The Libra Association and its 28 founding members have been the subject of much controversy since the project was launched in June. Regulators and analysts around the world have questioned the audacity of the entity, which originally said that it was hoping to launch a global digital currency in January of 2020.
However, as the reported launch date grows closer, the pressure has begun to build. Last Wednesday, Bloomberg that four payments companies–Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, and Stripe Inc.– were
Then, on Thursday morning, the Financial Times that Paypal representatives did not show at a scheduled meeting for Libra participants.
Finally, on Friday, Bloomberg that Paypal was –a move that has sparked much discussion about the future of Libra.
Did Paypal make the right move? And what could its exodus from Libra mean for the project in the grand scheme of things?
The current head of Libra is the former president of Paypal
Sarah Frier, a tech reporter for Bloomberg based in San Francisco, pointed out on Twitter that the withdrawal may have particular significance due to the ties that Libra has with Paypal.
“Blow to Facebook, especially considering David Marcus, heading up Libra, used to be a PayPal exec,” she wrote. Indeed, Marcus served as the President of PayPal from April of 2012 to July of 2014; Bloomberg noted that Facebook’s blockchain team is also comprised of a number of former PayPal employees.
PayPal says it’s not going to be part of the Libra Association. Blow to Facebook, especially considering David Marcus, heading up Libra, used to be a PayPal exec.
“We remain supportive of Libra’s aspirations,” PayPal says in a statement
— Sarah Frier (@sarahfrier)
PayPal didn’t explain exactly what their reasons for leaving were, but a company spokesman said that t“continue to focus on advancing our existing mission and business priorities as we strive to democratize access to financial services for underserved populations.” Furthermore, Paypal also said that it was open to future collaborations with LIbra: “[we] look forward to continued dialogue on ways to work together in the future.”
Libra’s response to Paypal’s exodus was rather cheeky: “It requires a certain boldness and fortitude to take on an endeavor as ambitious as Libra,” wrote Dante Disparte, Libra Association’s head of policy and communications, in a statement–a “certain and boldness and fortitude” that he doesn’t seem to think that Paypal has.
Updated comment from the Libra Association is a little spicy
— Kurt Wagner (@KurtWagner8)
“The journey will be long and challenging. The type of change that will reconfigure the financial system to be tilted towards people, not the institutions serving them, will be hard.”
Disparte also wrote that Libra is “We’re better off knowing about this lack of commitment now, rather than later.” Indeed, the companies that have tentatively agreed to be members of the Libra Association haven’t technically fully committed yet–according to Bloomberg, they have merely signed “nonbinding letters of intent to explore joining the association,” and will be asked to reaffirm their later this month.
According to Disparte, there are at least 1500 entities that have expressed “enthusiastic interest” to become backers of the project. In other words, Paypal probably won’t be missed.
The Libra Assoc. confirmed that PayPal is indeed out.
Also said the first Libra Council meeting is set for Oct 14, and that they are excited to share “details of the 1,500 entities that have indicated enthusiastic interest to participate.”
Aka: PayPal will be replaced
— Kurt Wagner (@KurtWagner8)
”Some of Libra’s early supporters are clearly growing uneasy about where all the attention is coming from.”
Although Paypal didn’t give any specific reasons for quitting the project, Bloomberg reported that according to sources familiar with the matter, the decision was made because the company is “concerned about maintaining positive relationships with regulators who have reservations about the project.” Visa, Mastercard, and Stripe are also reportedly considering withdrawal from Libra for similar reasons.
Matt Baer, founder and CEO of blockchain travel rewards company KeyoCoin, told Finance Magnates that the regulatory pressure on the project has been intense.
Kyle Asman, partner at BX3 Capital, said in an email to Finance Magnates that “Paypal withdrew because it doesn’t want to be subject to the strict regulatory scrutiny that is going to come down on all of the members of the association,” adding that “I expect most of the companies will drop out prior to making a financial commitment.”
Will other players follow suit?
Indeed, whether or not Paypal will simply be the first in a long line of companies that will jump ship on the project is certainly the million-dollar–or perhaps billion-dollar question.
“There’s no doubt that such a high profile departure will be felt like a nail in the side for Facebook and the Libra Association,” Baer told Finance Magnates, “but it’s too early to say if it’s also the first nail in the coffin for the currency itself. There is still plenty of confidence that the project will succeed, and a healthy number of supporters throwing their weight behind it, but any hopes that Libra will be a truly global currency are fading fast.”
However, there’s still a chance that Paypal’s exodus could be a one-off phenomenon: “one thing is certain. If Facebook wants to shrug off Paypal’s departure, it will need to show that it has taken regulators’ fears of money laundering and tax evasion seriously, has a clear plan for compliant rollout, while also convincing members of the Libra Association that the considerable regulatory scrutiny will not bleed into their own businesses,” Baer said.
