Facebook denies seeking users' bank data

Daniel Fowler
August 7, 2018

In exchange for potential features including fraud alerts and checking-account balance checks, Facebook is asking for some of its users' most sensitive financial information, such as their balances and where they use debit and credit cards.

Facebook has asked major U.S. banks to share customer data to allow it to develop new services on the social network's Messenger texting platform, a banking source told AFP on Monday.

While reactions on social media to the WSJ were often critical of the report, especially from people already concerned about Facebook's handling of its own private user data, the company was quick to issue a rebuttal. Google and Amazon have reportedly also sought similar arrangements, exchanging user data for the banks' integration with the tech companies' massive platforms. (JPM), Wells Fargo & Co.

While Facebook insisted in response to the Journal's story that it doesn't want to use any of this data for advertising purposes or share it with third parties, many pointed out that there is no reason to trust Facebook's expressed commitment to user privacy, particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other abuses.

"Account linking enables people to receive real-time updates in Facebook Messenger where people can keep track of their transaction data like account balances, receipts, and shipping updates", Facebook said Monday in a statement.

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Still, Facebook has been building up user comfort with sharing financial information through its site for years.

The company's decision comes at a time when it is facing several investigations for its links with political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. The information would be used to offer new services to Facebook account holders. For now at least, users have to opt-in to link it to their bank account - a partnership with banks might link users directly to their banks (no word on whether Messenger users would need to opt-in to the service).

JPMorgan declined to comment beyond a statement it provided the Journal, in which the bank said it isn't sharing customers' "off-platform transaction data with these platforms, and have had to say no to some things as a result". Its latest effort? To try and convince banks to offer services inside Messenger, according to a new report.

The petition, which went out to numerous largest banks across the country, is sure to draw criticism from many interested in retaining data privacy, particularly in an area as sensitive as personal finance. Facebook likely hopes to capitalize on the pressure that big banks are experiencing to develop partnerships with large online platforms to reach more customers digitally.

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