By Gina Clarke
“It’s OK to not use Calibra,” that was the message from Kevin Weil, vice president of product at Facebook who oversees the Calibra digital wallet unit, as he spoke on the opening day of Portugal’s WebSummit.
In a conversation with Financial Times global technology correspondent Tim Bradshaw, Weil told a packed Altice Arena that he wanted businesses and entrepreneurs to build alternatives and apps using the open-source Libra software.
Tackling the issue of Calibra, the wallet made by Facebook built on Libra, he said: “There are going to be people who are not comfortable using a financial product build by Facebook,” before calling on members of the conference to get involved and create solutions to help lower the financial burden of sending money that is often faced by the poorest in society.
The former Instagram CEO, who admitted that he dabbled in cryptocurrency before Libra’s announcement and was a big Bitcoin fan, said that he became attracted to the altruistic properties of the payment currency. He said, “It was the most ambitious thing I’d ever heard of. I should have been thinking of Instagram but instead I was waking up and thinking of this project instead.” With Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to the issue, Weil was soon on board full-time.
Calibra was launched as Facebook’s own wallet that would avoid the volatility of cryptocurrencies while providing a global way to transfer money within a social network
His aim? To make Calibra accessible to the unbanked as well as society as a whole. He spoke of hard working families who often have to wait days to receive remittances and pay fees of as much as 7% per transaction. “That husband and wife are probably already having a conversation in WhatsApp” he said, “So why can’t they transfer money through the same platform, and instantly. No matter where they are.”
He reiterated the stance from Calibra to launch the application within WhatsApp and Messenger alone, allowing users the ability to send money across borders, but only when all regulatory concerns have been addressed. The Libra Association has been criticized recently as backers such as Visa and MasterCard have withdrawn, however, Weil said that regulators were still on board with the idea.
Addressing the issues of privacy, Weil made the announcement that all transaction details made through Calibra will be kept private from personal Facebook profiles and will not be included in a users advertising preferences. While he appreciated that some consumers may have a distrust of the platform, he reasoned that this was why the Libra Association was determined to make the software open source, so that other wallets and apps may emerge.
“Payments should be like email,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what platform you are using you should still be able to receive that money, right now that isn’t possible. If you are using Venmo but your friend isn’t then that’s a problem. Anyone with a smart phone will be able to access Calibra.”
Initially announced in June, the Switzerland-based Libra Association will aim to work with regulators and key partners, including Facebook, to put forward a consortium that would oversee the digital currency. Calibra was launched as Facebook’s own wallet that would avoid the volatility of cryptocurrencies while providing a global way to transfer money within a social network.
However, Weil ended his conversation by saying that the company were not trying to build Calibra into a new social network, but rather enhance the current offering. He added, “This is the work not of years, but of decades.”