Facebook to banks: Hey, let us see your customers’ bank statements and card transactions, ok? Thanks.

By Robert Laurie

Once upon a time, Facebook was the hot new social media kid on the block. It was a great way to connect with friends, engage in your hobbies, and follow political figures, talk show hosts, and politicians.  It worked, everyone loved it, and all was right with the world.

Then, things started to change.  The site was inundated with ads, content you wanted to see was buried, political biases resulted in weird shadowbans, and privacy concerns exploded on an international level.  As a result, people began spending less and less time on the platform.

It still serves a purpose, and it handles some things – like live video – extremely well, but there’s no one working in media who doesn’t see that things are a bit “off” in Facebook-land.  Even the company itself has promised to do better and is scrambling to implement fixes.

So, the news that they’re trying to acquire all of your banking information is probably not the kind of publicity they need right now.  Yes, you read that right. Facebook has been meeting with top banks in an effort to gain access to their customers’ detailed financial data – you know, ‘little things’ like credit card transactions and checking account balances.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The social media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users.

Facebook increasingly wants to be a platform where people buy and sell goods and services, besides connecting with friends.

According to the report, Zuckerberg has been asking JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc., and U.S. Bancorp to “discuss potential offerings it could host for bank customers on Facebook Messenger.”

Facebook has talked about a feature that would show its users their checking-account balances, the people said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the people said.

Right about now, you should be wondering; “Hey, isn’t Facebook that all-powerful online thing with all the user privacy problems?”  If that thought crossed your mind, congratulations. That’s a good instinct, and it’s one that’s allegedly shared by the banks in question.

Data privacy is a sticking point in the banks’ conversations with Facebook, according to people familiar with the matter. The talks are taking place as Facebook faces several investigations over its ties to political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which accessed data on as many 87 million Facebook users without their consent.

One large U.S. bank pulled away from talks due to privacy concerns, some of the people said.

So, why does Facebook want all of this info? The short answer is “because intrusive mass data collection is what Facebook does.” The more data they have, the more opportunities they have to exploit that data and make money. This has been their business model since day one.

In this case, though, there also seems to be another motivator. Zuckerberg feels that people aren’t using the Facebook Messenger app enough, and his company is hoping that integrating access to your bank accounts will keep increasingly wandering eyes glued to those infuriating little screens.

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 company is trying to deepen user engagement: Investors shaved more than $120 billion from its market value in one day last month after it said its growth is starting to slow.

Facebook said it wouldn’t use the bank data for ad-targeting purposes or share it with third parties.

“We don’t use purchase data from banks or credit card companies for ads,” said spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana. “We also don’t have special relationships, partnerships, or contracts with banks or credit card companies to use their customers’ purchase data for ads.”

The problem is that if Facebook has proven one thing, it’s that you can’t trust them.

We’ll set aside the obvious security concerns and cut to the chase. Let’s say you actually believe they won’t use your banking data for ad-targeting, and you’re willing to buy into the idea that they won’t share it with anyone else.  Do you honestly think it will stay that way?

Facebook’s stated position may very well be their current intent, but you need to remember; the starting position is never set in stone. They alter their privacy policies about as often as most users change their socks.  This week they may say they won’t use your info for a certain purpose, but there’s no telling what they’ll do down the road – and since you probably don’t read those user privacy updates when they appear on your screen, you may not notice when they decide to go in a different direction.

The simple fact is that Facebook user engagement is declining and the company is looking for new ways to shore it up.  That’s fine.  It’s what a social media company should be doing.  However, it’s impossible to ignore Facebook’s past. Its extremely dodgy history of security breaches and misuse of personal data makes it wholly unworthy of the information it’s currently seeking.

Personally, I’d instantly abandon any bank that would take Zuckerberg up on this partnership.

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