Swiss watchdog ‘in contact’ with Facebook cryptocurrency backers

Switzerland's market watchdog confirmed Thursday that it is contact with the "initiators" of Facebook's new cryptocurrency, as questions mount over how the money will be regulated.

Swiss watchdog 'in contact' with Facebook cryptocurrency backers
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in May 2018. Photo: AFP

Switzerland has tried to establish itself as a global cryptocurrencies hub, but the entry into the market of a behemoth like Facebook will increase scrutiny over the rules Switzerland has in place. 

“We can confirm that we are in contact with the initiators of the project,” a spokesman for the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), Tobias Lux, told AFP in an email. 

The Libra coin plan, launched this week by Facebook and some two dozen partners, is being overseen by a Geneva-based nonprofit called the Libra Association.  

Lux declined to comment on the details of FINMA's exchanges with the Libra Association but said the watchdog's role was to determine “whether the planned services require approval under Swiss supervisory law and, if so, which.”

The Libra Association has said it registered in Switzerland because the wealthy Alpine nation has “a history of global neutrality and openness to blockchain technology.”

But given Facebook's international reach, global regulators are unlikely to leave supervision of Libra entirely to the Swiss. 

The US Senate committee on banking, housing and urban affairs announced on Wednesday that it would hold hearings next month on “Facebook's proposed digital currency and data privacy concerns.”

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has said the Facebook project required scrutiny while French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned Libra cannot be allowed to replace sovereign currencies.

Switzerland, a long-standing global banking hub, has made a series of moves to attract nascent cryptocurrency businesses, including tax breaks and logistical support. 

The town of Zug has been dubbed “Crypto Valley” because of the influx of virtual currency firms

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Facebook deletes virus conspiracy accounts in Germany

Facebook says it has deleted the accounts, pages and groups linked to virus conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers in Germany who are vocal opponents of government restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook deletes virus conspiracy accounts in Germany
An anti-vaccination and anti-Covid demo in Berlin on August 28th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

With just 10 days to go before Germany’s parliamentary elections – where the handling of the pandemic by Angela Merkel’s goverment will come under scrutiny – Facebook said it had “removed a network of Facebook and Instagram accounts” linked to the so-called “Querdenker” or Lateral Thinker movement.

The pages posted “harmful health misinformation, hate speech and incitement to violence”, the social media giant said in a statement.

It said that the people behind the pages “used authentic and duplicate accounts to post and amplify violating content, primarily focused on promoting the conspiracy that the German government’s Covid-19 restrictions are part of a larger plan to strip citizens of their freedoms and basic rights.”

The “Querdenker” movement, which is already under surveillance by Germany’s intelligence services, likes to portray itself as the mouthpiece of opponents
of the government’s coronavirus restrictions, organising rallies around the country that have drawn crowds of several thousands.

READ ALSO: Germany’s spy agency to monitor ‘Querdenker’ Covid sceptics

It loosely groups together activists from both the far-right and far-left of the political spectrum, conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers. And some of their rallies have descended into violence.

Social media platforms regularly face accusations that they help propagate misinformation and disinformation, particularly with regard to the pandemic and vaccines.