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Facebook Plans Its Own Globe-Spanning Currency for 2 Billion-Plus Users

Facebook is launching with partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and Mastercard

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Facebook, Globe, Currency
FILE - An address sign for Facebook Way is shown in Menlo Park, Calif, April 25, 2019.. VOA

Facebook already rules daily communication for more than 2 billion people around the world. Now it wants its own currency, too.

The social network unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to create a new digital currency similar to Bitcoin for global use, one that could drive more e-commerce on its services and boost ads on its platforms.

But the effort, which Facebook is launching with partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and Mastercard, could also complicate matters for the beleaguered social network. Facebook is currently under federal investigation over its privacy practices, and along with other technology giants also faces a new antitrust probe in Congress.

Creating its own globe-spanning currency — one that could conceivably threaten banks, national currencies and the privacy of users — isn’t likely to dampen regulators’ interest in Facebook.

Facebook, Globe, Currency
Facebook already rules daily communication for more than 2 billion people around the world. Pixabay

The digital currency, called Libra, is scheduled to launch sometime in the next six to 12 months. Facebook is taking the lead on building Libra and its underlying technology; its more than two dozen partners will help fund, build and govern the system. Facebook hopes to raise as much as $1 billion from existing and future partners to support the effort.

Company officials emphasized Libra as a way of sending money across borders without incurring significant fees, such as those charged by Western Union and other international money-transfer services. Libra could also open up online commerce to huge numbers of people around the world who currently don’t have bank accounts or credit cards.

“If you fast forward a number of years, consumers all over the world will have the ability to access the world economy,” Facebook executive David Marcus said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Facebook also could use its own currency to drive more people to make purchases from ads on its social media sites, said Gartner analyst Avivah Litan, who based her comments on press reports about Libra that preceded Facebook’s formal announcement. “This is about fostering more sales within an ad to get more business from advertisers to make ads more interesting on Facebook,” she said.

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Backing by familiar corporations might also make Libra the first Bitcoin-like currency with mass appeal. Such “cryptocurrencies” have generally failed to catch on despite a devout following among curious investors and innovators. Bitcoin itself remains shrouded in secrecy and fraud concerns, not to mention wild value fluctuations, making it unappealing for the average shopper.

Libra will be different, Facebook says, in part because its value will be pegged to a basket of established currencies such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, the yen and others. Each purchase of Libra will be backed by a reserve fund of equal value held in real-world currencies to stabilize Libra’s value.

To be sure, recent history reminds us that many big Facebook announcements never really take off. Two years ago, for instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised that “augmented reality,” in which phones and other devices project digital images into real-world surroundings, would be a major focus for the company. Such AR applications remain all but invisible today. Same goes for the online shopping chatbots that Zuckerberg unveiled a year earlier, saying they would revolutionize e-commerce in its Messenger app.

Facebook won’t run Libra directly; instead, the company and its partners are forming a nonprofit called the Libra Association, headquartered in Geneva, that will oversee the new currency and its use. The association will be regulated by Swiss financial authorities, Facebook said.

Facebook, Globe, Currency
The social network unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to create a new digital currency similar to Bitcoin for global use. Pixabay

“No single company should operate this,” Marcus said. “It should be a public good.”

The company has also created a new subsidiary, Calibra, that is developing a digital wallet to allow people to buy, send and use Libra. Calibra pledges that it won’t share transaction data from details of Libra user’s financials with Facebook unless compelled to do so in criminal cases. Still, if people are using Facebook products to buy things and send money, it’s possible Facebook will be able to track some data about shopping and money transferring habits.

Calibra won’t require users to have a Facebook account to make a free wallet. And it will allow people to send Libra back and forth on two of Facebook’s core messaging apps — WhatsApp and Messenger. Instagram messages won’t be included, at least at first.

Libra partners will create incentives to get people and merchants to use the coin. That could range from Uber discounts to a Libra bonus paid when users set up a Calibra wallet, although the companies haven’t laid out specifics.

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Many privacy questions remain unanswered, though. Cryptocurrencies such as Libra store all transactions on a widely distributed, encrypted “ledger” known as the blockchain. That could make the Libra blockchain a permanent record of all purchases or cash transfers every individual makes, even if they’re stored under pseudonyms rather than real names.

Facebook said that if people use Calibra or similar wallets, their individual transactions won’t be visible on the Libra blockchain.

