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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Yesterday's privacy announcement from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been framed as a response to public outcry about the company's lax data privacy standards, but it's really about Facebook going all in on what it sees as the future of communication, payments and life.

What's next? The new "Facebook coin," even if not quickly adopted by payment processors, can become a global currency that users of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram can use to complete transactions among themselves anywhere in the world.

  • The inspiration here also comes from China, where cash is essentially a thing of the past. Even with merchants on the street, customers use Alibaba's mobile payment processor Alipay and Tencent's WeChat Pay to buy everything.
  • As Shannon Liao wrote for The Verge last year, WeChat is not just a platform where people talk to friends, it's where they "play video games, pay bills, find restaurants, book doctor appointments, file police reports, hail taxis, hold video conferences and access banking services. State-run media and government agencies also have official WeChat accounts, where they can directly communicate with users."

Both platforms individually handled more payments in a single month in 2017 than PayPal's $451 billion for that entire year, according to research firm Analysys. In 2017, mobile payments totaled $32 trillion, according to the People's Bank of China.

  • With that kind of scale and access to user data (which will deepen substantially with tracking of users' bank accounts and spending habits in addition to their phone records, messaging history, location and searches) it's not hard to imagine companies won't pay up to accept and get a piece of Facebook coin — to say nothing of advertising.

Yes, but: There's no guarantee this all works out for Facebook. The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed Americans are averse to at least some level of privacy invasion and whereas the Chinese government is basically a partner in WeChat, the U.S. government may prove more of an adversary for Facebook.

Go deeper: Facebook’s pivot is bigger than privacy

Go deeper

53 mins ago - Health

Vaccine shipment companies targeted by cyberattacks, IBM says

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A global phishing campaign has been trying to gain information from organizations working to ship coronavirus vaccines since September, IBM's cybersecurity arm said on Thursday.

Why it matters: Successfully distributing a COVID vaccine will already be challenging for the U.S. and other wealthy countries, especially to rural areas with less resources — while poorer countries are expected to have delayed access.

Fauci to meet with Biden transition for first time

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The government's top infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci will stay on at the National Institutes of Health and plans to meet virtually with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team for the first time Thursday to discuss the coronavirus response, he told CBS News.

Why it matters: Fauci, widely viewed as one of the country's most trusted voices on the coronavirus, said it will be the first "substantive" conversation between he and Biden's team. He said he has not yet spoken with Biden directly, but has connected several times with incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Updated 4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Our make-believe economy is here to stay

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Federal Reserve and global central banks are remaking the world's economy in an effort to save it, but have created something of a monster.

Why it matters: The Fed-driven economy relies on the creation of trillions of dollars — literally out of thin air — that are used to purchase bonds and push money into a pandemic-ravaged economy that has long been dependent on free cash and is only growing more addicted.