Facebook's plan to introduce its own digital coin that people can send and receive, across borders, over WhatsApp is so advanced that talks are already underway with cryptocurrency exchanges about selling the new token, according to the New York Times.
Citing sources, the Times says that Facebook staffers have told the exchanges that a coin could be unveiled in the first half of this year.
By using the exchanges, Facebook would not have to hold the coins or vet customers, notes the Times. However, this approach would see the social media giant forgo some control over the new currency.
Although initially being touted for WhatsApp, the coin could eventually come to Messenger and Instagram users thanks to plans to connect the three messaging units.
The coin is likely to be pegged to a basket of different currencies, including the dollar and euro, making it unappealing to speculators, who have been the main users of traditional cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
But Facebook is planning to use Bitcoin's underlying technology, blockchain, for the coin, freeing it from dealing with the big card schemes and alternatives such as PayPal, says the Times, citing sources.
Facebook set up its blockchain unit last year, giving it the freedom to operate as a startup under the leadership of former PayPal president and Coinbase board member David Marcus.
The new business has been busy building up its team and is understood to have a significant budget. However, its work has been shrouded in secrecy, with staffers getting separate key card access to keep out other Facebook staffers, says the Times.
Facebook is not alone: messaging firms Telegram and Signal are planning their own cryptocurrencies. These are set to be closer to Bitcoin, with a more decentralised approach and no pegging to fiat currencies.