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Facebook’s New Cryptocurrency Could Be a Game Changer

By Motley Fool Staff – Updated Jun 21, 2019 at 12:20PM

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But first, it will have to convince people that Libra will have sufficient privacy safeguards built in.

On Tuesday, Facebook (META -1.06%) announced that it will lead a large consortium to create a new digital currency called Libra, and if you're just not sure how to feel about that idea, that's understandable. Mark Zuckerberg's team won't be in direct control -- Libra will be managed by a nonprofit -- but given the past few years' worth of reputational damage the company has endured, a cryptocurrency associated with the social media platform will be a harder sell.

However, as Motley Fool Director of Small Cap Research Bill Mann suggests to Market Foolery host Chris Hill in this segment of the podcast, the use case for Libra -- it's intended to give the unbanked an entry into the financial system that they now lack -- could take it mainstream. The two also consider the privacy questions, direct profitability, the indirect benefits Facebook could derive from the project, and more.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 18, 2019.

Chris Hill: We've got to start, though, with Facebook. Facebook announced it is leading a consortium creating a new digital currency called the Libra -- we'll put aside the name for the moment -- that's set to launch early next year. The Libra currency is not going to be run by Facebook. It's going to be run by a nonprofit association. Let's start here. Are you excited about this news? Do you think this is promising for Facebook the stock? What is your reaction to this news? Mine was one of ever-so-mild revulsion.

Bill Mann: Revulsion! I love that! First of all, there's a guy on Twitter named @lonocapital. That's probably not his real name. But he immediately said, "Why aren't we calling these Zuck Bucks?"

Hill: It's a fair question. You know what? They're going to be called Zuck Bucks.

Mann: They're going to be called Zuck Bucks, and I just want to put it out there that that's the origin story. I think, ultimately, what we may be seeing now is that Facebook is about to do for crypto what AOL did for the internet. This is the first time you're seeing something that's put out there where the use case is the thing. With Bitcoin, Ethereum, all the others, it's the production cases, the store of value, it's the anonymity. But in this case, the Libra consortium is talking primarily about usability and bringing the unbanked onto a platform where they have access to funds at the ready. For me, I'm not revolted at all.

The thing I was really interested in was the fact that this is Facebook, which let's just say has had some excitement around their commitment to privacy. They've already said, "We won't have access to who it is. We won't be able to connect the Libra name with a real name or a Facebook profile."

Hill: I think the guy who's going to be running this, I want to say his name is David Marcus, I could have that wrong. He was on CNBC this morning. He was very quick to draw the line between Facebook and this nonprofit association. I say revulsion. You point out, as you said, the use case. The fact of the matter is, there are tens of millions of people, so many people who are, as you said, unbanked. This is one potential solution for those people.

But to the latter point, the fact that it's Facebook, it really seems like the sort of thing where, if it was any other tech giant --

Mann: That would be Cook Bucks. [laughs] Go ahead.

Hill: -- if Apple was helping to set this up, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, it would not be the same thing. The conversation would be much more about the use case, what is the addressable market here, all of those questions, which are all valid questions that need to be asked about this. But right now, question No. 1 out of the gate, and I think rightfully so, is about privacy.

Mann: Yeah. And it absolutely should be. And I think that Facebook, in some ways, is driving this, because if they weren't doing it, you know full well that Google and Apple and a lot of those other companies that you mentioned are interested in doing something like this. Facebook doesn't seem like they're going to make a whole lot of money off of it. I mean, they and the other members, the Libra consortium will make money off of the interest of the float, the money that's kept within the currency.

It seems to me, though, that this is ultimately a long game for Facebook to protect its other ad business, which does, in fact, have privacy concerns. If they weren't going to do it, I think it's pretty clear that one of the other one big ones would, and that would be a threat.

Hill: It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out. As I mentioned, this is something that's not going to launch until 2020. They have plenty of time to get this right, both from a technical standpoint and from a communications standpoint. Marcus was doing his best this morning. And again, I think the questions around privacy are logical. [laughs] Facebook has earned those questions, in a way. But there is absolutely the opportunity for them to get this right.

Mann: I totally agree. This is potentially a global currency. I think that if the white paper is what actually ends up coming to be, there's a lot more privacy that's being built into the Zuck Bucks than people seemed to have anticipated. Certainly, I would have anticipated that Facebook would have, in a slightly more overt way, had its fingers in the information stream. And it just doesn't seem like they are. Now, maybe we're being a little Pollyanna-ish about this, haven't thought about the other ways in which they might backdoor get that information. But from what I have seen so far, they've done a pretty good job. I'm not revolted like you. I'm intrigued, because I think one of the big questions about cryptocurrencies in the blockchain is, what are the actual use cases that are useful to the average person? Those have not been as apparent yet, for all of the excitement about cryptocurrencies.

Hill: Well, for what it's worth, you and I actually didn't talk about this at all before we came in the studio, and as a result of this conversation, I'm now more intrigued than I am put off by this.

Mann: Very good! That's my job! [laughs]

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Bill Mann has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Chris Hill owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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