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Facebook’s big cryptocurrency reveal came with big promises: Libra will make payments more convenient than ever, and help 1.7 billion “unbanked” people access financial services.

But the announcement of Libra has not been greeted with universal acclaim. Regulators and industry observers see a range of reasons to be deeply skeptical about what the new cryptocurrency promises or—depending on one’s standpoint—threatens.

There are certainly reasons to believe Libra could be a success, namely Facebook’s unmatched global reach and its apparent ability to get industry partners on board. But here’s a breakdown of the reasons why Libra may not fly:

Digital payments

Facebook’s blog post announcing its planned Colibra digital wallet—essentially an app allowing people to use Libra—promises that “in time, we hope to offer additional services for people and businesses, like paying bills with the push of a button, buying a cup of coffee with the scan of a code or riding your local public transit without needing to carry cash or a metro pass.”

As former Guardian tech editor Charles Arthur rightly scoffed on Twitter, this may be a function of the U.S., Facebook’s home market, being behind the times when it comes to consumer financial services.

Tfw you realise that the Americans who designed Facebook’s cryptocurrency live in a world where contactless payments basically aren’t a thing pic.twitter.com/pmTtyRGYYn

— Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) June 18, 2019

In much of the rest of the world, people are used to tapping their smartphones on a reader to pay for a coffee or a ride on public transit. As for paying bills, there are myriad ways to achieve this online using regular currency, from automated direct debits to banking apps and financial technology services such as the Sweden-based app Klarna.

How about passing money to other users with minimal fuss? Well, there’s already PayPal and its Venmo app for that, among many other alternatives. The problem is not new, and nor are the solutions.

The unbanked

As Facebook rightly points out, almost half of the world’s adults lack bank accounts, with figures being worse in developing countries and among women. The solution, it says, could lie in the Colibra wallet.

One problem here is that many of those who lack bank accounts also lack smartphones. “Even if people own a smartphone, the cost of data can be prohibitive,” South African tech industry observer Toby Shapshak told the Daily Maverick. “Unless it is simple to use, simple to get cash in and out of the system and easy to understand, it’s already at a disadvantage.”

Some mobile operators have already been tackling this problem for a long time, notably Kenya’s Vodafone-backed Safaricom, which launched a mobile banking service called M-Pesa a dozen years ago. M-Pesa also targets the unbanked, using even basic phones as a way to access and use financial services—people can deposit and withdraw funds from widespread kiosks, with their SIM card validating their identity.








— 查尔斯·亚瑟(@charlesarthur),2019年6月18日





其中一个问题在于,这些没有银行账户的人也没有智能手机。南非的科技行业观察人士托比·沙普沙克向《独行者日报》(Daily Maverick)透露:“即便人们有智能手机,获取数据的成本也会让人们望而却步。除非应用使用起来足够简单,能够便利地在系统中存钱或取钱,而且很容易理解,否则就已经处于劣势。”


得益于低成本和便利性,M-Pesa的受欢迎程度较10年前出现了大幅改观。它能够让用户通过移动手持设备向偏远地区发送或接收资金。其成本只有银行、邮政汇款和转账服务的零头。图片来源:Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

People can even send money from abroad to an M-Pesa user’s phone, using a variety of services. Facebook is pitching Libra as a way to avoid high international remittance fees, which have traditionally been a problem, but again, people have already been solving this problem for a few years now.

M-Pesa is now used in many countries from India to South Africa, and even in parts of Eastern Europe. Interestingly, Vodafone is one of the members of the Libra Association that will run the new cryptocurrency—it remains to be seen whether the carrier giant sees scope for interplay between the two systems, or whether it simply shelled out the Association’s $10 million membership fee in order to keep an eye on what’s going on there. (Vodafone had not, at the time of publication, responded to a request for comment.)

Also, as the Financial Times has noted in its über-cynical coverage of Libra’s launch, Facebook’s new virtual currency does nothing to address the most common reason people don’t have bank accounts: they don’t have enough money to put in them. And that’s a socio-economic rather than technical problem.

Regulatory pushback

The Libra Association pretty much guaranteed the ire of regulators when it said in launch materials that “in the early development of the Libra network, its Founding Members are committed to working with authorities to shape a regulatory environment that encourages technological innovation while maintaining the highest standards of consumer protection.”

That sounds a lot like Mark Zuckerberg’s February pronouncement that he is “open to meaningful regulation” for Facebook in the fields of privacy and disinformation. Regulators and lawmakers tend to see themselves as the givers of rules, not the takers.

And so regulators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have pounced on the Libra project. In the U.S., House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D–Cali.) has asked Facebook to pause Libra’s development until Congress and regulators have had time to parse the implications. Waters is a Democrat, but the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, agrees with her, warning of “many open questions as to the scope and scale of the project and how it will conform to our global financial regulatory framework.”



此外,《金融时报》(Financial Times)对Libra首发的报道也是充满了冷嘲热讽,它指出,Facebook的新虚拟货币并未解决人们没有银行账户最常见原因:他们没有足够的钱存入银行,因此这是一个社会经济问题,而不是技术问题。





众议员马克辛·沃特斯(加州民主党)呼吁在国会和监管方弄清楚其影响之前暂停Facebook的Libra项目。图片来源:Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In Europe, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said it “can’t and must not happen” that Libra becomes a replacement for traditional currencies, and has urged G7 central bank governors to urgently look into the system. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney also said organizations such as the G7, the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements would have to handle the development in “a coordinated fashion.”

As well they might. As Carney noted, “anything that works in this world will become instantly systemic.” Regulators do not want to find themselves playing catch-up here.

The trust issue

Le Maire also warned that Facebook’s Colibra wallet “will allow this company to assemble even more data, which only increases our determination to regulate the Internet giants.” Which brings us to the final problem: trust. Facebook has a dismal record when it comes to keeping its privacy promises, so why would this time be different?

The big promise in this case is that Facebook won’t use financial data from Colibra for ad-targeting purposes without users’ consent. But how will it get that consent, and what will regulators say about that mechanism? Bear in mind that Facebook is already being sued in Europe over the way it gathers consent from users for using their data to target ads at them.

As Fortune’s Robert Hackett has pointed out, Facebook’s insistence that data-merging will only take place after explicit opting-in is still not a binding privacy policy. It’s a promise being made probably a year or so before Libra and Colibra launch. Remember how Facebook once swore it would never merge WhatsApp and Facebook data? That promise didn’t turn out to be worth much. And with Facebook facing likely censure and a fat fine from the Federal Trade Commission over its breaking of various other privacy promises, it’s not like Facebook’s image on the privacy front is set to improve anytime soon.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine has also noted that the Libra Association won’t actively vet the developers who want to build digital wallets that handle Libra. So, while Facebook’s own Colibra wallet will supposedly come with high security, customer support and refunds in the case of theft, a shady cryptocurrency analog to Cambridge Analytica could theoretically build its own wallet that exposes consumers to the loss of their Libra coins.

None of this is to say that Libra definitely won’t be a success—again, Facebook’s scale is unmatched—but it’s no dead cert, and there needs to be a lot more clarity on how the system will achieve its lofty goals.







TechCrunch的乔什·康斯丁还注意到,Libra协会并没有主动对有意开发承载Libra的数字钱包的开发商进行审查。因此,尽管Facebook自家的Colibra钱包会具有很高的安全性,客户支持以及账号被盗之后的退款功能,效仿剑桥分析公司(Cambridge Analytica)而打造的影子虚拟货币在理论上也能够打造其自有的钱包,而消费者可能会因此而面临Libra货币损失的风险。






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