In an interview this week with Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain. Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he’d recently been considering whether to replace the Facebook Connect login service with a “fully distributed” system via blockchain technology.
“You basically take your information, you store it on some decentralized system, and you have the choice of whether to log in in different places, and you’re not going through an intermediary,” Zuckerberg said.
“There’s a lot of things that I think would be quite attractive about that. For developers, one of the things that is really troubling about working with our system, or Google’s system for that matter, or having to deliver services through Apple’s App Store, is that you don’t want to have an intermediary between serving the people who are using your service and you.”
During the talk, the social media entrepreneur qualified that the envisioned blockchain embrace was far from being actualized in the interim, as company leadership had yet to feasibly map out how to undertake such an operational shift. But the admission of direct interest from the Facebook CEO is the latest indication that the powerhouse Silicon Valley company has blockchain on the brain.
Zuckerberg’s comments also highlight the growing interest around decentralized logins in general. Last Fall, top U.S. cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase acquired Distributed Systems, a startup focused on facilitating decentralized identity use cases, and folded its experts into the company’s identity team.
If Facebook were to adopt blockchain tech for distributed logins, it could allow users of the site to enjoy more complete control over what third-party groups have access to their data. On the flip side, the decentralized nature of such a system would make it difficult to corral bad third-party apps that take advantage of users.
In any case, the question now becomes what blockchain Facebook would select if the plans to replace Facebook Connect go forward. Ethereum’s high profile makes it a possibility. And Facebook denied meeting with the Stellar team in August 2018, though rumors were swirling that such a meetup occurred at the time.
Of course, Facebook might look in-house for the answers, too.
Facebook Blockchain Team
The company began forming its blockchain team last spring and hired Facebook Messenger head David Marcus to lead the new wing. In July 2018 the company hired ChainLink and Zilliqa advisor David Cheng as its top blockchain engineer. Earlier this month, Facebook acqui-hired four members of Chainspace, a smart contracts platform startup that had been building a “planetary scale smart contract platform.”
All of these developments suggest Facebook has the talent within its ranks to fork-off or develop a blockchain from scratch if the company wanted to go a different route for its login system than public blockchain mainstays like Ethereum and Stellar.
And beyond decentralized identity, the social media titan has been making other overtures toward the cryptoverse in recent months. Last May, reports began circulating that Facebook was seriously considering creating its first cryptocurrency. A few weeks later, the the company relaxed its platform ban on cryptocurrency ads.
At the end of 2018, Facebook began hiring for new high-profile executive positions on its blockchain team. And days before the new year rolled in, reporting broke that the company was developing a stablecoin to be piloted via Indian WhatsApp messenger users.
Taken altogether, it looks like Facebook’s bets on blockchain and cryptocurrency, while still modest for now, are definitely growing. What the company’s future in the ecosystem looks like is anyone’s guess for now, but the rapid building out of their blockchain team is a sign that they have considerably bigger plans where the technology is concerned.