TON was announced in late 2017, months after Moscow’s failed attempt to block Telegram’s messenger app, and its white pages boasted liberty from the banking systems that made it difficult to send money across borders. The Gram wallet, embedded within the messenger’s new blockchain-enhanced ecosystem, would allow transfers to be made with the ease of picking an emoji.
And investors were ready to buy into his vision. TON’s initial coin offering (ICO) raised a jaw-dropping $1.7 billion, the most successful ICO at the time. The money was a sign of trust: Durov’s investors were expecting him to change the future. Again.
But Facebook was planning its own revolution around the same time. In February 2018, a few months after Telegram’s own announcement, Facebook employee Morgan Beller was meeting with crypto experts to flesh out ideas for the token that would eventually be called Libra.
Just as Durov’s libertarian, even trollish tendencies were built into the vision for TON and its Gram tokens, so Facebook’s Big Tech tendencies toward centralization (and even micromanagement) couldn’t help but surface in Libra. While TON would operate as a conventional, independent crypto ledger built by its users, Libra’s own blockchain would launch under the eye of the Libra Association, a consortium of 28 major financial companies including PayPal, Lyft, and eBay. Ultimate control would lie in their hands, and they would decide regulatory questions in the future.
But this was only the latest move in the ongoing beef between the two companies. VK piggybacked off of Facebook’s success and added sharing features that the American company could never have sanctioned. Durov positioned his messenger as a more secure alternative to Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which he continued to lambaste after the SEC’s complaint halted TON’s launch last October.
If Facebook was the dependable breadwinner on devices the world over, Durov’s products were the cool uncle, and when the American tech giant eventually announced Libra, it was significantly behind in the game. But it still had the major advantage of being able to bring social crypto to billions of users, which would enable the company to define the technology’s future should they be first to launch.
The road to said launch, however, has proved anything but smooth for both parties.