San Francisco, Jun 19 (AP/UNB) — Facebook already rules daily communication for more than 2 billion people around the world. Now it wants its own currency, too.
The social network unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to create a new digital currency similar to Bitcoin for global use, one that could drive more e-commerce on its services and boost ads on its platforms.
But the effort, which Facebook is launching with partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and Mastercard, could also complicate matters for the beleaguered social network. Facebook is currently under federal investigation over its privacy practices, and along with other technology giants also faces a new antitrust probe in Congress .
Creating its own globe-spanning currency — one that could conceivably threaten banks, national currencies and the privacy of users — isn't likely to dampen regulators' interest in Facebook.
"It's a bold and strategic move that has clear risks as well as opportunities tied to it," said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives. "This could raise further yellow flags as more regulators focus on Facebook."
David Marcus, the head of Facebook's cryptocurrency operation, said in a tweet Tuesday that Facebook is creating a separate subsidiary, Calibra, to handle the new currency. He said feedback from customers has been "loud and clear" about keeping social media and financial data separate.
"We understand we will have to earn your trust," he wrote.
The digital currency, called Libra, is scheduled to launch in the next six to 12 months. Facebook is taking the lead on building Libra and its underlying technology; its more than two dozen partners will help fund, build and govern the system. Facebook hopes to raise as much as $1 billion from existing and future partners to support the effort.
Company officials emphasized that Libra is a way of sending money across borders without incurring significant fees, such as those charged by Western Union and other international money-transfer services. Fees typically start at a few dollars but can be much higher when paying with a credit card. Shares in Western Union fell 2% in morning trading.
Libra could also open up online commerce to huge numbers of people around the world who currently don't have bank accounts or credit cards.
"If you fast forward a number of years, consumers all over the world will have the ability to access the world economy," Marcus said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Facebook also could use its own currency to drive more people to make purchases from ads on its social media sites, said Gartner analyst Avivah Litan, who based her comments on press reports about Libra that preceded Facebook's formal announcement. "This is about fostering more sales within an ad to get more business from advertisers to make ads more interesting on Facebook," she said.
Backing by familiar corporations might also make Libra the first Bitcoin-like currency with mass appeal. Such "cryptocurrencies" have generally failed to catch on despite a devout following among curious investors and innovators. Bitcoin itself remains shrouded in secrecy and fraud concerns, not to mention wild value fluctuations, making it unappealing for the average shopper.
Libra will be different, Facebook says, in part because its value will be pegged to a basket of established currencies, such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, the yen and others. Each purchase of Libra will be backed by a reserve fund of equal value held in real-world currencies to stabilize Libra's value.
Wedbush analyst Ives said how well it is received will boil down to execution and "how comfortable consumers feel around Facebook and cryptocurrency."
To be sure, recent history reminds us that many big Facebook announcements never really take off. Two years ago, for instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised that "augmented reality ," in which phones and other devices project digital images into real-world surroundings, would be a major focus for the company. Such AR applications remain all but invisible today. Same goes for the online shopping chatbots that Zuckerberg unveiled a year earlier, saying they would revolutionize e-commerce in its Messenger app.
Facebook won't run Libra directly; instead, the company and its partners are forming a nonprofit called the Libra Association, headquartered in Geneva, that will oversee the new currency and its use. The association will be regulated by Swiss financial authorities, Facebook said.
"No single company should operate this," Marcus said. "It should be a public good."
Facebook's new Calibra subsidiary is developing a digital wallet app to make it easier for people to buy, send and use Libra.
Libra partners will create incentives to get people and merchants to use the coin. That could range from Uber discounts to a Libra bonus paid when users set up a Calibra wallet, although the companies haven't laid out specifics.
Many privacy questions remain unanswered, though. Cryptocurrencies such as Libra store all transactions on a widely distributed, encrypted "ledger" known as the blockchain. That could make the Libra blockchain a permanent record of all purchases or cash transfers every individual makes, even if they're stored under pseudonyms rather than real names. Facebook said people can keep their individual transactions from appearing on the blockchain by using Calibra's wallet app, though in that case, Calibra would have your data instead.
