Facebook’s Libra currency gets backing from MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and more

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CHENG FENG CHIANG via Getty Images

Today, Facebook finally announced its long-rumored cryptocurrency platform, Calibra. Some speculated that the company would rely on outside firms and existing cryptocurrency exchanges, like the Winklevoss twins’ Gemini. Instead, Facebook’s Calibra will use a brand new cryptocurrency, Libra. The cryptocurrency will be governed by the Libra Association — a purpose-built, independent non-profit headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

As of today, the Libra Association has 28 co-founders, including MasterCard, PayPal, Visa, eBay, Spotify, Uber, Lyft, Vodafone Group, Andreessen Horowitz, and of course, Facebook. The association formed to “manage and evolve” Libra, which aims to be a new global currency built on blockchain (Libra Blockchain) and backed by a reserve of assets (Libra Reserve). Libra won’t be limited to Facebook, and when it’s up and running, the association hopes it will “empower billions” by giving people access to financial services without necessarily requiring a bank account.

While Facebook played a key role in developing Libra Blockchain and the Libra Association, the final decision-making authority rests with the association as a whole. Each founding member will have the same commitments, privileges and financial obligations. That might give those reluctant to trust Facebook with their finances some peace of mind. Though Facebook will maintain control over Calibra, which it will run as a subsidiary. The company plans to launch its own Calibra wallet in Messenger, WhatsApp and a standalone app in 2020.

In its first months, the Libra Association plans to recruit more members and solicit feedback from regulators and policymakers. In total, it hopes to work with more than 100 members and to make Libra Blockchain open to everyone — consumers, developers and businesses alike. While the association itself is non-profit, David Marcus, Head of Calibra, told Engadget that for-profit businesses will be able to build services on top of the network. Facebook’s role in Libra will undoubtedly help it gain momentum, but there’s a good chance it will also attract scrutiny, as people question if a Facebook-backed crypto-exchange can keep sensitive information private and secure.

The full list of current Libra Association founding members is below:

Mastercard, PayPal, PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm), Stripe, Visa, Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook/Calibra, Farfetch, Lyft, Mercado Pago, Spotify AB, Uber Technologies, Inc., Iliad, Vodafone Group, Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Inc., Xapo Holdings Limited, Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures, Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva,Mercy Corps, Women’s World Banking.

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Revolut adds Apple Pay support in 16 markets

Fintech startup Revolut has expanded its support for Apple Pay, confirming that from today the payment option is available for users in 16 European markets.

The list of supported markets is: UK, France, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

Press reports last month suggested the UK challenger bank had inked Apple Pay agreements in markets including the UK, France, Germany and Switzerland.

It’s not clear what took Revolut so long to join the Apple Pay party.

Customers in the supported markets can add their Revolut card to Apple Pay via the Revolut app or via Apple’s Wallet app. Those without a plastic card can add a virtual card to Apple Wallet via the Revolut app and are able to start spending immediately, without having to wait for the physical card to arrive in the post.

Commenting in statement, Arthur Johanet, product owner for card payments at Revolut, said: “Revolut’s ultimate goal is to give our customers a useful tool to manage every aspect of their financial lives, and the ability to make payments quickly, conveniently and securely is vital to achieving this. Our customers have been requesting Apple Pay for a long time, so we are delighted to kick off our rollout, starting with our customers in 16 markets. This is a very positive step forward in enabling our customers to use their money in the way that they want to.”

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Google has quietly added DuckDuckGo as a search engine option for Chrome users in ~60 markets

In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it’s expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.

Many governments are now actively questioning how competition policy needs to be updated to rein in platform power and help smaller technology innovators get out from under the tech giant shadow.

But in a note about the changes to chromium’s default search engine lists on an Github instance, Google software engineer Orin Jaworski merely writes that the list of search engine references per country is being “completely replaced based on new usage statistics” from “recently collected data”.

The per country search engine choices appear to loosely line up with top four marketshare.

The greatest beneficiary of the update appears to be pro-privacy Google rival, DuckDuckGo, which is now being offered as an option in more than 60 markets, per the Github instance.

Previously DDG was not offered as an option at all.

Another pro-privacy search rivals, French search engine Qwant, has also been added as a new option — though only in its home market, France.

Whereas DDG has been added in Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Bolivia, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, India, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Moldova, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Paraguay, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, US and Venezuela.

