SAN FRANCISCO: Face­book unveiled plans on Tuesday for a new global cryptocurrency called Libra, pledging to bring a stable virtual money that lives on smartphones and brings the “unbanked” billions into the financial system.

The Libra coin plan, backed by financial and nonprofit partners, represents an ambitious new initiative for the world’s biggest social network with the potential to bring crypto-money out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Facebook and some two dozen partners released a prototype of Libra as an open source code for developers interested in weaving it into apps, services or businesses ahead of a rollout as global digital money next year.

The nonprofit Libra Association based in Geneva will oversee the blockchain-based coin, maintaining a real-world asset reserve to keep its value stable.

The initiative has the potential to allow more than a billion “unbanked” people around the world access to online commerce and financial services at minimal cost, said Libra Association head of policy and communications Dante Disparte.

“We believe if you give people access to money and opportunity at the lowest cost, the way the internet itself did in the past with information, you can create a lot more stability than we have had up until now,” Disparte told AFP.

Libra Association debuted with 28 members including Mastercard, Visa, Stripe, Kiva, PayPal, Lyft, Uber and Women’s World Banking.

“Sending money to your friend shouldn’t be harder than getting them an Uber ride home,” said Uber head of payments and risk Peter Hazlehurst.

“Libra has the potential to bridge the gap between traditional financial networks and new digital currency technology, while reducing the costs for everyone.”

Facebook will be just one voice among many in the association, but is separately building a digital wallet called Calibra.

“We view this as a complement to Facebook’s mission to connect people wherever they are; that includes allowing them to exchange value,” Calibra vice president of operations Tomer Barel told AFP.

“Many people who use Facebook are in countries where there are barriers to banking or credit.” Calibra is being built into Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp with a goal of letting users send Libra as easily as they might fire off a text message.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2019