And indeed, David Marcus, who heads the Libra project, has remained cool as a cucumber in the face of rumours of backers getting cold feet: “I can tell you that we’re very calmly, and confidently working through the legitimate concerns that Libra has raised by bringing conversations about the value of digital currencies to the forefront,” he Tweeted on October 2nd in response to reports that companies were considering leaving.
4) The tone of some of this reporting suggests angst, etc… I can tell you that we’re very calmly, and confidently working through the legitimate concerns that Libra has raised by bringing conversations about the value of digital currencies to the forefront.
— David Marcus (@davidmarcus)
Libra as competition?
Regulatory scrutiny may not be the only reason that companies may choose to leave the project. Kyle Asman , partner at BX3 Capital, also speculated that other companies could withdraw from Libra because they may have begun to see the project as a competitor for “projects I would presume [the companies] are working on internally.”
In addition to the “opportunity to get things right and improve financial inclusion” that Dante Disparte described Libra as, future e-commerce and payment partnerships could be harder to come by for companies that are withdrawing at this stage of the game–partnerships that could potentially draw in more users.
For example, one Reddit user wrote that Paypal’s exodus from Libra “
“99.99% of my customers use PayPal checkout on my online store (using their credit/debit card or PayPal account), and I was hoping that since PayPal was one of the Libra founders, this meant I could seamlessly go from PayPal to Libra, then deposit that Libra onto an exchange where I could easily convert it to BTC. That would’ve basically meant I could very painlessly buy BTC with all my online store earnings.”
Facebook’s reputation with user data
It’s also possible that Paypal may have made the decision to withdraw from Libra because of Facebook’s poor reputation with the way that it handles users’ data privacy.
Indeed, Jonathan Merry, Co-Founder of MoneyTransfers.com, told Finance Magnates that Paypal may have also wanted to withdraw from Libra because of Facebook’s reputation with the general public.
Indeed, concerns about the way that the Libra Association will handle users’ data was during hearings with the and the in July.
Fear of lawsuits
Companies who choose to stay in the Libra Association may have other legal concerns outside of pressure and scrutiny from regulators
Nick Szabo, computer scientist, legal scholar, cryptographer, and one of the individuals suspected to be behind the “Satoshi Nakamoto” pseudonym, said in response to Sarah Friers’ tweet on Paypal’s exodus that “trusted third parties are lawyer magnets”, pointing to a class-action lawsuit that was brought against Ripple Labs in 2018 as a possible warning on the fate of companies that are currently involved in Libra.
Trusted third parties are lawyer magnets:
— Nick Szabo 🔑 (@NickSzabo4)
The case against Ripple accused the company of having sold unregistered securities. While the case still has not received class-action status, it has not yet been dismissed: Ripple formally asked that a US federal court throw out the case in September of this year.
People bought XRP. Price dropped and they lost money. Now they filed a class action against Ripple.
I don’t support this for what it’s worth, people should take some personal responsibility every once in awhile. Nobody forced them to buy XRP.
— Matt Odell (@matt_odell)
Whether or not this particular case against Ripple is valid, it’s certainly not hard to imagine a world in which members of the Libra Association become targets of lawsuit-happy individuals and companies.
The problem with permissioned ledgers
RhythmTrader, a popular cryptocurrency-related Twitter channel, tweeted that the exodus of PayPal from Libra only highlights the problems with the rather centralized nature of the project.
BREAKING: PayPal just withdrew from Facebook’s Libra.
And the dominoes begin to fall from the regulatory pressure, only highlighting the benefits of a permissionless network.
— Rhythm (@Rhythmtrader)
Indeed, although Libra has billed itself as a “simple global currency” that is built on a “decentralized blockchain”, there have been serious doubts as to exactly how decentralized it is. Each of the Libra Association’s hand-picked members will act as a “node”, or a computing system that upholds the Libra network.
Therefore, if members of the Libra Association choose to quit the project, the network could be left vulnerable–either with a smaller number of nodes as new ones or selected, or nodes with compromised quality.
However, if there is a maximum of 100 nodes on Libra, that means that only 51 would need to be compromised in order to cause a problem on the network. While each of the chosen nodes (so far) are entities with enough cash and power to build formidable machines, it’s not impossible that a hacker could find a way to compromise half of them, and if there are less than 100 nodes at any point, the network becomes even more vulnerable.
Earlier this year, Robin Lee Allen, Managing Partner at Esperance Private Equity, told Finance Magnates that Libra is “set up like a central banking consortium. ‘Permissioned access’ gives power to certain actors, in this case Uber, Andreesen Horowitz and PayPal.”
And in the days before he disappeared from the internet, Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto wrote that centralized e-currency systems are “doomed to fail.”
“A lot of people automatically dismiss e-currency as a lost cause because of all the companies that failed since the 1990’s. I hope it’s obvious it was only the centrally controlled nature of those systems that doomed them.” – Satoshi Nakamoto
— Bitcoin (@Bitcoin)