“We’re glad that Google has recognized the importance of offering consumers a private search option,” DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg told us when approached for comment about the change.

DDG has been growing steadily for years, and has also recently taken outside investment to scale its efforts to capitalize on growing international appetite for pro-privacy products.

Interestingly, the chromium Github instance is dated December 2018 — which appears to be around about the time when Google (finally) passed the Duck.com domain to DuckDuckGo, after holding onto the domain and pointing it to Google.com for years.

We asked Google for comment on the timing of its changes to search engine options in chromium. At the time of writing the search giant had not responded.

We’ve also reached out to Qwant for comment on being added as an option in its home market.

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Swiss watchmaker's latest jab at the Apple Watch has no hands


H. Moser & Cie

Swiss watchmaker H. Moser & Cie is no stranger to taking digs at the Apple Watch. Its latest form of social commentary, however, is rather unique. The company has unveiled the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black, a mechanical watch that once more riffs on Apple’s design but doesn’t even have hands or a dial — the only thing on the front is a flying tourbillon mechanism to counteract the effects of gravity. Instead of looking at the watch to check the time, you’re suppose to sound a minute repeater whose chimes will tell you if you’re running late. This is supposed to be a callback to a time when you needed a repeater to tell the time in the dark, but it also happens to resemble an Apple Watch with the screen turned off.

If you want to adjust the time, you have to pull out the crown to see indicators guiding the way. That’s a pain, but at least the chimes are supposed to be powerful. H. Moser hollowed out the middle to create a resonance chamber and produce a powerful, “pure” sound.

But… why? According to H. Moser, it’s an attempt to go back to the roots of watchmaking. This brings the watch to its “rightful place” as a timekeeper rather than a “time-wasting ‘smart’ device displaying notifications,” the company said. If it wasn’t already clear, the firm isn’t too fond of smartwatches and their focus on convenience over tradition and opulence (shh, no one tell Montblanc).

Yes, this is a real product, and Wired noted that H. Moser already sold the first example. It’s already planning to make more. You won’t likely get one even if you’re well off, though. The combination of a platinum case, the unique construction and the intricacy of the tourbillon put its price at a staggering $350,000. There are clearly far less expensive (not to mention more practical) ways to thumb your nose at modern technology. For that matter, it makes the technology in question look like a bargain — you could buy 280 examples of the Apple Watch Series 4 Hermès with that kind of money.

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President Bolsonaro should boost Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

In late October following a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, the stock market for Latin America’s largest country shot up. Financial markets reacted favorably to the news because Bolsonaro, a free-market proponent, promises to deliver broad economic reforms, fight corruption and work to reshape Brazil through a pro-business agenda. While some have dubbed him as a far-right “Trump of the Tropics” against a backdrop of many Brazilians feeling that government has failed them, the business outlook is extremely positive.

When President-elect Bolsonaro appointed Santander executive Roberto Campos as new head of Brazil’s central bank in mid-November, Brazil’s stock market cheered again with Sao Paulo’s Bovespa stocks surging as much as 2.65 percent on the day news was announced. According to Reuters, “analysts said Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker who has admitted to having scant knowledge of economics, was assembling an experienced economic team to implement his plans to slash government spending, simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and sell off state-run companies.”

Admittedly, there are some challenges as well. Most notably, pension-system reform tops the list of priorities to get on the right track quickly. A costly pension system is increasing the country’s debt and contributed to Brazil losing its investment-grade credit rating in 2015. According to the new administration, Brazil’s domestic product could grow by 3.5 percent during 2019 if Congress approves pension reform soon. The other issue that’s cropped up to tarnish the glow of Bolsonaro coming into power are suspect payments made to his son that are being examined by COAF, the financial crimes unit.

While the jury is still out on Bolsonaro’s impact on Brazilian society at large after being portrayed as the Brazilian Trump by the opposition party, he’s come across as less authoritarian during his first days in office. Since the election, his tone is calmer and he’s repeatedly said that he plans to govern for all Brazilians, not just those who voted for him. In his first speech as president, he invited his wife to speak first which has never happened before.

Still, according to The New York Times, “some Brazilians remain deeply divided on the new president, a former army captain who has hailed the country’s military dictators and made disparaging remarks about women and minority groups.”