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg announced a new privacy-focused vision for the company after months of backlash for its treatment of personal customer information. Zuckerberg’s vision — which has mostly not been detailed publicly — will rely heavily on privacy-shielded messaging apps in an attempt to make the services more about private, one-to-one connections.

Many analysts believe Zuckerberg wants to create a U.S. version of the Chinese service WeChat, which combines social networking, messaging and payments in a single app. Libra would take Facebook a step closer to that end. (VOA)

Next Story

Facebook has no Choice But to Topple TikTok in India

Unless TikTok is permanently banned in the country over a series of complaints, there seems to be no stopping this Chinese app

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TikTok has over 54 million monthly active users (MAUs) in India. Pixabay

By Nishant Arora

Chasing 15 seconds of fame, millions of Indians are hooked to TikTok and the success of the Chinese short video-sharing app — despite controversies and calls for regulation — has forced major digital giants to incorporate short videos on their own platforms.

TikTok is available in 150 markets, in 75 languages and has more than 700 million monthly active users globally (including over 200 million in India) in just a year compared to 300 million existing Indian users on Facebook.

Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are facing strong competition from TikTok in the country. TikTok owner now plans to invest $1 billion in India despite the calls to ban the app.

According to Meenakshi Tiwari, Forecast Analyst at global market research firm Forrester, while TikTok managed to monetise its offering within one year of its launch through a variety of revenue models like in-app purchase of coins and virtual gifts, advertising accounts for most of its revenue.

Similar to Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok invests heavily in influencer marketing.

“TikTok has launched new advertising formats such as brand takeovers that allow full-screen vertical display, in-feed native video, and hashtag challenge ads, which provide a more immersive and interactive platform to the marketers,” Tiwari told IANS.

One can imagine what Facebook must be thinking: To quickly put a spanner in TikTok’s growth else the India market will slowly ditch its main platform as well as the photo-sharing Instagram.

In November last year, Facebook quietly released a stand-alone app called “Lasso” to compete with TikTok.

On Lasso, which is currently available in the US, users can record themselves dancing and lip-syncing to music, similar to what they can do on TikTok.

“Lasso is a new stand-alone app for short-form, entertaining videos — from comedy to beauty to fitness and more. We’re excited about the potential here, and we’ll be gathering feedback from the people and the creators,” a Facebook spokesperson had told The Verge.

Corporate, America, Climate Change
FILE – In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Facebook stickers are laid out on a table at F8, Facebook’s developer conference in San Jose, Calif. The Boston-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy announced in May that Facebook is building a… VOA

Facebook last week roped in former Google employee Jason Toff for a key portfolio and the speculation is rife about the social networking giant preparing the global launch of its short video-sharing app.

Toff, who earlier worked for Twitter’s short-video sharing service Vine which has been shut down, has joined as Facebook’s Product Management Director to lead the company’s New Product Experimentation (NPE) team aimed at developing experimental apps for consumers who are still away from the core Facebook brand.

According to Prabhu Ram, Head, Industry Intelligence Group (IIG), CyberMedia Research (CMR), the rise of apps like Bytedance’s TikTok demonstrates an underlying consumer fatigue and their urge and need for expressing themselves by experimenting with new apps and platforms.

“By focusing on vernacular languages, TikTok has enabled Indians everywhere to share their talent with the world. With its first-mover advantage, coupled with organically and rapidly growing user base, Bytedance is not shy of battling Facebook’s global dominance,” Ram told IANS.

TikTok is swiftly scaling its ecosystem to ringfence its users with ‘mini programmes’ and, perhaps, a smartphone with pre-installed apps in China.

“For Facebook, it is imperative to thwart TikTok’s rising competition. Unfortunately, its previous attempts at making a TikTok clone have failed. More significantly, Facebook’s reach in India does not extend beyond the tier II and III urban India,” emphasised Ram.

Also Read: Students of IIT Kharagpur Develop AI App to Lend Support for Elderly Care

As pointed out by Facebook Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Zuckerberg in the Q1 2019 earnings call, the meaning of social media is changing in today’s world and there is a move toward more private social media like WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram.

Zuckerberg must not delay further in launching a TikTok rival, “else time may run out for Facebook to have a product that will get India excited,” said Ram.

Unless TikTok is permanently banned in the country over a series of complaints, there seems to be no stopping this Chinese app. (IANS)