Facebook reaches out to banks, could gain access to users’ financial data

Facebook seeks users' financial data (Deepa Seetharaman of The Wall Street Journal with WTOP's Debra Feinstein and Mark Lewis)

WASHINGTON — Facebook is hoping to connect with America’s financial institutions — all in an effort to access its users’ financial data.

Over the past year, it has reportedly reached out to JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and U.S. Bank Corp, according to a report Monday from The Wall Street Journal. Included in the data it’s seeking: credit card transactions and checking account balances.

“The idea is to build services on top of its Facebook Messenger platform that would allow people to do things like check their account balance or get fraud alerts or things like that,” co-writer Deepa Seetharaman told WTOP’s Debra Feinstein and Mark Lewis Monday.

The social media giant is making the effort amid ongoing concerns about its ability to keep data private.

One of the more recent examples is from June, when a software glitch allowed some posts to be public. Facebook is also still dealing with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data-mining firm affiliated with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign inappropriately accessed data from 87 million users.

“There are definitely some uneasy questions,” Seetharaman said. ” … We know at least one bank walked away from Facebook in the middle of some of these discussions, and this data privacy [issue] came up all the time.”

But amid that trepidation, there might still be temptation: Banks see mobile commerce as an area of opportunity.

“Messenger has over a billion users — it’s popular,” Seetharaman said. “That’s where your customers are. I think the banks are thinking, ‘Maybe we should be there, too.'”

Users who would opt in to such features would get “one-stop shop convenience,” Seetharaman said. “It’s the ability to not download another app,” she said, “and it’s the ability to do all of this kind of important financial checking account balance stuff on the side while you’re still talking to your friends.”

But the risk of providing that convenience apparently has been hard for these institutions to ignore, despite Facebook’s assurances that they’ve changed privacy standards and wouldn’t use the data for advertising.

“It’s so hard for them to kind of get through and break away from that image of being irresponsible with our data,” Seetharaman said.

The Journal reports that Google and Amazon have sought similar data, in hopes of providing banking applications for its Google Assistant and Alexa smart speakers.

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Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer.

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