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Why Facebook's Libra cryptocurrency isn't a bad thing: former FTC chief

Brian Sozzi

What, you thought Facebook (FB) was going to dive deep into the cryptocurrency market without catching serious heat from lawmakers increasingly calling for breakups of Big Tech?

Think again.

Facebook took the wraps off its long awaited cryptocurrency project on Tuesday. Dubbed Libra, the crypto will let people buy things or send money with no fees. Several big-name companies such as Uber, Lyft and PayPal are on board to support the rollout of the platform, which is expected to go live in the first half of 2020.

Interestingly, one prominent figure in Washington DC offers up a somewhat contrarian take on Facebook’s crypto push.

“My thoughts are it might be a new form of competition in the marketplace,” former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade. As part of a week-long series on ‘The First Trade’ called ‘The Breakup’, we asked Ohlausen — who led the FTC from 2012 to 2017 — her thoughts on Facebook’s newest venture.

Former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Maureen Ohlhausen speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“Just because it’s being offered by a big company doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing. It has to kind of stand on its own. I am concerned about going to a system in the U.S. where if you are a big company you can’t move to a new area of competition,” Olhausen said. “That has never been the law in the U.S. for general antitrust purposes. I would be concerned to say a company just has to stay in its lane and can’t change — I think ultimately that would have a negative impact on competition.”

Most politicians are wary of Facebook’s Libra

Suffice it to say, not everyone well-versed in DC politics shares Ohlausen’s view on Facebook’s budding crypto platform. With Big Tech breakup talk the new flavor of the month in DC, the last thing many vote-seeking politicians want to see is Facebook getting into another potentially big business.

For example, take outspoken Senator Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

“With the announcement that it [Facebook] plans to create a cryptocurrency, Facebook is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users,” Waters said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The cryptocurrency market currently lacks a clear regulatory framework to provide strong protections for investors, consumers, and the economy. Regulators should see this as a wake-up call to get serious about the privacy and national security concerns, cybersecurity risks, and trading risks that are posed by cryptocurrencies. Given the company’s troubled past,” Waters continued. “I am requesting that Facebook agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on developing a cryptocurrency until Congress and regulators have the opportunity to examine these issues and take action. Facebook executives should also come before the Committee to provide testimony on these issues.”

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Josh Hawley struck a negative tone on Facebook’s cryptocurrency in an interview with Yahoo Finance. Hawley said the announcement is akin to Facebook “expanding its monopoly.”

“I am very concerned about Facebook’s behavior,” Hawley said, adding he is hoping the company is investigated by the FTC.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-host of ‘The First Trade’ at Yahoo Finance. Follow Brian Sozzi him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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