In 2019, Facebook Inc. announced the Libra, a digital currency project being developed by the company. Libra was unveiled to be a blockchain based stablecoin backed by bank deposits and short-term government securities and was to be integrated into Facebook’s services like Messenger and WhatsApp. The Libra blockchain was said to be able to handle 1000 transactions per second, in stark contrast to Bitcoin’s 7 transactions per second. Needless to say, the news that the largest social media company was working on a cryptocurrency rocked the market for a while. But for some reason, we haven’t seen anything really significant happen since then. Why?
First off was the regulatory hurdle. It would appear that Facebook realized that it didn’t have top marks in the trust department, especially in public opinion. To this end, the Libra project was grilled by U.S lawmakers in July 2019 and the central theme was the issue of trust and data privacy. Other regulators also commented on the issue, with European Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure reportedly saying that digital currencies such as the Libra could challenge the supremacy of the U.S. dollar. Similarly, France’s and Germany’s finance ministers at the time had expressed concerns over the Libra, citing risks around financial security, investor protection and anti-money laundering laws.
Libra also faced the hurdle of its project partners dropping out of the initiative. Founding members eBay, Visa, Mastercard as well as PayPal withdrew from the project which may have had a hand in stalling it. The regulatory scrutiny surrounding the project and Facebook’s own unpalatable reputation might have influenced the decisions of the partners who left the project.
This story would be incomplete without mentioning the efforts at rebranding which morphed the project from Libra to Diem in late 2020. These efforts may have been subtly aimed at distancing the digital currency from the scandals and scrutiny that plagued Libra as a result of its association to Facebook. However, those efforts haven’t been particularly successful. As a result of these factors and more, the Diem association scaled back its earlier hoped for global launch and instead settled for a U.S. stablecoin. That doesn’t seem to have happened.
All in all, it would appear that Facebook is adamant in the pursuit of this blockchain system. However, regulators aren’t completely convinced. The headache seems to be about the issues around it’s possible widespread use, considering the amount of Facebook users. The apprehension is about such a currency’s competitive power with other fiat currencies as well as privacy concerns.