Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to the social network's quest to launch Libra cryptocurrency despite pushback from governments and critics. Facebook last month unveiled plans for Libra in an announcement that sparked fears of the unintended consequences of a loosely supervised global currency. Switzerland's financial watchdog FINMA has already pledged to conduct oversight of the Geneva-based Libra Association that will watch over the digital money, which is expected to debut next year.
Zuckerberg backed the Libra project while fielding questions on an earnings call, saying Facebook publicly released details to invite the kinds of queries and open dialogue currently taking place. "Facebook from a few years ago would have probably just showed up and tried to release a product on our own," Zuckerberg said of Libra during the call with analysts.
The California-based company's approach regarding sensitive territory is now to outline ideas and allow "a period of however long it takes" to get feedback and figure out the best path forward, according to the Facebook chief executive. "That's certainly what we're planning to do with Libra," Zuckerberg said. "We are trying to provide a safe and stable and well-regulated product; that's always been the strategy and we'll continue to engage here."
Libra would be independent of Facebook, which will be a member in an administrative association that already has 27 companies on board. A global digital payment platform would play into Facebook's efforts to make it easy to spend or send money using the company's family of services including Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.
"In each of these apps, we have opportunities to help people get more value from the networks that they've created," Zuckerberg said. "It's one of the biggest areas that we're focused on for the next several years." Libra is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player bitcoin. Expected to launch in the first half of 2020, Libra is designed to be backed by a basket of currency assets to avoid the wild swings of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major global economies and central bankers last week dealt a blow to the Libra plans, issuing a barrage of warnings about its dangers for the global economy at a two-day meeting outside Paris. G7 ministers "agreed that projects such as Libra may affect monetary sovereignty and the functioning of the international monetary system," France, the current G7 chair, said in a statement.
It said projects like Libra with a "global and potentially systemic footprint... raise serious regulatory and systemic concerns, as well as wider policy issues, which both need to be addressed before such projects can be implemented." Fraudsters are already trying to cash in on interest in Libra, hawking bogus buying opportunities at online venues including Facebook itself.