It has been secretly used for more than a year: encrypted messaging Telegram could well beat Facebook by launching soon its virtual currency, "Gram", accompanied by an ambitious payment system for the general public.
Telegram's goal is to create a product that is easier to access than current cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, which essentially unites an insider audience.
In a document leaked last year, the messenger created by the Russian Pavel Durov said he wanted to create more than a currency.
Its Telegram Open Network (TON), based on blockchain technology, is expected to create a secure and fast payment system that is "an alternative to Visa and Mastercard for a new decentralized economy".
For this, Telegram has raised a record $ 1.7 billion from 200 private investors, during a massive fundraising cryptocurrency (ICO) carried out twice.
The success was such that the courier canceled the organization of a public fundraiser, requiring unsuspecting investors to wait for the official launch of "Gram" to obtain the new cryptocurrency, they could have started to acquire at the time of fundraising.
- "Confidentiality agreement" -
Telegram has never expressed itself on the subject, the information filtered through the investors, located in particular in the United States, Asia and Russia.
"They are bound by a confidentiality agreement," told AFP a source close to Moscow's business community, claiming to know personally "at least one leading banker and a businessman from the Forbes Russia list," which compiles the richest men in the country, among the investors.
"We could only invest by invitation, many people wanted to participate," adds this source.
According to the Russian business daily Vedomosti, Telegram will begin to test its TON project as of September 1, providing public access to code and instructions to create a "node" and become a player in the network.
The first Gram should be released within two months, according to the New York Times, which quotes investors anonymously. Either before the cryptocurrency Libra, which Facebook hopes to put into circulation in the first half of 2020. Time is running out: according to the trade press, Telegram has committed to return the Grams to investors by October 31, or give them back the money.
"Facebook as Telegram see well that there is a space to take: allow people to exchange via the Internet small amounts, without going through the currency fiduciaire, banking or applications," says AFP Manual Valente. "This will strengthen the fears of nation states on their loss of influence," says the director of analysis and strategy of Coinhouse, which offers the public tools to invest in cryptocurrencies.
At this little game, courier services, like Telegram or Facebook with WhatsApp, have a lot to gain. According to a report by Aton, one of Russia's leading investment funds, "cryptocurrencies that will be successful are those that will be part of the messaging ecosystem of an existing social network".
- Risks for the international financial system -
A large network of users, like the estimated 250 million Telegrams, would "increase the acceptance of cryptocurrency among the general public," says Aton, according to which products like Gram or Libra could "literally introduce the cryptocurrency into each household ".
Remains a pitfall raised by Aton: a cryptocurrency that works must be in "perfect compliance with the regulations in force".
At the G7 Finance summit in July in Chantilly, near Paris, the central ministers and bankers of the member countries warned of the risks for the international financial system of these ambitious projects of digital money.
Telegram messaging, created in 2013 by the Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, is primarily known for its ability to protect and anonymize exchanges. Its use by jihadist movements has regularly sparked controversy.
A non-profit organization, Telegram is based on "open source" software, that is to say free of rights and accessible to all to improve the program, and rejects any type of control over its operation and its governance.
© 2019 AFP