that cross-border payments are clunky and convoluted and you have to go through far too many counterparties, but banks are getting involved and will solve this problem and solve it pretty quickly.” The banks expect that the first institutional transaction with the “universal settlement coin” will take place within a year, and could be a cross-border trade. Meanwhile, the head of innovation at another US bank said the industry needed to understand a lot more, including the purpose of the Libra coin, the regulatory environment and the system’s technical underpinning before they could commit to the project. “We will be talking to them [Libra] very soon,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of scepticism but there’s some enormous names who have put up $10m a pop; there’s enough names of enough reputable organisations that have put up $10m to be a part of it to say there’s something there.” A senior executive at a third large US bank said he did not believe banks would have to lobby very hard to ensure that Libra attracts the same know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering scrutiny as traditional payments networks, which will heap costs on the project. “If this thing has the scale of 2bn people who can move money around outside of the financial system (without AML/KYC), it makes a mockery of the system,” he said. “We won’t have to persuade them in Washington . . . regulators are at it, they’ll make them lift to the same standards as everyone else.” The executive added that Facebook, which recently hired a prominent lobbyist from Standard Chartered, had already mishandled the regulatory piece by announcing their plans without having first brought regulators onside. Who is backing Libra so far? Payments Mastercard, PayPal, PayU, Stripe, Visa Tech and consumer Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook, Farfetch, Lyft, Mercado Pago, Spotify, Uber Telecoms Iliad, Vodafone Blockchain Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Xapo Holdings Venture Capital Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures NGOs Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, Women’s World Banking When JPMorgan Chase drew up plans for a much more limited digital coin, they had extensive conversations with regulators before going public, asking them for informal guidance on what would be acceptable to them, a person close to that process said. The Trump administration’s financial regulation regime is much more amenable to those iterative conversations than the Obama administration, which “saw banks as the enemy”, he added. The head of innovation of a large European bank said its participation was hampered by the fact that “regulations don’t allow us to be very entrepreneurial in this area”. Mr Marcus acknowledged the regulatory concerns in a blog post on Wednesday. He promised a “collaborative process” with regulators, and said replacing cash with a digital network “with regulated on and off ramps with proper know-your-customer practices” could help limit financial crime. A senior executive at a fourth large US bank said his company might still participate but there was a long road ahead. “The money [initial $10m investment] over here wouldn’t be the most material hurdles, they [the sums] are not big among in the scheme of things,” he said. The test would be whether it is “regulated, and is it really solving a problem or just ticking a quasi-innovation box, we’d need to be comfortable with the use cases, what they would do beyond regulation, regulation is like a minimum bar”. For some banks, even ticking all those boxes will not go far enough. “You could argue it’s a competitor to our competitive advantage . . . the ability to move money around the world for customers within our network. So it would be rather unusual to go outside that, to compete against yourself, in many ways.”
This article presents the top ten obstacles towards the adoption of distributed ledgers, ranging from identifying the right ledger to use for the right use case to developing scalable consensus protocols that provide some meaningful notion of public verifiability.
The US Congress has asked Facebook to pause development on its Libra cryptocurrency until lawmakers have had more time to investigate the ramifications of the company’s actions.In a letter from the Democratic heads of the house committee on financial services and its subcommittees, the legislators ask the company to “immediately cease implementation plans”.“Because Facebook is already in the hands of over a quarter of the world’s population, it is imperative that Facebook and its partners immediately cease implementation plans until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action,” the letter says.“During this moratorium, we intend to hold public hearings on the risks and benefits of cryptocurrency-based activities and explore legislative solutions. Failure to cease implementation before we can do so risks a new Swiss-based financial system that is too big to fail.”
BONN, Germany (Reuters) – Cryptocurrencies backed by big internet companies could come under the scrutiny of antitrust regulators, the head of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office said on Thursday after Facebook last week launched its own version.Central bankers and financial watchdogs were quick to raise concerns about Facebook’s planned Libra global cryptocurrency, saying that it could become so pervasive as to disrupt the global monetary policy framework.Germany’s antitrust watchdog’s president Andreas Mundt, who has pursued the world’s largest social network over other areas of its business, told reporters that cryptocurrencies launched by companies like Facebook “could become a topic for us”.Mundt has taken Facebook to task over its handling of data collected from users of the social network and its messaging apps without their consent, finding the firm founded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg abused its market dominance.
