Facebook Libra is misrepresented, unnecessary, and dangerous.
This website aims to help everyone understand why that’s the case. Click here to jump straight to it.
The hashtag #LibreNotLibra was coined by Andreas M. Antonopoulos, 18 June 2019. There’s no doubting it’s a beautifully succinct way of putting it, and here we aim to provide more detail for those looking to learn more and/or communicate the situation to friends and colleagues, to politicians and regulators. We also curate the broad and deep analysis, news and commentary on this topic at LibreNotLibra.com.
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How does Facebook describe its Libra project?
Retrieved from https://libra.org/en-US/vision/#how_it_works at 15:00 UTC, 3rd July 2019:
Libra is a global, digitally native, reserve-backed cryptocurrency built on the foundation of blockchain technology. People will be able to send, receive, spend, and secure their money, enabling a more inclusive global financial system.
The unit of currency is called Libra. The aim is to make Libra as widely accepted and as easy to use as possible to create a currency that people can use with confidence and convenience in their everyday lives.
Unlike the majority of cryptocurrencies, Libra is fully backed by a reserve of real assets. A basket of currencies and assets will be held in the Libra Reserve for every Libra that is created, building trust in its intrinsic value.
The Libra Blockchain is operated by a network of validator nodes. The evolution of the blockchain will be overseen by the Founding Members of the Libra Association, and each member will be responsible for running a validator node. As the network grows and becomes more self-sustaining, the Libra Association will work to gradually transition to a permissionless mode of operation.
The page links to the corresponding white paper, archived here.
Here are the top-level observations and objections that everyone should consider.
A Trojan horse for surveillance
Facebook Libra is the company’s Trojan horse to complete its surveillance capitalism machinery, becoming the most powerful all-seeing, all-knowing entity, all under the control of just one man.
Facebook may promise to maintain an ethics wall between its respective financial and social panopticons, and repeat the assertion as much as it likes, but it took the company less than two years to renege on its promise to keep Facebook and Whatsapp separate. The company’s reputation speaks for itself.
- If Facebook or Google create their own currency, they can control our lives, John Harris, The Guardian
- Facebook Libra is ‘most invasive and dangerous form of surveillance ever designed’, critics say, Anthony Cuthbertson, The Independent
- The radical idea hiding inside Facebook’s digital currency proposal, Mike Orcutt, MIT Technology Review
- Why Facebook is pushing Libra, Ben Power, The Washington Post
Not a blockchain
Facebook claims that the Libra technology is “built on the foundation of blockchain technology”. That is not true. There are no blocks. There are no chains. Facebook Libra is a traditionally-federated system operated by an exclusive cartel of very large corporations.
The company has chosen to ‘block-wash’, so to speak. It may be hoping to have some of the genuine enthusiasm for blockchain technologies rub off on its project. More alarmingly, this misrepresentation appears to be a barely disguised attempt to exploit regulatory gaps.
- How Will Facebook’s Libra “Blockchain” Really Work?, Jameson Lopp, Medium OneZero
- Facebook’s Libra: blockchain, but without the blocks or chain, Jemima Kelly, Financial Times
- Facebook’s Libra Masterplan, Eric Wall, Medium OneZero
- Nouriel Roubini outlines the 2020 recession risk, Izabella Kaminska, Financial Times
Recently-announced Facebook technologies such as their instantiation of “AI on the Edge” pose a massive threat to freedom of speech, and this becomes a threat to commercial participation in society too when allied with Libra. Facebook presents this as “safeguarding” when it is in fact the tool of Orwellian oppression.
My AI on my device, good.
Facebook’s AI on my device, doubleplusungood.
- AI on the Edge at Facebook Developer Conference 2019, Facebook F8 video
- How AI Is Now Being Trained To ‘Detoxify’ Social Media, Zak Doffman, Forbes
- Inside Instagram’s War on Bullying, Katy Steinmetz, Time Magazine
- The inevitability of the transition from a surveillance-society to a veillance-society: Moral and economic grounding for sousveillance, Mir Adnan Ali and Steve Mann
A threat to democracy
Mark Zuckerberg does little to dissuade anyone that he is anything less than maniacally obsessed with the supposed ‘benevolent’ application of his immense powers, even if that might entail circumventing democratic institutions and processes. Surveillance capitalism, of which Facebook is a prime exponent, is itself anti-democratic.