Calibra pledges that it won't share transaction data from details of Libra user's financials with Facebook unless compelled to do so in criminal cases. Still, if people are using Facebook products to buy things and send money, it's possible Facebook will be able to track some data about shopping and money transferring habits.
Calibra won't require users to have a Facebook account to use Libra. And it will allow people to send Libra back and forth on two of Facebook's core messaging apps — WhatsApp and Messenger. Instagram messages won't be included, at least at first.
Earlier this year, Zuckerberg announced a new privacy-focused vision for the company after months of backlash for its treatment of personal customer information. Zuckerberg's vision — which has mostly not been detailed publicly — will rely heavily on privacy-shielded messaging apps in an attempt to make the services more about private, one-to-one connections.
Many analysts believe Zuckerberg wants to create a U.S. version of the Chinese service WeChat, which combines social networking, messaging and payments in a single app. Libra would take Facebook a step closer to that end.
London, Jun 8 (AP/UNB) — Facebook said Friday it has stopped letting its apps come pre-installed on smartphones sold by Huawei in order to comply with U.S. restrictions, a move that deals a fresh blow to the Chinese tech giant.
The social network said it has suspended providing software for Huawei to put on its devices while it reviews recently introduced U.S. sanctions.
Owners of existing Huawei smartphones that already have Facebook apps can continue to use them and download updates.
Facebook said people who have Huawei phones or buy new ones will still be able to download Facebook on their own.
Facebook's move is the latest fallout in the escalating U.S.-China tech feud.
The Commerce Department last month effectively barred U.S. companies from selling their technology to Huawei and other Chinese firms without government approval. China's Commerce Ministry responded this week by warning it would release its own list of "unreliable" foreign companies in the near future.
U.S. officials are pressing their global campaign to blacklist Huawei, the world's No. 1 network equipment provider and second-largest smartphone maker. They say Beijing could use the company's products for cyberespionage, though they haven't presented evidence of intentional spying.
"We are reviewing the Commerce Department's final rule and the more recently issued temporary general license and taking steps to ensure compliance," Facebook said, referring to a 90-day grace period allowing continued support of existing Huawei equipment.
Huawei declined to comment.
Google, which makes the Android operating system used by Huawei, has already said that while it would continue to support existing Huawei phones, future devices won't come with its flagship apps and services, including maps, Gmail and search. Only basic services would be available for future versions of Android.
San Francisco, June 6 (AP/UNB) — YouTube updated its hate speech policies Wednesday to prohibit videos with white supremacy and neo-Nazi viewpoints.
The video streaming company says it has already made it more difficult to find and promote such videos, but it's now removing them outright. YouTube will also prohibit videos that deny certain proven events have taken place, such as the Holocaust.
The changes come as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other online services face mounting concern that the services allow, and in some cases foster , extremism.
YouTube's new policies will take effect immediately. Specifically, the service is banning videos "alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion." The ban applies to a range of characteristics, including race, sexual orientation and veteran status.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, said it's removing thousands of channels that violate the new policies.
YouTube's changes follow moves from Facebook to prohibit not only white supremacy , but also white nationalism and white separatism.
The two services, which allow people to create and upload their own materials, have faced considerable backlash about offensive videos on their services — and for how long they allowed live video feeds to stay online, such as during the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The companies have said they are walking the balance between creating safe spaces while also protecting freedom of expression.
With little government oversight on online material, internet companies have become the arbiters for what is and isn't allowed.
And the policies don't always fall into clean, delineated lines.
YouTube is facing controversy over its refusal to remove videos from conservative commentator Steven Crowder, in which he uses homophobic slurs to describe Vox reporter Carlos Maza. YouTube said Crowder hasn't told people to harass Maza, and the primary point of his video is to offer opinion, and thus it didn't violate YouTube's anti-harassment policies.
Criticism of the decision has poured out online. YouTube later said it had removed Crowder's ability to make money on YouTube.
Crowder did not immediately respond to a request for comment but posted a video on Twitter saying his channel is not going anywhere.
