Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has been asked by a US congressional committee to explain its plans for crypto and blockchain services, after filing five trademark applications related to these technologies last year.
The House Financial Services Committee, led by Democrat Maxine Waters, sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Javier Olivan on Jan. 22, expressing concerns about the trademark applications and Meta’s involvement in the digital assets ecosystem.
The letter stated that the applications, which were filed on March 18, 2022, “appear to represent a continued intention to expand the company’s involvement in the digital assets ecosystem.” The applications cover various services for crypto and blockchain assets trading, exchange, payments, transfers, wallets and the associated hardware and software infrastructure.
However, Waters said that Meta staff told the committee Democrats in October that there was “no ongoing digital assets work at Meta” and that the company was not conducting or planning any work on blockchain-based products or stablecoins.
Waters asked Meta to clarify how it will respond to the trademark applications, which have been approved by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and require Meta to file a statement of use or request an extension within six months.
She also asked Meta to disclose if it intends to pursue any Web3, crypto or digital wallet projects and how they would be integrated with its platforms and metaverse. Additionally, she inquired about Meta’s research on stablecoins or partnerships with stablecoin projects, and its adoption of distributed ledger technology (DLT).
Meta’s history with crypto and blockchain
Meta’s interest in crypto and blockchain is not new, as the company previously announced plans to launch a global payments platform based on a stablecoin called Libra (later renamed Diem) in 2019. The project faced strong opposition from regulators and lawmakers, who raised concerns about its potential impact on financial stability, privacy and security.
Meta eventually abandoned the Libra project and sold its stake in the Diem Association to Silvergate Bank for $200 million in January 2022. Meta also delayed the launch of its digital wallet, Novi (formerly Calibra), which was supposed to support Libra and other cryptocurrencies.
Meta has not publicly revealed any new plans for crypto or blockchain services since then, but the trademark applications suggest that the company may still be exploring these technologies behind the scenes.
Meta has not responded to the letter from Waters as of the time of writing.
Meta’s vision for the metaverse
Meta’s rebranding from Facebook in October 2022 was part of its vision to create a metaverse, a virtual environment where people can interact with each other and digital content across different platforms and devices.
Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described the metaverse as “the next frontier of the internet” and said that it would be powered by technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and blockchain.
Meta has invested billions of dollars in developing its metaverse products, such as the Oculus VR headsets, the Horizon Worlds social VR platform, and the Spark AR Studio for creating augmented reality effects.
Meta has also shown interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are unique digital assets that can represent art, music, games, collectibles and more. Meta’s Instagram app recently added a feature that allows users to link their NFT collections to their profiles.
However, Meta’s metaverse ambitions have also raised questions about its impact on society, democracy, human rights and the environment. Meta has faced criticism for its role in spreading misinformation, hate speech, violence and extremism on its platforms, as well as for its handling of user data and privacy.
Meta has also been accused of copying or acquiring its competitors, such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, to maintain its dominance in the social media market. Meta is currently facing antitrust lawsuits from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and several state attorneys general, who seek to break up the company and force it to divest some of its assets.