Facebook has denied reports that it has asked banks for their customers’ financial details in return for sharing its user information with them. The service would be ‘entirely opt-in,’ the social media giant and creepy spyware purveyor said.
But Facebook has proven before that it can’t be trusted to say what it really wants to do with your data.
It’s sold or given its users’ personal data to hostile foreign regimes, big businesses, and outfits like Cambridge Analytica where it’s frankly hard to tell the difference. Its CEO has been evasive during sessions with Congress and avoided meeting with other countries’ lawmakers altogether.
So when the Wall Street Journal says that ‘the social-media giant has asked large US 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,’ it’s tempting to believe the WSJ.
Facebook says no
On the other hand, Facebook’s denial was pretty vociferous: ‘A recent Wall Street Journal story implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data — this is not true,’ a spokesperson said to CNN Money.
That’s a sharp contrast with Zuckerberg’s ‘I’ll have to ask my team’ catchphrase before Congress:
Instead, apparently, ‘we partner with banks and credit card companies to offer services like customer chat or account management.’
And speaking to TechCrunch, Facebook’s spokesperson, Elisabeth Diana said Facebook didn’t want to collect credit card transaction information, or trying to build a dedicated feature where users could interact with their bank account directly through Facebook.
Additionally, Ms Diana denied that its work with banks involved gathering data to run targeted advertising, or personalize content.
So which is true?
That does sound different from the story the WSJ told, in which ‘the company over the past year asked JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and U.S. Bancorp to discuss potential offerings it could host for bank customers on Facebook Messenger.’
The Journal did attribute those reports to ‘people familiar with the matter’ – not the most reliable-sounding source, though there are clearly reasons why you’d want to keep your name on the down low if you were talking about this stuff.
Probably Facebook is on the level here, technically at least.
A distinction without a difference?
Trouble with that is, for users who are concerned about their personal data being secure, that might be a distinction without a difference – even if they buy Facebook’s story. (I’m not talking about what’s true here, just about what people are likely to find believable.)
CNN Money explains that in more than 40 countries, Facebook users can already link their Paypal account to their Facebook Messenger account, then use that to track account balances, receipts and shipping updates.
Alternatively, American Express customers can use Messenger to track purchases. And other banks are already nearly where Faccebook denied ever wanting to go: Citibank customers in Singapore can plug Citibank’s chatbot service into Messenger and manage some account functions through Facebook’s chat service.
Facebook says that none of this data is shared with advertisers, but Messenger’s end-to-end encryption feature, ‘secret conversations,’ is off by default and Facebook has confirmed that it reads private chats in Messenger. And ‘not shared with advertisers’ =/= ‘not used to target ads.’
So if your response to Facebook’s apparently flat denials is ‘yeah, right,’ you’re not alone. Mean while, get a vpn and stay truly anonymous online.