As has been rumored on the tech blogs for months, Facebook is reportedly working to create its own cryptocurrency, and now we know the name of the covert project: Project Libra.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the company is "recruiting dozens of financial firms and online merchants to help launch a cryptocurrency-based payments system on the back of its gigantic social network." And the Journal suggests that the project "threatens to upend the traditional, lucrative plumbing of e-commerce and would likely be the most mainstream application yet of cryptocurrency."
Facebook has for months been building a team of blockchain engineers, and in February acquired the London-based blockchain startup Chainspace. At the time, Facebook issued a statement saying, "Like many other companies, Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology. This new small team is exploring many different applications. We don’t have anything further to share."
But it was widely rumored that Facebook has been looking to leverage the popularity of WhatsApp in India and elsewhere to build its own mobile payment network, potentially tapping into a market worth hundreds of billions of dollars. And doing so would likely require the use of cryptocurrency.
Sources tell the Journal that Project Libra seeks to build a digital coin that Facebook users can send to each other and use to make purchases both on the site and across the internet.
Facebook has reportedly already talked to Visa, Mastercard, and payment processing company First Data Corp., and it is allegedly seeking a $1 billion investment in the project. Facebook has also been talking to e-commerce platforms and other companies about accepting its cryptocurrency, once it exists.
As the Journal surmises, Facebook is likely looking to do with payments what it's already done with sign-ins — creating a module that can be placed on sites all over the web. "Facebook aims to burrow more deeply into the lives of its users," the Journal writes.
There are, of course, obstacles to all this, and cryptocurrencies haven't yet caught on with most users of the internet. Facebook is interested in creating what's called a "stablecoin" that is backed by government currency and will hopefully not be subject to the volatility in value that many cryptocurrencies have seen in the last several years.