Facebook asks US banks to share customer data; plays down privacy fears

Facebook has asked major US banks to share customer data to allow it to develop new services on the social network's Messenger texting platform, AFP and The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The social media giant has had discussions with JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and US Bancorp in the past year about sharing customers' financial data, the reports said, citing sources.
Facebook, which has faced intense criticism for sharing user data with many app developers, was interested in information including bank card transactions, checking account balances, and where purchases were made, according to sources cited by the WSJ, which first reported the matter.
However, Facebook has denied that it's interested in obtaining consumers' financial data. Instead, it hopes to enhance its payment and commerce features within Messenger.
Since the report was published, Facebook has already been criticized for the rumoured bank partnerships, in large part due to its poor track record of protecting user data.
Facebook confirmed the effort in a statement to AFP, but said it was not asking for transaction data.
"Like many online companies with commerce businesses, we partner with banks and credit card companies to offer services like customer chat or account management," Facebook said.
The goal was to create new ways for Messenger to be woven into, and facilitate, interactions between banks and customers, according to the reports. The smartphone texting service boasts 1.3 billion users.
"The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone -- and it's completely opt-in," the statement said.
Citigroup declined to comment regarding any possible discussions with Facebook about Messenger.
"While we regularly have conversations about potential partnerships, safeguarding the security and privacy of our customers' data and providing customer choice are paramount in everything we do," Citigroup told AFP by email.
JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman Patricia Wexler directed AFP to a statement given to The Wall Street Journal saying, "We don't share our customers' off-platform transaction data with these platforms and have had to say 'No' to some things as a result."
Wells Fargo decline to address the news.
Messenger can be used by businesses to help people keep track of account information such as balances, receipts, or shipping dates, according to the social network.
"We're not using this information beyond enabling these types of experiences — not for advertising or anything else," Facebook explained in its statement. "A critical part of these partnerships is keeping people's information safe and secure."
But word Facebook is fishing for financial information comes amid concerns it has not vigilantly guarded private information.
Facebook acknowledged last month that it was facing multiple inquiries from US and British regulators about a scandal involving the now bankrupt British consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
In Facebook's worst ever public relations disaster, it admitted that up to 87 million users may have had their data hijacked by Cambridge Analytica, which was working for US President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign.
The social network is now looking at cooler growth following a years-long breakneck pace. Shares in Facebook plummeted last week, wiping out some $100 billion, after the firm missed quarterly revenue forecasts and warned growth would be far weaker than previously estimated.