Others have expressed concern about his environment impact with the “an assault on environmental and Amazon protections” through an executive order within hours of taking office earlier this week. However, some major press outlets have been more upbeat: “With his mix of market-friendly economic policies and social conservativism at home, Mr. Bolsonaro plans to align Brazil more closely with developed nations and particularly the U.S.,” according to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Based on his publicly stated plans, here’s why President Bolsonaro will be good for business and how his administration will help build an even stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil:

Bolsonaro’s Ministerial Reform

President Temer leaves office with 29 government ministries. President Bolsonaro plans to reduce the number of ministries to 22, which will reduce spending and make the government smaller and run more efficiently. We expect to see more modern technology implemented to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and government inefficiencies.

Importantly, this will open up more partnerships and contracting of tech startups’ solutions. Government contacts for new technology will be used across nearly all the ministries including mobility, transportation, health, finance, management and legal administration – which will have a positive financial impact especially for the rich and booming SaaS market players in Brazil.

Government Company Privatization

Of Brazil’s 418 government-controlled companies, there are 138 of them on the federal level that could be privatized. In comparison to Brazil’s 418, Chile has 25 government-controlled companies, the U.S. has 12, Australia and Japan each have eight, and Switzerland has four. Together, Brazil-owned companies employ more than 800,000 people today, including about 500,000 federal employees. Some of the largest ones include petroleum company Petrobras, electric utilities company EletrobrasBanco do Brasil, Latin America’s largest bank in terms of its assets, and Caixa Economica Federal, the largest 100 percent government-owned financial institution in Latin America.

The process of privatizing companies is known to be cumbersome and inefficient, and the transformation from political appointments to professional management will surge the need for better management tools, especially for enterprise SaaS solutions.

STEAM Education to Boost Brazil’s Tech Talent

Based on Bolsonaro’s original plan to move the oversight of university and post-graduate education from the Education Ministry to the Science and Technology Ministry, it’s clear the new presidential administration is favoring more STEAM courses that are focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Previous administrations threw further support behind humanities-focused education programs. Similar STEAM-focused higher education systems from countries such as Singapore and South Korea have helped to generate a bigger pipeline of qualified engineers and technical talent badly needed by Brazilian startups and larger companies doing business in the country. The additional tech talent boost in the country will help Brazil better compete on the global stage.

The Chicago Boys’ “Super” Ministry

The merger of the Ministry of Economy with the Treasury, Planning and Industry and Foreign Trade and Services ministries will create a super ministry to be run by Dr. Paulo Guedes and his team of Chicago Boys. Trained at the Department of Economics in the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, the Chicago Boys are a group of prominent Chilean economists who are credited with transforming Chile into Latin America’s best performing economies and one of the world’s most business-friendly jurisdictions. Joaquim Levi, the recently appointed chief of BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank), is also a Chicago Boy and a strong believer in venture capital and startups.

Previously, Guedes was a general partner in Bozano Investimentos, a pioneering private equity firm, before accepting the invitation to take the helm of the world’s eighth-largest economy in Brazil. To have a team of economists who deeply understand the importance of rapid-growth companies is good news for Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This group of 30,000 startup companies are responsible for 50 percent of the job openings in Brazil and they’re growing far faster than the country’s GDP.

Bolsonaro’s Pro-Business Cabinet Appointments

President Bolsonaro has appointed a majority of technical experts to be part of his new cabinet. Eight of them have strong technology backgrounds, and this deeper knowledge of the tech sector will better inform decisions and open the way to more funding for innovation.

One of those appointments, Sergio Moro, is the federal judge for the anti-corruption initiative knows as “Operation Car Wash.” With Moro’s nomination to Chief of the Justice Department and his anticipated fight against corruption could generate economic growth and help reduce unemployment in the country. Bolsonaro’s cabinet is also expected to simplify the crazy and overwhelming tax system. More than 40 different taxes could be whittled down to a dozen, making it easier for entrepreneurs to launch new companies.

In general terms, Brazil and Latin America have long suffered from deep inefficiencies. With Bolsonaro’s administration, there’s new promise that there will be an increase in long-term infrastructure investments, reforms to reduce corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and enthusiasm and support for startup investments in entrepreneurs who will lead the country’s fastest-growing companies and make significant technology advancements to “lift all boats.”

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