Mar 7, 2019

Facebook's next big economic bet

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

Biden says he's starting VP search this month

Joe Biden. Photo: Scott Olson / Staff

Joe Biden said he's spoken to Sen. Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama about selecting a running mate — and that he wants to build "a bench of younger, really qualified people" who can lead the nation over the course of the next four presidential cycles.

Driving the news: Biden spoke about the state of the 2020 race during a virtual fundraiser on Friday night that was opened to pooled coverage.

Trump ousting intelligence community inspector general

Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community. Photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images

President Trump notified key lawmakers on Friday that he’s firing Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, who first alerted Congress last September of an "urgent" complaint from an official involving Trump's correspondence with the Ukrainian president.

Why it matters: The move, to take effect in 30 days, comes amid a broader initiative to purge the administration of officials seen as disloyal to the president.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Axios Visuals

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,097,909 — Total deaths: 59,131 — Total recoveries: 226,106Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 277,828 — Total deaths: 7,406 — Total recoveries: 9,772Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The federal government will cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
  4. 2020 latest: "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," President Trump said of the 2020 election, as more states hold primary elections by mail. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that every county in the state opted to expand mail-in voting for the state's June 2 primary.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start. The DOT is urging airlines to refund passengers due to canceled or rescheduled flights, but won't take action against airlines that provide vouchers or credits.
  6. Oil latest: The amount of gas American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  7. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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