This audacious attempt to launch a privately controlled currency may come to nothing. We should hope it does

Facebook’s proposed digital currency, the Libra, is the latest attempt by a big western technology firm to weaken the reach and power of national governments. The promise is that the company’s billions of users will be able to transfer money to each other as easily as they can send a message on their phones. This probably seems more of a technological miracle in California than it does in the rest of the rich world: Americans still don’t even have contactless credit cards. One model for Libra is China’s WeChat Pay, a mobile payment system that already has more than a billion users. This is hugely profitable and means that the WeChat social network does not have to be funded by advertising.

That is not a win for privacy, though: WeChat collects as much information about its users as Facebook does, but this is all at the disposal of the government and everything said on the network is subject to heavy censorship. Obviously, many people would be extremely unhappy to trust Facebook with an even more intimate knowledge of their spending habits than it already has. Although the company now claims that it would never use the knowledge acquired by its money-handling business to increase the efficiency of its advertising business, it made similar promises when it acquired WhatsApp.

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