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Facebook-backed Diem aims to launch digital currency pilot later this year

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Facebook wanted to revolutionize finance with a global digital currency — then came the regulators.

First proposed in June 2019 with the name libra, the token was initially intended to be a universal currency tied to a basket of sovereign currencies such as the U.S. dollar and the euro.

But after facing strong opposition from regulators around the world, the organization overseeing the project lost major backers including Visa and Mastercard. The group eventually watered down its plans, opting for multiple “stablecoins” backed one-to-one by different government-backed currencies, as well as one multi-currency coin.

Now known as diem, the Facebook-backed digital coin is expected to launch later this year, albeit in a much more limited form. When it finally arrives, diem won’t come with the same fanfare and controversy of the original idea envisioned by the social media giant nearly two years ago.

Stablecoin pilot

The Diem Association, the Switzerland-based nonprofit which oversees diem’s development, is aiming to launch a pilot with a single stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar in 2021, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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The person, who preferred to remain anonymous as the details haven’t yet been made public, said this pilot will be small in scale, focusing largely on transactions between individual consumers. There may also be an option for users to buy goods and purchases, the person added. However, there is no confirmed date for the launch and timing could therefore change.

“It’s really drifted off the radar in a way that’s quite striking,” Michael Casey, chief content officer of the cryptocurrency publication CoinDesk and a former financial journalist, told CNBC.

Diem was met with intense scrutiny when it was first introduced. Given Facebook’s wide reach — it had 2.8 billion monthly active users in the fourth quarter of 2020 — central bankers and politicians feared the currency could threaten monetary stability and potentially enable money laundering. Facebook’s involvement also meant that there were concerns over how it would protect users’ privacy.

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“It was such a stunning challenge to the international order, in that the backlash was just really powerful,” Casey said.

One big concern, according to Casey, was that diem posed a threat to the dominance of the U.S. dollar. Two months after Facebook unveiled libra, former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney proposed a new digital currency based on a global basket of goods that could diminish the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

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Diem’s technology has “changed dramatically over the past year and a half from a naive blockchain to a very sophisticated blockchain that you can see is trying to answer some of the questions that regulators had,” said Ran Goldi, CEO of Digital Assets Group, which is building infrastructure to let merchants accept diem as a method of payment.

“I think it will get past the gates this year,” said Michael Gronager, CEO of blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis. “It would be a missed opportunity if not.”

“At the same time,” Gronager added, “it’s one of multiple initiatives happening and it’s similar to Tesla buying $1.5 billion in crypto. This is just part of a big movement, not a new movement.

Indeed, diem — or libra — may have been the big crypto story of 2019. But bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have gathered significant momentum over the past year, with bitcoin recently surging to a new all-time high above $60,000 and major firms like Tesla and Square making big bets on the digital coin. Meanwhile, crypto exchange Coinbase went public in a landmark direct listing on the Nasdaq.

What’s next for diem?

The Diem Association has lost numerous members and executives almost two years on from its initial unveiling.

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Visa, Mastercard and Stripe were some of the earliest companies to withdraw from the association. That was followed by an exodus of other members, including PayPal, eBay and Vodafone. Meanwhile, the project has also suffered a number of notable departures, from Kevin Weil, the head of Facebook’s planned digital wallet Novi, to Dante Disparte, Diem’s public affairs chief.

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At the same time, Diem has gone through a complete makeover, rebranding from Libra earlier this year and beefing up its leadership team with big hires like CEO Stuart Levey, who was formerly HSBC’s chief legal officer.

Diem is now in talks with Swiss financial regulators to secure a payment license, a crucial step that would place the organization further along the path toward getting its digital currency project off the ground.

“A big step of our dialogue with regulators has been a phased approach to launch,” Christian Catalini, Diem’s chief economist, told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche last month.

“We are going to be phasing in different functionalities and use cases, applications in different areas,” he said, adding that members — both large and small — would have to undergo rigorous anti-money laundering checks.

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“Once we get the green light, we will start experimenting with a small number of users and a small number of players,” Catalini said. The goal would be to ensure that the technology and reserve system operate as expected, he added.

And though it’s starting with a limited pilot, the group plans to eventually bring in merchants and other partners. It is staying tight-lipped on which ones, for now.

‘Network effect’

“What you get with an institution like Facebook backing a stablecoin is much better distribution,” Gronager said. “You can put it into apps, add it to a lot other places and I think that will be strong.”

“We’ll see when it launches how it’s going to play out but already today a lot of the interest in crypto is also speculative,” he added. “It will basically enable more people to easily get into crypto.”

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But this also brings with it concerns around users’ data, an issue that has clouded the project due to Facebook’s history of privacy scandals. For its part, Diem says it takes privacy “very seriously.”

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“Diem itself will not have private information about the customers,” said Catalini. “Some of our members have made commitments with regards to data separation between social and financial data.”

Nevertheless, one thing diem has achieved is a global race among central banks to figure out their own digital money strategy. The People’s Bank of China is leading the way, trialing a digital version of the yuan in a number of cities, while Britain’s central bank is exploring whether or not to issue its own digital currency. And some experts say we shouldn’t count out diem just yet.

“The story of digital money in the 2020s will be the growth of tokenized money,” a team of Citi analysts led by Ronit Ghose, global head of banks research, wrote in a research note last week.

“Central banks … and Big Tech … alongside wider adoption of cryptocurrency, are building new payment formats and rails,” Citi analysts wrote. “Stablecoins such as Diem could benefit from the huge network effects of their Big Tech sponsors.”

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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