Facebook’s Latest Fix to Its Many Issues: Blockchain

Facebook is dedicated to exploring the potential use of blockchain from scratch. LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Less than four months after Facebook banned ads that promote cryptocurrencies, the social media giant is suddenly interested in blockchain, the underlying technology of all cryptocurrencies.

As part of its largest organizational shakeup in history, Facebook this week formed a blockchain unit to explore potential use of the decentralized technology, Recode first reported. Mark Zuckerberg appointed his current head of Messenger app, David Marcus, to lead the effort.

Marcus is an obvious choice for the position due to his experience in digital finance (he is the former CEO of PayPal and a board member of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase), but, given its present needs, Facebook is more likely to apply blockchain in non-finance areas, such as copyright protection and database encryption, rather than issuing its own digital coin.

After nearly four unbelievably rewarding years leading Messenger, I have decided it was time for me to take on a new challenge. I’m setting up a small group to explore how to best leverage blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch,” Marcus announced his new job on Facebook.

Sources told Recode that the team will start with fewer than a dozen people. Marcus will be joined with Instagram’s head of engineering, James Everingham, and Instagram’s product lead, Kevin Weil.

David Marcus speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers Conference. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Facebook is the latest super-sized corporate player to enter blockchain, following Google and JPMorgan Chase. Facebook’s gesture itself serves as a powerful endorsement to the crypto world, which is still a nascent field filled with sketchy ICOs (initial coin offerings) and hollow companies with a blockchain label.

Zuckerberg had expressed his interest in blockchain back in January.

“With the rise of a small number of big tech companies—and governments using technology to watch their citizens—many people now believe technology only centralizes power rather than decentralizes it. There are important counter-trends to this—like encryption and cryptocurrency—that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands,” he wrote in a Facebook post back then. “But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.”

Facebook’s Latest Fix to Its Many Issues: Blockchain