Facebook is not snooping around its users banking records — at least for now.
On Monday, the Internet was awash with stories that Facebook, which has been under fire for its data privacy and handling of security, is trying to partner with banks to access consumers’ financial data. But don’t buy it, the social media giant said.
“A recent Wall Street Journal story implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data — this is not true,” Facebook said in prepared remarks provided to WWD. “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 tech company reportedly courted institutions such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and U.S. Bancorp over the last year. J.P. Morgan neither confirmed nor denied the report. Instead, Trish Wexler, J.P. Morgan’s chief communications officer, referred requests for comment back to a previous statement that the bank is not “sharing our customers’ off-platform transaction data with these platforms, and have had to say no to some things as a result.”
Facebook has been in the hot seat lately because of revelations that Cambridge Analytica had unauthorized access to user data through a third-party researcher and used that data to target voters in the 2016 presidential election. Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg sat through marathon Congressional testimony earlier this year, but this latest development raises concerns that his company hasn’t learned its lesson.
That might be why Facebook, which typically doesn’t respond to rumors, was eager to nix the narrative, making clear that it is not asking for personal information for advertisements or other uses.
The question remains, what is the nature of the actual data at stake then?
A spokeswoman elaborated to WWD: “You have a Messenger account, and you can [already] link your account to PayPal or other accounts, so when you buy something or someone pays you money, you get a message. The idea is to power better customer service.”
The interactions are performed with the user’s knowledge, as a chat participant. Beyond that, the only data Facebook can see is what goes on inside the Messenger chat, she claimed. That can include account balances, purchase receipts and shipping updates. “We’re not getting access to other parts of their history,” the spokeswoman said.
Facebook’s official statement points to this as well, adding: “The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone — and it’s completely opt-in.”
Wall Street seemed keen on Facebook joining forces with banks. After the company’s market capitalization nosedived after quarterly results last month, clocking in with a $119 billion loss in market capitalization in a single day, shares rose past 4.5 percent to $185.69 on Monday, with investors apparently eyeing the possibility of expanded services and features based on the presumed banking partnerships.
Others have been less thrilled about the prospect — or Facebook’s response.
“Because of its recent data privacy scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, the concept of banks providing Facebook with access to their customers’ financial transactions and account information raises significant privacy concerns,” said Dan Goldstein, author of “Win with Multi-Channel Digital Marketing” and owner of digital marketing agency Page 1 Solutions.
“The fact that Facebook says the information won’t be used for advertising, but will only be shown to users on Messenger, does little to quell the concerns,” Goldstein said. “It would be risky for any bank to agree to this at this time, given the sensitive environment surrounding data privacy issues.”
If the social media company continues down the banking path or makes a bid to glean even more personal data, Goldstein believes that it risks facing state and federal regulation.