Facebook's long-rumored cryptocurrency finally got its big debut, and it's called Libra after all.

Facebook today released a lengthy white paper, along with a post from Mark Zuckerberg and another from VP of blockchain David Marcus, announcing the ambitious crypto initiative and all that comes with it.

The open-source Libra cryptocurrency and blockchain will be governed by the nonprofit Libra Association, while a new Facebook-owned subsidiary called Calibra will release a wallet for Libra tokens and ultimately other banking and finance products—a move that could turn Facebook into a financial services giant in addition to a social and advertising one.

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While the public launch of Libra won't happen until the first half of 2020, the developer testnet of the Libra blockchain is live today. There will also be a new programming language called Move for developers to build distributed applications atop the Libra blockchain, though Facebook said neither itself nor the Libra Foundation will be in charge of vetting and approving apps, meaning there could be the potential for fraudulent or scam apps.

We've heard rumblings about a secret blockchain project since last May, when Cheddar's Alex Heath reported that Facebook had been exploring blockchain and the creation of its own cryptocurrency for use within its apps since 2017. Facebook's goal is to launch a virtual token allowing anyone in the world—and particularly billions of unbanked individuals who don't have bank accounts but do have smartphones—the ability to make seamless digital payments and transfers both inside and out of Facebook's apps.

There's a staggering amount of technical detail to how the permissioned Libra blockchain works (read: not completely open like Bitcoin and Ethereum) and how the Libra Association will keep the price stable using a reserve asset pool tied to multiple currencies including the dollar, pound, euro, Swiss franc, and yen.

But for consumers wary of trusting their money and financial data to a company known for privacy problems, there are a few important points Facebook is hammering home with Libra. Not only is it ceding control of the blockchain, but Facebook's social data and Libra's financial data will be kept entirely separate. You don't need a Facebook or WhatsApp account to use Libra or sign up for Calibra.

While users will be vetted for anti-fraud protection when setting up an account, like other blockchains there will be no personal information associated with Libra and all transactions will be encrypted. Facebook can't take the data from your transaction history and use it to target ads or sell you products.

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What We Know About Libra

Cheddar reported in December that Facebook was on a hiring spree led by Marcus, the ex-PayPal president who formerly served as VP of Facebook's Messaging products. Marcus, an early Bitcoin investor who serves on the Coinbase board, confirmed he was leaving Messenger to focus on heading "a small group to explore how to best leverage Blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch."

The team has grown from a dozen members to more than 50 employees, including the former team behind blockchain startup Chainspace, which Facebook acquired in February.

Facebook explored a number of different avenues while figuring out exactly how the financial side of its cryptocurrency will work. After meeting with dozens of financial institutions and tech companeis about backing its token (including Zuckerberg's old friends the Winklevoss twins), Facebook decided to give up absolute control by setting up an independent governance body called the Libra Association, based out of Geneva, Switzerland, to oversee the token.

The 27 founding members of the Libra Assocation paid a minimum of $10 million to operate a node on Facebook's blockchain underlying the token, which will be a stablecoin—meaning Facebook's cryptocurrency will have a stable price during payments and transactions backed by a number of different global currencies beyond just the US dollar. Facebook employees will reportedly have the option of taking the cryptocurrency as part of their salaries.

At launch and for the foreseeable future, Libra will not be a permissionless blockchain other cryptocurrencies, meaning that it's not truly decentralized: not just anyone can set up a node and join the blockchain. Facebook said it couldn't figure out how to make a permissionless blockchain scalable to the number of transactions Libra is expected to see; upwards of 1,000 per second. Libra has a vague plan to transition to a permissionless system "within five years," but for now the association will focus on adding new, vetted members.

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