- What’s behind Mark Zuckerberg’s man-crush on Emperor Augustus?, Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian
- Facebook has amassed outsized powers … so great that Zuckerberg doesn’t bother denying the fact. “In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company.”, Franklin Foer, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech
- Facebook’s story is an indictment of how social media has fostered the deterioration of democratic and intellectual culture around the world., Siva Vaidhyanathan, Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
- It’s not that we’ve failed to rein in Facebook and Google. We’ve not even tried., Shoshana Zuboff, The Guardian
A threat to global financial stability
Former World Bank Chief Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz notes:
The real problem with our existing currencies and financial arrangements … is the lack of competition among, and regulation of, the companies that control transactions.
Yet Facebook Libra sets out to achieve a level of vertical integration and visibility far exceeding the power and reach of many national economies and banks. Libra may even replace fiat currencies in developing countries. While it’s quite possible that lawmakers and regulators never anticipated such a concentration of power over transactions, capital, and indeed the nature of money itself, that doesn’t mean we should leave nation states toothless under the yoke of this supranational cartel.
- Facebook’s Libra will not help the unbanked, Brendan Greeley, Financial Times
- Launching a Global Currency Is a Bold, Bad Move for Facebook, Matt Stoller, The New York Times
- Why Facebook’s Libra currency gets the thumbs down, Joseph Stiglitz, The Guardian
- G7 Forming Task Force in Response to Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency, Daniel Palmer, Coindesk
- The Trouble Starts If Facebook’s New Currency Succeeds, Eric Posner, The Atlantic
- Facebook’s Libra: Does the World Need Frictionless Money?, Michael Pettis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Facebook Libra: A strategic bear-hug — Crypto maximalism, the sweet spot, and disruption obstruction, Anthony Bardaro, Adventures in Consumer Technology
A web search (3rd July 2019) fails to identify any reference by Facebook to its ethical responsibilities specific to Libra. The company merely notes in its white paper its responsibility to “support ethical actors” without exploring the need for itself. As Sarah James Lewis, Executive Director of Open Privacy, tweets sarcastically:
Can’t wait for a cryptocurrency with the ethics of Uber, the censorship resistance of Paypal, and the centralization of Visa, all tied together under the proven privacy of Facebook.
Act in service to human prosperity in a flourishing web of life
Respect autonomy in the communities that you serve by ensuring their engagement and consent, while remaining ever aware of the inequalities and differences that may lie within them
Be prudential in policymaking, seeking to minimise the risk of harm
Work with humility by making transparent the assumptions and shortcomings of your models, and by recognising alternative economic perspectives and tools.
The ultimate information technology challenge is the care and maintenance of a digital infrastructure that can help us rise up to so-called super wicked problems, collectively. Given the growing appreciation of the nature of complexity and the complexity of nature, we know we’re in the domain of systems thinking and sustainability — the health and resilience of living systems including our planet, our societies, and our organisations.
Sustainability requires healthy, distributed networks, with both diversity and individual agency, to facilitate the emergence of collective intelligence. It is these qualities our digital technologies must enable and encourage.
Facebook Libra represents little more than the technologization of past hegemonic practices. Those privileged corporates involved in the cosy Libra club have no motivation to move beyond Libra’s genesis architecture, in fact quite the opposite. Either way, should it be allowed to proceed, Facebook Libra represents a forbidding systemic block to the future flourishing of diverse and distributed projects attending to this existential challenge.
- For more on this, check out the purpose of the AKASHA Foundation.
Some super fine resources that didn’t quite fit into our section headings above.
- What is Libra?, The Economist
- Crypto Trailblazer Says Facebook’s Libra Threatens to Undo Blockchain Gains, Matthew Leising, Bloomberg
- Could Regulatory Backlash Entrench Facebook’s New Cryptocurrency Libra?, Rainey Reitmann, Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Tencent created QQ Coin long before Facebook’s Libra, Matthew De Silva, Quartz
- There’s a big problem with Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency, Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica
And check out LibreNotLibra.com.
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We are about to enter a global Currency Cold War that is centred around CryptoFiat tensions. It will involve 3 different factions — fiat state money (Feds), corporate money (such as Libra) and the “people’s” money (bitcoin). It will force the citizens of the world to question their everyday interaction with finance and what the term “money” really means. It will make them realize that their privacy and autonomy can be taken away if how they use money is controlled or facilitated by certain actors. They will come to understand that true freedom comes from truly owning your own assets.
We cannot allow a company which specialises in addictive user interfaces and personal data exploitation to dominate social spending.