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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Saturday, 30.05.2020, 14:21

Libra – a new global digital currency

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, BC International Editor, Copenhagen, 05.07.2019.Print version
Recent interest in crypto currencies around the world has prompted renewed interest in a new digital token, the Libra, as a “bitcoin”, which was initially introduced in 2008-09 and has become since a most widely used and accepted digital currency.

Bitcoin is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that uses strong cryptography to secure financial transactions, control the creation of additional units, and verify the transfer of assets. Crypto currencies use decentralized control as opposed to centralized digital currency and central banking systems.  

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Short history

For example, Wikipedia provides a short history of “digital currency” starting with an idea of digital cash (by David Chaum in 1983), with the DigiCash as a first electronic cash company in 1990; after eight years it filed for bankruptcy. 

Another idea of so-called e-gold, as the first widely used “internet money” was introduced in 1996, and grew to several million users before the US Government shut it down in 2008. Users of the e-gold mailing list used the term "digital currency" to describe peer to peer payments in various instruments.

In 1997, Coca-Cola offered buying from vending machines using mobile payments; the PayPal was launched its $US-denominated service in 1998. In 2009, bitcoin was launched, which marked the start of decentralized blockchain-based digital currencies with no central server, and no tangible assets held in reserve.

Also known as crypto-currencies, blockchain-based digital currencies proved resistant to attempt by government to regulate them, because there was no central organization or person with the power to turn them off, acknowledged Wiki-authors.

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Japanese digital programmer, Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008was the first to develop a bitcoin, called at that time BTC using a de-centralised server and a database technology, blockchain; the latter required and electronic signature and certain legitimacy for money transactions. Initially bitcoin’s market was about 21 million, which turned presently to $191 billion being the most popular kind of digital currency in the world (see Table below). Buying and selling crypto-currency is available through special Bitcoin exchange platforms or ATMs.

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Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer version of electronic cash that allows payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work; in this way it is forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work.  


More on “blockchains”

The validity of each crypto currency's coins is provided by a blockchain, which a sort of continuously growing list of “records”, called blocks linked and secured by using cryptography.  Each block typically contains a “hash pointer” as a link to a previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. 

By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data: as is known, it is a sort of open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. 

Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority.

Blockchains are an example of a distributed computing system which solves two problems: a kind of trusted authority and a central server, which can serve several crypto currencies.

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Libra –a new currency

Recently, in particular during 2019, the social network Facebook has been announcing offers of its own crypto currency Libra based on blockchain. The message has entailed rising rates for the bitcoin as an already existing digital currency.

Thus a social media has entered a “combat field” of digital currencies to change the current business model and bind the users with new services.

However, possible customers could run a strong risk from this and other alternative currencies which are without any supervision. Even though Facebook is planning its crypto currency as a “stablecoin”, which means it is linked to a specific governmental currency; experts consider this trend with caution.

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Officials’ opinion on Libra

The head of the US Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, mentioned in June 2019 that he recognized both potential benefits and risks to Facebook’s unveiled Libra crypto-currency project.

He believed that modern societies remain a long way from digital currencies replacing central bank currencies, and that the central banks are not “too concerned about being able to implement monetary policy because of them given the infancy of the digital asset class”.

Mr. Powell acknowledged both potential benefits and risks particularly of a digital currency such as Facebook’s, which would have a prospectively large application.

Soon after the Libra project was published, the French Minister of the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire said that the government intends to “ask for guarantees” from Facebook in regard to Libra.

The Bank of England governor Mark Carney believes “we will wind up having quite high expectations from a safety and soundness and regulatory standpoint if they do decide to go forward with something.”\

Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Financial Market Anatoly Aksakov said that the country would not legalize the use of the token.

Government officials worldwide have expressed a range of opinions on Facebook’s new token, which could have potential exposure to a combined 2.7 billion users each month.

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There are Nordic “players” in the digital currencies as well: for example, Coinify is a global virtual currency player offering two-way virtual currency to fiat conversion services for businesses and individuals; it was incorporated in 2014 with the headquarters in Denmark.

Coinify is backed by five main investors: SEB Venture Capital, Nordic Eye Venture Capital, SEED Capital Denmark, PreSeed Venture and Accelerace; besides, Bitcoin Nordic is acquired by Coinify.

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Table: Most popular crypto currencies in the world


Bitcoin as a doubtful investment

The fear of missing out on something draws the attention to Libra, just as the current bitcoin rates. But excessive euphoria suppresses the risks, and strong profit taking can only make a few happy, as the price is falling again.

However, the platform operator Facebook and the members of the appointed steering committee would profit the most as these “instances” are in control of the fund-like organised currency.

According to Facebook, only companies having a market value of at least one billion USD and investing ten million USD in Libra can join the Libra’s steering committee.

Up to now, apparently 28 of such partners exist; though they do not include any banks. Moreover, any type of regulation is missing in Libra although it is important to define clear regulatory guidelines for crypto-currencies.

Otherwise, as some experts say, with untested pseudo-currencies on the internet, customers would end up in the “stone age” of payment transactions.

There is somehow danger that the Libra crypto-currency could undermine national banks’ authority and erode their powers to influence the economy.

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