One of the least responsible corporations in decades has no right to declare itself a bank
Facebook was founded on a violation of trust. A decade and a half later Zuckerberg’s avarice has metastasized into the Facebook we love to hate:
The Facebook plagued by an absurdly long history of data breaches, related lawsuits, and FTC settlements old and new. The Facebook that violated federal housing discrimination laws. The Facebook that enabled the genocide of the Rohingya. The Facebook that brought you the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Facebook that knew and covered up the fact that propagandists were weaponizing its platform. The Facebook that creates jobs so bad they give employees PTSD. The same Facebook that makes money hand over fist while chronically dodging its tax liability.
They say power corrupts, but Facebook had problems from the start. The founding story of Facebook begins with a teenage Zuckerberg surreptitiously scraping images from the Harvard intranet to build Facebook’s predecessor Facemash. He went on to settle lawsuits with Aaron Greenspan and the Winklevoss twins over the creation Facebook. He shocked early users in 2007 when the first Facebook advertising tool, Beacon, used data harvested from 3rd parties to target ads. The company may have aged worse than a box of Franzia, but it was never a shining example of corporate responsibility.
As a result of its chronically bad behavior, Facebook’s founder has been on a perpetual apology tour from the very start. Much like the slew of “we’re so sorrys”, the company’s recent pivot to privacy reeks of duplicity. The public nature of Facebook makes their flagrant behavior all too easy to find — and what better way to hide the problems from journalists and regulators than moving those interactions into encrypted side channels. Facebook has had ample time and opportunity to demonstrate their genuine desire to protect their customers. Facebook has always had the resources to keep up with security best practices, but instead they continue to violate even some of the most fundamental constants in the field. Now—only after buying a competitor that supported end-to-end encrypted messaging — Facebook says it is deeply committed to privacy.
If the leadership at Facebook had any real desire to secure data, reduce permanence, and keep people safe — as they now claim — that desire would have made itself apparent in both the product itself and the decision making apparatus of the company. Facebook has time and time again shown us what they value by chasing growth and cash at the expense of their users. Facebook’s leadership structure is a dictatorship, and Facebook’s product is well loved by real life dictators, who have used the platform to crack down on opposition, spread propaganda, and censor or suppress information, often with the help of Facebook itself.
Facebook’s leadership intentionally created an addictive product that preyed on our natural weaknesses. They helped spread the culture of outrage and filter bubbles that have critically wounded our national conversations. They harvested our data at a massive scale, then continued to leave that data vulnerable to attack after attack. They did all this all in the sacred name of selling advertisements.
They moved fast. They broke things. And now, after 15 years of abhorrent behavior, Facebook wants to be a global financial institution. With negative credibility related to privacy and data stewardship they want you to trust them with not just your financial history, but your hard earned money. After inventing the largest surveillance apparatus in history, they want to co-opt an idea born out of the Cypherpunk movement and call themselves revolutionaries. With no experience whatsoever acting as a financial institution, Facebook now wants to call themselves a central bank.
We don’t need Facebook to disrupt the global financial system. We don’t need a Venmo-knockoff disguised as a cryptocurrency from a company that can’t even get password hashing right. The most vulnerable populations in the world don’t need their first bank account to be managed by one of the least responsible corporations of the new gilded age.
Facebook should abandon Libra and fix its core product instead.
Facebook’s newfound desire to be the bank of the bankless is born out of the same colonialist hubris as Facebook’s Free Basics program — disguised as the gift of the internet Facebook has created local monopolies and made their own website synonymous with the internet. Now, they want to further monetize the communities they brought online by expanding their monopoly as the sole ISP into sole ISP and bank.
If Facebook can’t protect user’s private data, they have no business collecting their financial transactions. If they can’t prevent propagandists from hijacking their product, they have no right to manage our cash. If they can’t protect groups like the Rohingya from a genocide incited on their platform, they definitely don’t deserve to provide those same populations with banking services.
Back in the Harvard dorm-room days Zuckerberg was astounded that anyone trusted him with their private data. The younger Zuck used some choice language to describe how “dumb” we were for trusting him with that data. It was a long time ago and — of course — he has since apologized. But all these years later I can’t help but think he was right: We were fools to trust Mark back then and that’s exactly what we’ll be if we trust Facebook to become a bank now.