Facebook is working on a cryptocurrency for WhatsApp to rival bitcoin

Telegram and Signal also reportedly working on their own digital currencies

Anthony Cuthbertson
Friday 01 March 2019 13:47 GMT
What is cryptocurrency and the technology behind bitcoin and its rivals?

Facebook's much-rumoured cryptocurrency appears to be close to fruition, with reports suggesting the technology giant is within a few months of launching its own bitcoin-style currency.

A secret team of around 50 Facebook employees are working on the cryptocurrency, according to The New York Times, who cited five anonymous sources close to the project.

The social network first began working on the cryptocurrency in May last year, following one of the biggest management reshuffles in the company's history. Previous rumours have suggested the so-called stablecoin, which would be pegged to other currencies to avoid price volatility, would roll out to users of the popular messaging app WhatsApp.

A proposed merger of WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger could see the cryptocurrency eventually work across all Facebook-owned platforms.

Facebook is reportedly already in conversation with cryptocurrency exchanges about the launch of the new currency, which could take place within the next four months.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently spoke with Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain about the uncertainty surrounding the firm's blockchain ambitions, saying, "I haven't figured out a way to make this work out."

On of the biggest questions surrounding Facebook's cryptocurrency is whether or not it will be decentralised like bitcoin. Some industry experts have expressed doubt that Facebook would ever launch a coin that it cannot control.

Phil Chen, who masterminded the HTC Exodus 1 blockchain smartphone, believes the implementation of a private blockchain would be counter to the core benefits of cryptocurrency.

"Mark Zuckerberg doesn't have an idea how to implement it where Facebook doesn't own it," he told The Independent. "Cryptocurrencies are open, decentralised, censorship resistant and borderless – this is completely antithetical to the current business model of big technology companies, whose walled gardens mean they essentially own their customers."

Other messaging apps working on cryptocurrencies include Telegram and Signal, both of which are more likely to launch a more traditional-style cryptocurrency due to their strong advocacy of privacy.

In a letter to investors last month, Telegram said that its GRAM cryptocurrency is 90 per cent complete.

With billions of users worldwide, any cryptocurrency launched by Facebook would instantly eclipse bitcoin in terms of reach (iStock/ Composite/ The Independent)

A Facebook spokesperson directed request for comment about the latest report to the WhatsApp press office. WhatsApp did not respond.

In December, Facebook told The Independent that the company did have an interest in the technology but refused to give further details.

"Like many other companies, Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology," the spokesperson said. "This new small team is exploring many different applications."

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