David Marcus, the former head of Facebook’s Messenger team who now leads a blockchain-focused group within the social media giant, announced Friday that he would step down from his seat on the board of cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase. The move, according to Facebook, was made to “avoid the appearance of conflict” between Marcus’ two roles.
Though Facebook has not revealed any specific plans to use the decentralized ledger technology behind Bitcoin, Marcus stepping down at Coinbase suggests that Facebook’s blockchain ambitions are ongoing and serious. Possible plans could include issuing its own cryptocurrency, which could swiftly make Facebook a power player in the global payments ecosystem; or acquiring major blockchain startups, perhaps even Coinbase itself.
Marcus’ resignation from the Coinbase board was first reported by Coindesk. It came just months after he joined that board in December of 2017. Marcus took on his role exploring blockchain at Facebook in May of this year.
Marcus has a long history in payment technology. He was previously the President of PayPal, which he joined when it acquired his own digital-payments startup, Zong, in 2011. Facebook Messenger has its own built-in payments feature, launched in 2015, which primarily interfaces with users’ traditional bank accounts.
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Recent reports claim Facebook has been reaching out to major banks to integrate financial data into its social platform. That move signaled Facebook’s ambitions to expand its role in finance and ecommerce, but also raised red flags for many in light of the site’s recent spate of controversies over privacy.
While Facebook has emphasized that its exploration of cryptocurrency is in its early stages, that incident suggests several potential benefits of applying the technology – as well as highlighting some pitfalls. In May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that technology like blockchain could give users more control, including over financial and other personal data. That could help moderate future backlash against the platform, which recently reported disappointing user growth.
At the same time, Zuckerberg acknowledged that blockchain systems, which run on distributed swarms of servers, are “harder to control.” A true cryptocurrency launched by Facebook, for instance, would in theory be usable outside of Facebook’s platform, and blockchain-based identity systems could compete with or hamper Facebook’s efforts to gather user data. Even after years of scandals about privacy and fake news, that data remains Facebook’s core asset, suggesting that any blockchain product would have to walk a very fine line to simultaneously cater to users and shareholders.