Facebook wants your banking information, too

Where’s your money?
Where’s your money?
Image: Reuters/Regis Duvignau
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Facebook would like to peek into your bank account.

The social network approached several major US banks to let customers access their account balances or get fraud alerts on Messenger, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Aug.6). This would mean that detailed customer information, including credit card purchases, would be shared with the tech platform.

Over the past year, as it was facing a storm of criticism over privacy issues, the company asked banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup to discuss cooperation, according to the Journal.

Big US banks were hesitant and had privacy concerns over sharing customer data with Facebook, the Journal reported. But in other countries, banks haven’t had the same qualms. In Singapore, Citigroup already offers a Messenger bot that lets you check your account balance, for example. A South African bank recently introduced a feature that allows users to check their account balance on WhatsApp, which Facebook owns.

“Facebook has told banks that the additional customer information could be used to offer services that might entice users to spend more time on Messenger, a person familiar with the discussions said,” the Journal wrote.

Facebook told Quartz that it disagrees the Wall Street Journal’s characterization of its talks with the banks, and pointed out that it already offers similar services in the US, with PayPal and American Express. An Amex bot, in fact, can track your purchases, and allows you to check your balance.

Facebook says that a “critical part” of these partnerships is to keep “people’s information safe and secure.” But when a platform is built on amassing user data and using it for advertising purposes, it’s only natural for questions of exploitation and privacy—particularly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal—to arise.

“A recent WSJ story implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data—this is not true. Like many online companies with commerce businesses, we partner with banks and credit card companies to offer services like customer chat or account management,” the company said in a statement. ”Account linking,” as Facebook calls it, lets users get keep track of transactions, balances, or shipping updates on Messenger, and it’s an opt-in feature, it added.

A spokesperson for Facebook clarified that the company specifically disputes any suggestion that it asked for data, or that it would use it for anything else—like advertising—than just the experience on Messenger. However, the financial information would have to pass through Facebook’s servers, the company confirmed.

The financial services industry is worried about competition from tech companies, which keep introducing new ways of making payments through their platforms, Quartz reported last year. Barclays CEO Jes Staley said that banks likely have the “richest data pool” of all sectors, and they should learn how to use it themselves to help fend off the ambitions of Silicon Valley. If platforms like Facebook have control of payment systems they will know “every single thing you do,” Robert Kapito, president of the asset manager BlackRock, said during a banking conference.