Zuckerberg to Admit That Facebook Has Trust Issues

SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg hopes that one day, in the not too distant future, billions of people will use a cryptocurrency created by Facebook to send money to friends and family around the world.

Mr. Zuckerberg also recognizes that his company is a major impediment to that vision.

Mr. Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, is expected to admit as much on Wednesday when he testifies about his company’s cryptocurrency project at a House Financial Services Committee hearing.

“I believe this is something that needs to get built, but I understand we’re not the ideal messenger right now,” Mr. Zuckerberg will say, according to written testimony submitted before the hearing. “I know some people wonder whether we can be trusted to build payment services that protect consumers.”

A torrent of criticism has been directed toward Facebook’s cryptocurrency effort, called Libra, since it was announced in June. But the company is pressing on. And Facebook officials over the last week have been on a charm offensive with regulators and lawmakers in Washington, leading up to Wednesday’s hearing.

In his testimony, Mr. Zuckerberg is expected to promote the benefits of Libra. He plans to describe Libra as a democratizing financial system that will mostly benefit the poor, as well as the estimated 14 million people in the United States who do not have access to bank accounts and who cannot afford banking fees.

“People pay far too high a cost — and have to wait far too long — to send money home to their families abroad. The current system is failing them,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in the advance version of his testimony. “The financial industry is stagnant and there is no digital financial architecture to support the innovation we need. I believe this problem can be solved, and Libra can help.”

Facebook’s cryptocurrency project is the latest controversy to draw Mr. Zuckerberg to Washington.

Last week, he delivered a manifesto on free expression at Georgetown University, defying requests by Democratic politicians to take down false and misleading information by political leaders. Weeks earlier, he met with President Trump and Republican lawmakers to beat down accusations that Facebook gives priority to liberal-leaning content.

The House hearing will be the second time Mr. Zuckerberg has testified on Capitol Hill. In 2018, he was asked to respond to claims that the company did not properly handle its users’ data and had not treated privacy concerns with seriousness.

A few weeks after Libra was unveiled, Maxine Waters, Democrat from California and chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, led several lawmakers in a call for Facebook to stop the project until it was vetted by lawmakers and regulators. David Marcus, the Facebook executive in charge of Libra, appeared before Ms. Waters’s committee in July, but he appeared to make little progress toward détente with the lawmakers.

Central bankers around the world have also expressed concerns about Libra. And regulators say they do not have clear answers on how Facebook will handle important tasks like preventing criminal activity and ensuring the privacy of users.

Facebook officials envision Libra being incorporated into the company’s various messaging services, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It could, over time, create a new revenue stream for the company.

Though Facebook said it plans to allow people to use the cryptocurrency free, executives proposed offering different types of consumer financial services if the cryptocurrency catches on. Calibra, the separate entity Facebook has created to work on the Libra project, could ultimately offer financial products to people who regularly use Libra — much as a bank would.

Facebook originally brought on 27 partners to join a Libra Association in Switzerland that is supposed to govern the network. But several big-name partners, including PayPal, Mastercard and Visa, have dropped out in recent weeks.

In his testimony, Mr. Zuckerberg will say that Facebook will not allow the project to move forward until it gains the approval of the necessary regulators.

“Even though the Libra Association is independent and we don’t control it, I want to be clear: Facebook will not be part of launching the Libra payments system anywhere in the world until U.S. regulators approve,” he is expected to say.

The committee oversees housing, and Ms. Waters is expected to press Mr. Zuckerberg on accusations that Facebook has allowed discriminatory ad targeting for housing.

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