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Facebook's cryptocurrency Libra aims to 'put the currency back in cryptocurrency'

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Libra, the Facebook-supported cryptocurrency coming in 2020, has very ambitious plans and, already, vociferous critics.

Facebook on Tuesday announced dual crypto ventures coming in 2020: Libra, a cryptocurrency that will be governed by the Libra Association, an “independent” consortium of 28 “founding members”; and Calibra, a Facebook subsidiary that will offer a digital wallet app for storing and sending Libra.

While the “founding members” of Libra include some very big names in payments and commerce—like Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Stripe, Coinbase, and eBay—many still see the entire project as a Facebook venture, considering the simultaneously coordinated announcements and that Facebook executive David Marcus oversaw the Libra launch.

But the Libra Association’s head of policy Dante Disparte, in an appearance with Yahoo Finance’s live show YFi AM, says that all of the founding members are buying in to an ambitious plan aimed at “universal adoption” of Libra.

“I think there’s a clear, common connection among all the founding partners,” he says. “At one level, it’s a big moment for digital assets and cryptocurrencies generally, which is that they would be accepted with near universal adoption given those types of networks... also a commitment among the founding members to really drive a wedge on issues of financial inclusion and opportunity.”

Libra Association's "founding members." (via Libra Association)

That sounds like a pretty grand plan for a digital coin that cryptocurrency devotees are already widely dismissing as not truly decentralized (since it’s overseen by a roundtable of companies that have each agreed to invest a minimum of $10 million) and running on a blockchain that is not truly “permissionless.”

On the other hand, one of the biggest criticisms mainstream financial giants and Wall Street folks have had about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is that they still don’t really function as cryptocurrencies—and indeed, even their biggest flag-wavers have shifted to hyping their use as stores of value, rather than actual daily currencies to spend.

Libra, Disparte says, aims “first and foremost to put the term ‘currency’ back in cryptocurrency. It really is designed to be a unit of purchase and a unit of daily transactions, as opposed to a speculative asset—which is, candidly, where many cryptocurrencies have stood. And they’ve done well in that class if you’re interested in volatility. Libra, as an asset, is really meant to serve daily needs.”

As for the questions around whether Libra can truly be seen as an independent cryptocurrency, Disparte counters: “I would say that from a structural point of view, this is a fairly enlightened moment on many levels. We have 28 founding members in this organization; it’s independent; the technology itself, while incubated initially at Facebook, is being set up as an open-source technology... The association itself is very much independently structured and governed.”

There’s a key part there: the technology was incubated at Facebook – Facebook execs oversaw the rollout. But eventually, when the Libra blockchain launches, it aims to have 100 founding members, with no one member having more than 1% say in the governance.

With that stated plan, Libra will aim to win over both the cryptocurrency skeptics and the cryptocurrency believers who are Libra skeptics.

Lawmakers and politicians aren’t convinced: a handful came out immediately against the launch, using Libra as a punching bag to call for heightened regulation of Facebook.

On Wednesday the Senate Banking Committee scheduled a July 16 hearing on Facebook’s cryptocurrency plans.

Daniel Roberts covers bitcoin and blockchain at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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