After all the problems Facebook has with sloppy data protection and its avarice for personal information, you'd think maybe management would learn. It hasn't. According to a Wall Street Journal report today, Facebook wants detailed financial information on users from banks -- in other words, you -- including "card transactions and checking account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users."
When insiders who have left the company suggest that people delete Facebook's app from their phones, you get the sense that what has been happening there is no ordinary problem. (Facebook has not yet responded to questions about the new story.)
That's been clear for years. Facebook's history is one of pushing limits on acquiring and using personal data. It continually gets into trouble, mumbles an apology, promises to do better, and then keeps going the way it was.
In this case, the point apparently is not to use the data to target more ads (How much do you trust Facebook?) but to offer features in Messenger. The company wants to tell you what your checking account balance is or to provide fraud alerts. Facebook also wants to know where people use their debit and credit cards when not on the site. Because, that wouldn't lend itself to targeted marketing.
According to the Journal, at least one bank out of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and U.S. Bankcorp, all approached by Facebook, walked away over privacy worries. The story also said that Google's parent Alphabet and Amazon have also asked banks to share data to provide banking services.
Everybody's doing it.
Not that banks are particularly more concerned about people more than other corporations. But there are some strict privacy laws that govern financial services. It's bad enough when they screw up and get into trouble. Facebook has next to zero credibility at this point when it comes to data safety.
So, banks are supposed to put themselves into the position of possible liability and say, "Hey, Mark Zuckerberg, could you please make money off us and pinky-swear that no one will see anything they're not supposed to? Thanks, buddy!" What could go wrong?
Facebook has always depended on the tie between data and growth in usage. Last month, if you'll remember, the company lost $120 billion in market value overnight when it said that growth had slowed.
The idea is to make new services available on Messenger so people will pull closer to the company. As the Journal reported, "Facebook said it wouldn't use the bank data for ad-targeting purposes or share it with third parties."
Just a minute, I have to follow online tradition and roll over on the floor while laughing.
Even if Facebook could and would make good on this promise, how long is it supposed to last? When will the potential to rake in more advertising dollars, particularly if usage continues to slow and advertisers start to walk away, turn into, "We're not targeting ads, we're targeting consumer opportunities"?
Facebook has made somewhat stronger statements about privacy and data security of late. But the company also wants to start a dating service. Because everyone should overshare everything.
To complicate things even more for the banks, they want people to go to them, not some third party.
Facebook's creditability isn't at zero. It's less than zero. Zuckerberg would have to do daring cartwheels and personally secure everyone's information just to get back to nothing.
Facebook has a virtually insurmountable problem. The foundation of its entire business model requires the company to treat personal data they way it does. To fix things, it would need a new way to make a living. That doesn't seem to be in the works for the near future, however.
[Update 6-Aug-2018 12:50PM: Facebook sent a statement that in part said the Journal story "implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data."
It doesn't, exactly, because an account balance or a collection of places where someone used a credit or debit card wouldn't technically be transaction data, which is, as the name implies, information about specific transactions with companies.
The statement further says:
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. The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone - and it's completely opt-in. We're not using this information beyond enabling these types of experiences - not for advertising or anything else. A critical part of these partnerships is keeping people's information safe and secure.
Again, you have to ask whether Facebook has shown that it can be trusted or not.]