The top executive overseeing Facebook’s efforts to get into cryptocurrency and international money transfers quit on Tuesday, further complicating the company’s efforts to gain a foothold in the fast-growing world of digital currencies and blockchain technology.
David Marcus’s high-profile departure comes just months after the company began hitting walls in Washington when it relaunched its initiative to use cryptocurrency to allow its users to make payments and send money to each other without transaction fees. The project has faced delays and name changes since it was first announced in 2019, coming under scrutiny from regulators and users, many of whom are already concerned about the social media giant’s power.
“My entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it,” Mr Marcus said in tweets announcing his departure. Stephane Kasriel, a vice president in Facebook’s fintech and crypto division, will take over the job, Mr Marcus said. A spokesperson for Facebook did not return a request for comment.
Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology could also be a central part of Facebook’s efforts to rebrand under its new corporate name, Meta, and move beyond social media to build its own “metaverse” – a vague term that refers to a future where people use augmented and virtual reality tech to spend more time in communal digital spaces.
Cryptocurrency investors envision a world where blockchain tech – which allows for transaction and ownership records without the need for a centralised database or authority like a bank or government – would serve as the backbone for a metaverse where people meet, work and conduct commerce. In the last year, prices for digital art and real estate linked to blockchains have skyrocketed.
Facebook has experienced a string of executive departures in recent years as the company has been mired in controversies, including recent revelations from an internal whistleblower showing the scope of societal harm the tech giant knew it caused. The company’s policy director for counterterrorism and dangerous organisations – who played a key role in managing fallout from the 6 January insurrection – also left last month. The Post and other media outlets reported on the role the company played in fueling that event.
Mr Marcus was recruited by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2014 from PayPal to help lead Facebook’s Messenger app. In 2018, the company put him in charge of its cryptocurrency efforts, and a year later it unveiled Libra, the original name of the project to use a cryptocurrency to facilitate international money transfers. Politicians objected, and the company agreed not to launch Libra until it got regulatory approval in the United States. Other companies, including eBay, PayPal and Visa, that had originally signed on in support of the project pulled out.
Facebook renamed the project Diem, and announced its own payments and cryptocurrencies app called Novi. The new iteration of Facebook’s cryptocurrency would be a stablecoin – a kind of cryptocurrency that has its value pinned to a real-world currency or basket of assets like US Treasury bonds. Facebook executives have been lobbying the White House on the new plan, but concerns persist and the project garnered renewed pushback in Washington, The Washington Post reported in September. Treasury Department officials are concerned a cryptocurrency dominated by Facebook could be a danger to the economy if it became popular and then crashed, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Facebook’s efforts in the space have been hailed by some cryptocurrency boosters as another sign that digital currencies are the future. But some blockchain enthusiasts and crypto investors are concerned about a powerful corporation ultimately controlled by one person pushing into a space that was originally meant to help free people from having to rely on big companies and governments to do business and make payments.
The Washington Post