When Facebook launches something new, or comes out with some statement that it has seen the error of its ways and is going to become our Privacy Crusader, the usual response is cynical. What we see, we say, is another cynical attempt to rebuild the trust that is leaking daily.
Now, Facebook has turned (properly) to payments and the service will be called Libra.
When something big is in the works, Facebook normally calls on the PayPal founder David Marcus to lead the project. He was the chosen one when Messenger was about to become the app that meant you never needed another app – it was slated as doing everything (including having payments baked in).
Now Marcus is the man with the Libra baton. The project is called Libra because, says Marcus, ‘it is inspired by Roman weight measurements, the astrological sign for justice and the French word for freedom’. So you get his ‘freedom, justice and money (for all)?’ quote and you have to worry about the Facebook marketing organisation and whether they have been watching too many reruns of the Three Musketeers.
Libra is indeed a star sign, one that is diplomatic, co-operative and social. It is also indecisive, will carry a grudge and is prone to self pity.
If the story of how Libra will work is true then the set up looks (at face value) quite compelling. An association is being established, run by partners (28 so far), based in Switzerland (obvious marketing spin, but why not) and Facebook will step back from leading the project this year.
It will, however, establish a subsidiary, ‘Calibra’, which will offer digital wallet services on Facebook, WhatsApp and Messenger.
It all sounds above board and sensible, has strong partners (although no banks yet) and the governance looks solid. If it was anyone else (Apple, Google, Amazon) you would think ‘that might work, it might really catch on’.
The problem is that it is Facebook.
At the moment Facebook is a magnet for almost everything and everyone who does not like monopolies/hypocrisy/arrogance/mis-use of data/lack of governance/platforms for evil stuff (delete as appropriate).
It is attracting ever more regulators, it is attracting bad press, it looks like a big old hypocrite (would you trust Facebook with your money) and finally it (along with the other Big Tech companies) is a big target in Washington D.C and will probably be a political football in the forthcoming elections.
The premise and the plan might sound good and sensible and there seems to be arms’ length agreements that looks like good governance and they have some big hitting partners.
But for Facebook it might just be too little too late, trust-wise.