Facebook’s Tel Aviv team working on digital wallet push

Technology developed by subsidiary Calibra will let users ‘save, send and spend’ Libra, the global currency Facebook is planning to launch in 2020 based on blockchain technology

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Elysee Palace after his meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, May 10, 2019.  (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Elysee Palace after his meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, May 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Facebook’s research team in Tel Aviv has been working on the social media giant’s new digital wallet, which is being launched as part of the firm’s Libra initiative, a new global currency based on blockchain technology.

In a post on Facebook’s website careers page, two Israeli engineers — named as Sivanne G. and Ori M. of the Calibra team in Tel Aviv, the social media giant’s subsidiary that is launching the wallet — talk about “the challenges they’re addressing” and what the mission of Calibra is.

Calibra is a newly formed unit whose goal is to provide financial services to a variety of populations, including those who do not have access to bank accounts. The new digital wallet will enable user “to save, send and spend Libra,” the new global currency the media giant has said it will set up, powered by blockchain technology.

The first product Calibra will introduce is a digital wallet, which will be available in Messenger, WhatsApp and as a standalone app, and is expected to launch in 2020, Facebook said in June.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, left, and Facebook’s Israel Generam Manager Adi Soffer Teeni inaugurate the social media giant’s new space called Playground for startups in Tel Aviv, August 14, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

The Tel Aviv team is building the systems that keep track in real time of any suspicious activity or any attempts to manipulate users’ accounts, and prevent such activities, said Sivanne G., the team’s head of fraud, in the post.

In addition, the Tel Aviv team is in charge of building the tools that Facebook’s customer care team will use to provide assistance customers when there are issues.

The hope is that “years from now,” anyone “will be able to use the Calibra wallet for their everyday transactions like taking cabs, buying groceries, shopping online” and other such activities, said Sivanne G.

The wallet will also be used by people “who currently lack access to financial services or feel unsafe carrying cash, and provide them with a way to securely store and spend their funds,” she added.

“This is a massive challenge. Calibra is an emerging product — almost like a startup — in a big company, and building it is an ambitious goal,” she said.

Facebook unveiled Libra in June and said it will launch publicly early next year with such partners as Uber, Visa, Mastercard and PayPal. Libra could open online purchasing to millions of people who do not have access to bank accounts and could reduce the cost of sending money across borders, Facebook said, even as the initiative immediately incurred pushback from regulators.

The Calibra team in Tel Aviv is currently seeking workers to join its ranks, the post said.

Facebook first opened its office in Israel in 2013 and now employs over 300 workers, in both research and development and in sales, according to data provided by the firm.

The R&D center is Facebook’s largest outside the US.

The social network has also made acquisitions in Israel, buying Israeli mobile application platform Snaptu in 2011 for $70 million and face recognition firm Face.com in 2012 for $60 million. It also acquired Israeli app maker Onavo in 2013, giving the social media giant its first physical foothold in Israel. It later acquired Pebbles, an Israel-based startup specializing in technology that can track hand movements via Facebook’s subsidiary Oculus in 2015, and in 2018 bought Redkix.

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