Here's what we know about Facebook's big, secretive push into cryptocurrency

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Facebook is reportedly planning to launch a cryptocurrency for WhatsApp in the first half of 2019.
  • The company has some key execs working on this secretive blockchain project.
  • Here are some of the key details.

Facebook’s cryptocurrency plans are slowly coming into focus.

In May 2018, the Californian social networking giant announced that it was forming a team to explore the buzzy technology behind bitcoin and see how it could be incorporated into its products, but since then it’s stayed mum about the details.

However, a bevvy of leaks in recent months – the most recent in a report from The New York Times – have started to give us an idea of what the company is looking at, and when its efforts could finally see the light of day. Here are the key details.

Facebook is believed to be building a digital currency for WhatsApp

According to reports from Bloomberg and later The New York Times, Facebook is building a digital payments system for WhatsApp, its end-to-end encrypted messaging app. It would let users send and receive cash without having to pay fees.

And it’s reported to be a “stablecoin” – meaning the value of the coin is pegged to the value of a traditional currency. This means users don’t have to worry about the value of their coins fluctuating wildly (unpegged cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are notorious for fluctuating wildly, making and breaking fortunes overnight). The New York Times reports that Facebook is planning to peg its value “to a basket of different foreign currencies, rather than just the dollar.”

It’s got an A-list team

This one’s no secret: Facebook has some heavy-hitters working on the project.

It’s being led by David Marcus, who was previously Facebook’s head of Messenger, and ran electronic payments company Paypal before that. He also sat on the board of crypto startup Coinbase, but left in August 2018.

James Everingham, the former head of Instagram engineering, is taking the lead on blockchain engineering, and ex-Instagram VP of product Kevin Weil is now the blockchain VP of product. All told, there’s reportedly now more than 50 people working on it.

It could launch in the first half of 2019

The New York Times’ report on Thursday provides a tentative timeline for when it could finally launch: The paper’s sources say Facebook is aiming to launch something in the first half of 2019. The company has also reportedly talked to cryptocurrency exchanges, platforms where users can buy and sell digital currencies, about supporting Facebook’s product.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the new report, and cited a boilerplate statement: “Like many other companies Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology. This new small team is exploring many different applications. We don’t have anything further to share.”

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