San Francisco, May 4 (AP/UNB) — The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook plans a cryptocurrency-based payment system that it could launch for billions of users worldwide.
The system would use a digital coin similar to bitcoin, but different in that Facebook would aim to keep the coin's value stable. Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies have been susceptible to wild fluctuations in value.
It could reportedly undermine credit cards by sidestepping the processing fees that generate much of their revenue.
The Journal report cited unidentified people familiar with the matter. It said Facebook is recruiting dozens of financial firms and online merchants to launch the network. Facebook's plans may include ways to financially reward users who interact with ads or other features.
Facebook says only that it is exploring many different applications for cryptocurrency technology.
San Francisco, May 3 (AP/UNB) — After years of pressure to crack down on hate and bigotry, Facebook has banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and other extremists, saying they violated its ban on "dangerous individuals."
The company also removed right-wing personalities Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, along with Jones' site, Infowars, which often posts conspiracy theories. The latest bans apply to both Facebook's main service and to Instagram and extend to fan pages and other related accounts.
Decried as censorship by several of those who got the ax, the move signals a renewed effort by the social media giant to remove people and groups promoting objectionable material such as hate, racism and anti-Semitism.
Removing some of the best-known figures of the U.S. political extreme takes away an important virtual megaphone that Facebook has provided the likes of Jones, Yiannopoulos and others over the years. But it does not address what might be done with lesser known figures and those who stay on the margins of what Facebook's policies allow.
Critics praised the move but said there is more to be done on both Facebook and Instagram.
"We know that there are still white supremacists and other extremist figures who are actively using both platforms to spread their hatred and bigotry," said Keegan Hankes, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the U.S.
Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook executive and an internet policy expert at Harvard, said the ban isn't as big a step as Facebook appears to be painting it — it's just enforcing its existing policy.
"There will always be more purveyors of hate speech that try to come on these platforms," he said. "Will advocates have to push year after year just to get (a handful of) individuals off? At this rate it seems likely. And this doesn't address the problem of what happens at the margins."
Facebook has previously suspended Jones from its flagship service temporarily; this suspension is permanent and includes Instagram. Twitter has also banned Loomer, Jones and Yiannopoulos, though Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam long known for provocative comments widely considered anti-Semitic, still had an account Thursday. So did Watson, who rose to popularity as editor-at-large at Infowars and has nearly a million followers on the site.
Facebook said the newly banned accounts violated its policy against dangerous individuals and organizations. The company says it has always banned people or groups that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence, regardless of political ideology.
It added that when it bans someone under this policy, the company said it also prohibits anyone else from praising or supporting them.
For years, social media companies have been under pressure from civil rights groups and other activists to clamp down on hate speech on their services. Following the deadly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Google, Facebook and PayPal began banishing extremist groups and individuals who identified as or supported white supremacists.
A year later, widespread bans of Jones and Infowars reflected a more aggressive enforcement of policies against hate speech. But Facebook instituted only a 30-day suspension (though Twitter banned him permanently).
It is not clear what events led to Thursday's announcement. In a statement, Facebook merely said, "The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today."
Last month, it extended its ban on hate speech to prohibit the promotion and support of white nationalism and white separatism. It had previously allowed such material even though it has long banned white supremacists.
Asked to comment on the bans, Yiannopoulos emailed only "You're next."
Jones reacted angrily Thursday during a live stream of his show on his Infowars website.
"They didn't just ban me. They just defamed us. Why did Zuckerberg even do this?" Jones said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Jones called himself a victim of "racketeering" by "cartels."
"There's a new world now, man, where they're banning everybody and then they tell Congress nobody is getting banned," he said.
Watson, meanwhile, tweeted that he was not given a reason and that he "broke none of their rules."
"Hopefully, other prominent conservatives will speak out about me being banned, knowing that they are next if we don't pressure the Trump administration to take action," he wrote.
Farrakhan, Nehlen and Loomer did not immediately return messages for comment.
Harvard's Ghosh said kicking off individuals with big followings, such as Jones, goes against Facebook's commercial interest.
"As soon as they kick Alex Jones or Laura Loomer off their platform, it immediately ticks of a huge number of people," he said.