As was presumably inevitable, Facebook has begun its entry into the realm of cryptocurrency. Rather than going with the obvious “Facebucks”, the company calls the new currency and payment system “Libra.” Given Facebook’s fundamental lack of ethics in favor of profit-pragmatism, this development is raising some concerns. To be fair to Facebook, some good does come out of the company and Libra does have some positive aspects.
On the positive side, Libra can provide people who do not otherwise have access to traditional banking access to a currency system that can serve some important financial needs. That Facebook will profit from this does not diminish this value; while it is nice for people to do good for free, eventually one must do something that can pay the bills. Libra might also provide users with greater security and safety when it comes to financial transactions, which would also be a plus.
It should be noted that while Libra is classified as a cryptocurrency, it does differ from the more traditional versions, such as Bitcoin. One difference is that Libra is supposed to be an asset based crypto currency (what could be called an ABC or even an ABCC)—there are real-world assets behind it, rather than being a speculative investment it is intended to be money. Unlike Bitcoin, it will be closely controlled—thus causing some to see it more like Venmo than a traditional cryptocurrency. This has positive and negative aspects, depending on what one intends to do with the currency. While all these are worth considering, my main concern is with the main business model of Facebook: monetizing private user data.
Facebook claims that it is but one of many companies involved in Libra and that it has walled off the information that will be spewing from the cryptocurrency operation. It could be argued that Facebook would be content with the revenue generated by Libra and the executives believe that they need to maintain the wall in order to gain the trust of customers. But the data collected from the operation of this cryptocurrency would be incredibly valuable—so valuable that it is hard to imagine that Facebook would forgo drinking deep of this data stream. Facebook has repeatedly shown that it cannot be trusted and any protests to the contrary are analogous to those of a serial cheater telling their partner that they have changed and will be faithful this time. If Facebook persists in the tale that it will respect the wall, it will be just a matter of time before it is revealed that they did not. As noted above, the ethics of the company (if they can be called that) are such that the company cannot be trusted to respect privacy or abide by its public promises.
That said, it can be worth supping with the devil, if you have a long spoon and are aware of what the deals you make entail. The devil must do as the devil does, the same is true of Facebook: to expect otherwise is to fail to understand the nature of the company and capitalism in general. The question is not whether Facebook will use your Libra data, but whether the service is worth providing Facebook with data—just as with Facebook’s other services. So, yes, I will probably use Libra if it is advantageous for me to do so.