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Jack Ma, a co-founder of Alibaba, was recently asked about the secret of his success. “I know nothing about technology,” he said. “I know nothing about marketing.” He said what he knows about is people. A successful business, he said, is all about making people happy.
I’ve decided to make people happy with Zuckbucks or, if you want to be formal about it, Libra.
That is the new financial system announced by Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, with huge fanfare last month. It provides a way to transfer money, the company says, without having to deal with today’s system of central banks and financial giants.
As with all new ideas in business, it makes me wonder whether it can make me obscenely rich, or at least a little indecently rich. I’ve had many ideas, yet I’m still driving an ailing 11-year-old car and not even buying avocado toast. So here’s hoping.
Yet strangely, not everyone shared my joy about this new venture.
“Can’t wait for a cryptocurrency with the ethics of Uber, the censorship resistance of PayPal, and the centralization of Visa, all tied together under the proven privacy of Facebook,” wrote Sarah Jamie Lewis, executive director of the Open Privacy Research Society. I know sarcasm when I see it. She wasn’t happy!
Some of the companies that signed on as Facebook partners seem a tad unenthusiastic, as well, my colleague Nathaniel Popper has reported.
On top of that, Steven M. Bellovin, an expert in computer security at Columbia University, said the venture would bring a whole new meaning to the federal bank regulations called “know your customer”: “Understanding ‘know your customer’ to mean ‘know everything possible about your customer.’”
Well, sure. Facebook knows an incredible amount about each of its users. What’s wrong with that?
Facebook is a friend who understands everything about me without having to ask. It knows my politics (anarcho-moderate), my favorite ice cream (Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean, when I can get it, with a drizzle of molasses), and my taste in music (The Austin Lounge Lizards and Jonathan Coulton, of course, like everybody. Right?).
How could anyone be unhappy with Facebook in any way? Or with cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin has been so great, we need more of them.
My first idea was to do with Libra what the Winklevoss twins did with other cryptocurrencies: Speculate! You might remember that the Winklevii, as they are sometimes called, were in on the founding of Facebook but got pushed out before the big money rushed in. They got a hefty settlement and put some of it into cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Unlike so many starry-eyed investors, they struck it superrich.
I wrote to them asking if they’d like to try again. Facebook made them rich in cryptocurrency, so why not become even richer through Facebook’s own cryptocurrency? As the Double Mint Twins used to say, more or less: Double your pleasure, double your funds.
But they haven’t written back yet. Whatever happened to manners?
Thinking big didn’t get me where I wanted to be, so I decided to go even brillianter, combining what I know about Facebook with what I know about cryptocurrency. Bingo! This new system could help me run for president.
After all, what’s one more member in this clown car of a primary season, especially one like me, a man shorter even than James Madison, a candidate who could make Marianne Williamson seem insightful and self aware?
Here’s my plan:
1) Get Cambridge Analytica or a company just like it to target people for political disinformation and build up my candidacy. It’s happened before, using Facebook data.
2) Harness cryptocurrency to buy votes. Candidates are always soliciting money on Facebook. Let’s reverse the process. We’ll send you cryptocurrency if you’ll vote for me!
Don’t you dare call it a bribe. That’s such an ugly word. Again: manners.
I called Siva Vaidhyanathan, an expert on Facebook and its effects on society, so that he could congratulate me on my genius idea.
Stunningly, he did not.
Mr. Vaidhyanathan’s problem is he knows things. He is the director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia and the author of “Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy.” Mr. Vaidhyanathan said that just as Libra was designed to be resistant to speculation, it was built to discourage the nefarious activities, like buying drugs and votes, that l really need.
Bitcoin is still a better bet for the skulduggery I had in mind, he suggested. “You could totally do it with Bitcoin,” he said.
Besides, he added, Facebook has promised that the subsidiary handling Libra will not share sensitive personal financial data with the rest of the company.
In fact, Kevin Weil, an executive at Calibra, the Libra subsidiary, told my colleagues Mike Isaac and Nathaniel Popper that “Your financial data will never be used to target ads on Facebook.” Which might even be true!
The biggest effect of the new network, Mr. Vaidhyanathan said, would be among people in the developing world who might not have bank accounts or credit cards but still need to transfer funds. Facebook could become a new version of Western Union, he said.
“That’s an incredible amount of power Facebook could hope to have over their financial lives,” he said. A vast moneymaking machine taking its cut from the $400 billion a year that flows from the northern hemisphere to the south each year, including enormous markets in South Asia and Africa, could be in Facebook’s future. The size of the network, he said, made Facebook one of the few companies in the world that could even think of pulling this off.
Double bummer! Bummervii!
None of this is going to repair my old car, or even put me in avocado toast. It won’t even make me president.
I’ve got one more idea: Make a new cryptocurrency of my own.
Are you ready for Schwartzbucks? Or should it be Schwartzshekels? I’ll get to that bridge when I burn it. For now, I’ve got to figure out what blockchain is. Or forge ahead without knowing what I’m doing, right Mr. Ma?
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