One of the biggest selling points of Facebook’s ambitious plans for its new cryptocurrency, Libra, was that the social media company had 27 partners, including prominent outfits like Visa, Mastercard and Uber, helping out on the project.But some of those partners are approaching Libra warily. They signed nonbinding agreements to join the effort partly because they knew they weren’t obliged to use or promote the digital token and could easily back out if they didn’t like where it was going, said executives at seven of those companies, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.The doubts among Facebook’s partners add to a growing list of challenges for Libra, a new digital token that Facebook executives hope will one day become the foundation for a new kind of online financial industry.Interested in All Things Tech?The Bits newsletter will keep you updated on the latest from Silicon Valley and the technology industry.Companies are hesitant to associate themselves too closely with the Libra project because of Facebook’s issues with regulators around the world, the company’s shaky track record on privacy and how it treats corporate partners, and the uncertain legality of cryptocurrencies.Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, has scheduled a hearing on the Libra cryptocurrency.CreditErin Schaff/The New York TimesImageMaxine Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, has scheduled a hearing on the Libra cryptocurrency.Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, has scheduled a hearing on the Libra cryptocurrency.CreditErin Schaff/The New York TimesThough it was announced just a week ago, the Libra effort has already drawn scrutiny in Washington. Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee and a Democrat from California, quickly scheduled hearings to examine Libra and told Facebook to stop development of the project until big questions are answered.The House hearing is set for July 17. The Senate is expected to hold a hearing on the same issue the day before.Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, said on Tuesday that the central bank would be looking at Libra “very carefully” given its potential scale. “I think that our expectations from a consumer protection standpoint, from a regulatory standpoint, are going to be very, very high,” Mr. Powell said at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.European regulators have also asked for more details about the project.Facebook said the 27 partners that it announced last week were giving at least $10 million and joining an association that would govern the Libra cryptocurrency, which is set to be introduced next year.Editors’ PicksWhen You’re Told You’re Too Fat to Get PregnantGiant Squid Reappears on Video, This Time in U.S. WatersWhen ISIS Killed Cyclists on Their Journey Around the WorldBut no money has changed hands so far. A number of partners said they would decide whether to join the association and make the payment after there is more clarity on how Libra will work, the executives from the seven companies said.A Facebook spokeswoman, Elka Looks, said in a statement that the company plans “to engage in healthy dialogue and debate with our fellow founding members, and to welcoming additional members over the coming months.”“We know this will take time and it won’t be easy, but together we will be able to make the Libra mission a reality,” Ms. Looks said.A spokesman for the Libra Association, Dante Disparte, said that since the announcement last week, the association has heard from a flood of companies interested in being members. He said the association, which will manage Libra, will most likely have a waiting list for those wanting to be among the 100 initial members it hopes to start with next year.Facebook had hoped its partners could help Libra handle some of the critics and give the project some distance from the social networking giant and its recent legal problems. But even before the project began, potential partners had their own concerns.Facebook approached a number of big financial companies, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Fidelity, about participating in the project, according to two people briefed on the discussions. The financial companies declined to join, in part because of regulatory questions about cryptocurrencies, the people said.Press officers for the banks all declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Fidelity said the company was continuing to monitor the project.
Of course, all of this might come to nothing. This isn’t the first time that Facebook has attempted to launch a digital wallet. See a recent Financial Times article for more details on the specific regulatory hurdles that the cryptocurrency may face when a company the size of Facebook try to take on the banks. A proliferation of speculative ICOs and even Bitcoin might be one thing, but when a force the size of Facebook enters this space, significant financial regulation surely won’t be far behind. And finally, who knows, Libra might also be the mainstream push that actually empowers people to engage with less mainstream alternatives as more than speculative instruments, normalising alternative forms of money for users who are still unfamiliar with the technology. But probably not.