Commentary

Facebook's Libra, Calibra Are Terrible Ideas

Facebook has created a cryptocurrency called Libra. The social media giant doesn’t own it; instead, it’s one of 28 partners, or “nodes,” with room for up to 100, who collectively govern it. What Facebook does own is Calibra, a wallet that allows you to access Libra.

It’s hope is that this distinction will allow it to tiptoe past the inevitable antipathy toward a Facebook-controlled currency. It’s not ours! There are up to 100 nodes in the network! In practice, if Libra belongs to anyone, it’s to Facebook.

As WIRED reported when the Libra whitepaper was released last month, “the association was Facebook’s vision. Facebook engineers are doing the technical development… Facebook has created a dedicated programming language… for developers to write Libra applications. And even though the Libra Association has yet to choose a board, hire a managing director, fill almost three-fourths of its partnerships, or even meet for the first time, it has already released a White Paper and a stack of supporting documents. Who wrote all that stuff? Facebook, with the consultation of the current partners who reviewed, edited, and signed off on the materials.”

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Not to mention that the guy who gets called to testify before Congress about it is Facebook executive David Marcus.

It's more than just that, though. Calibra, Facebook’s proprietary Libra wallet, will be the only way you can use Libra on Facebook. The company has a head start on development and a monopoly on its own platform.

The other day I was out with my 5-year-old stepson. He was walking ahead of me as we reached the car, and as he ran the last few feet he cried, “First one to touch the car wins!” I opened the trunk to put the groceries in as he jumped inside, saying -- as I’m still stacking reusable bags -- "First one to put their seatbelt on wins!”

This is Facebook. It’s launching a currency it’s designed that theoretically it doesn’t control — but it’s simultaneously built a wallet for it before anyone else had access to it, and the company locking everyone else out of using that currency in its marketplace.

Unlike my stepson, though, Facebook execs will never say, “First one to dominate a global cryptocurrency wins!” because that’s not how Facebook wants you to think about it.

“If we fail to act,” said Facebook executive David Marcus, testifying before Congress this week about proposed cryptocurrency Libra, “we could soon see a digital currency controlled by others whose values are dramatically different from ours.”

Really? What values are those, exactly? Do they involve the undermining of democracy? The spread of misinformation? The incitement of violence?

Or is it just the complete and total disregard for your users’ privacy? It’s not as if you’re not aware of the problem. Your privacy record is so bad that when you got fined $5 billion last week for the Cambridge Analytica shenanigans, your stock went up.

Or is it the values of the other Libra nodes? Uber, perhaps? There are so many issues with Uber as a company that it’s hard to pick only one, but how about this: “Prior to Uber’s market entry, the take-home pay of big city taxi drivers was… $12–17 per hour, and drivers needed to work 60–75 hours a week… Despite extensively promoting how it would improve life for its ‘driver-partners,’ Uber actually reduced take-home pay to $9–11 per hour, below minimum wage levels in many cases. There have been multiple reports about drivers needing to sleep in their cars to make ends meet…

Starting in 2015, Uber eliminated most of the incentives it had used to attract drivers and unilaterally raised its share of passenger fares from 20 percent to 25–30 percent… These unilateral compensation cuts resulted in a direct wealth transfer from labor to capital of over $3 billion.”

I know Congress wants to support innovation. I do, too. But Facebook has shown over and over again that it cannot be trusted with the magnitude of its existing responsibility. We should not allow it to control the money as well.

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