Facebook is teaming up with an array of heavyweight multinational companies to launch a new digital currency called "Libra" in an ambitious push to provide financial services to billions of "unbanked" people around the world.
On Tuesday, the Silicon Valley social networking giant officially announced what its buzzy and secretive blockchain team has been working on for the last year or so: A new cryptocurrency that aims to provide fast, cheap, and secure online payments via smartphones across the globe, sidestepping the traditional financial system.
The project represents a striking push from Facebook into a radically new and reputationally risky industry, even as the company continues to suffer under the weight of two years of scandals, ranging from multiple privacy crises to its implication in the spread of hate speech that fueled genocide in Myanmar.
More than two dozen companies have been enlisted to invest $10 million apiece towards the currency's upkeep in return for a vote in its governance, via a not-for-profit foundation called the Libra Association. These range from payment firms like Mastercard and PayPal to tech firms including Ebay, Uber, and Spotify, as well as venture capital firms, blockchain companies, and non-profit groups.
There have been numerous leaks in the media about Libra over the past few months, and while it is being formally unveiled on Tuesday, it won't be available for ordinary users until 2020. Instead, the group is releasing its official "white paper" to outline its aims, introduce developers to the technology early, and try to entice new companies to join the association, which wants to be 100 members strong by the time of the actual launch.
Libra will be "a stable currency built on a secure and stable open-source blockchain, backed by a reserve of real assets, and governed by an independent association," its white paper reads. "Our hope is to create more access to better, cheaper, and open financial services — no matter who you are, where you live, what you do, or how much you have."