Facebook’s High-risk, High-reward Crypto-gambit

Facebook unveiled plans for a new cryptocurrency and payment system on Tuesday. It's called the Libra, and it's not-so-modest goal is to "reinvent money," and "transform the global economy" so that "people everywhere can live better lives." Ambitious much, Zuck?

This is a huge political gamble, but the rewards could be enormous. Here's a quick look at the tradeoffs:

The risks: Facebook is asking its 2.5 billion users — and government regulators — to entrust it with something that's vitally important to people everywhere and a power that governments jealously protect: access to money. And it's doing so at a time when trust in Facebook and other big Silicon Valley companies is at a low ebb.

Whether it's a concern that Big Tech has become too powerful or that it's not doing enough to protect privacy or put a stop to fake news, it's a heck of a time to launch a new techno-utopian project that could give Silicon Valley much more power — including the ability to track not just what people say they like but how they spend their money.

Mark Zuckerberg understands this — the Facebook founder is setting up Libra as a Swiss-based non-profit that will be governed by an "association" of 28 tech and financial companies and non-profits of which Facebook is just one member. He's also promising that Facebook will not mix personal data with payment information, and to cooperate with regulators.

But this will always be Zuckerberg's baby, and by launching Libra, he's painting a big new political bullseye on his own back.

The payoff: If Libra can survive the inevitable political and regulatory storm (and convince its billions of users that they can trust the underlying technology and financial stability of the new cryptocurrency) the upside could be enormous.

How enormous? The Libra website claims that more than 30 percent of the world's population — about 1.7 billion people — currently lack access to traditional bank accounts. Many more pay steep fees to transfer money using traditional payment services. Libra, by contrast, promises access to anyone in the world with a simple smartphone — and to make payments as inexpensive as sending a text message.

Plug those capabilities into a social network whose user base is roughly double the population of the biggest country in the world, and the results could be revolutionary — not just for billions of people who would gain new access to financial resources, but for Facebook's business model, and for central banks and governments that have traditionally sought to control the flow of money through their economies.

That would be a techno-utopian dream come true, but it's a power that governments won't willingly surrender.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Do some of the Facebook's best features, like the newsfeed algorithm or groups, make removing hate speech from the platform impossible?

No, they do not. But what they do do is make it a lot easier for hate speech to spread. A fundamental problem with Facebook are the incentives in the newsfeed algorithm and the structure of groups make it harder for Facebook to remove hate speech.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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