Business

Facebook Asked Banks to Turn Over Customers' Financial Data

Despite growing calls for tighter regulation of Facebook’s surveillance tactics, the social media giant has a plan to get its hands on your personal financial information on top of everything else it already has.

Facebook's power is a combination of its increasingly invasive grab for your personal data and the sheer volume of users in its network.

In a story which originally broke in the Wall Street Journal on August 6, Facebook has been contacting some of the largest banks in America during the last year. What they are asking for includes, according to the Journal, “detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking account balances”.

Facebook is doing that “as part of an effort to offer new services to users”. The services would include, according to the Journal, offerings which “might entice users to spend more time on Messenger”. If it gets the information it wants, Facebook might offer tools, again according to the Journal, to “show its users their checking account balances”. It has apparently also “pitched fraud alerts” as a feature.

Those new services could include targeted advertising from third parties, based on customer account activity provided by the banks. So far, according to a response to the WSJ article by Facebook, it does not want to do that. It also said it would not be sharing that information with third parties. On both it is fair to be skeptical, especially in view of the Cambridge Analytica debacle where Facebook did share sensitive account information on tens of millions of its customers.

For those wondering how the banks would even have the right to provide Facebook with this sensitive financial information, it is something many have already signed off on when they arranged for credit cards, loans, or applied for a bank account. The forms for each of those often includes a box – already checked – asking if it is okay to share certain aspects of your financial information with third parties who may offer other products and services of interest to you.

When Facebook does get this data as one of those authorized third parties, watch for what may seem like an oddly-worded question about your financial information. That will be Facebook’s way of getting you to approve your bank transferring more than your credit rating and what accounts you have. It will be to ask if it is okay to get at your personal financial information, possibly including those specific checking account balances. The company will pitch that question as a special benefit to you as a Facebook user. For Facebook, access to that data will once again literally be access to more “gold” about its user base. Knowing exactly how much you spend on what, what your discretionary income is, and how much debt you’re in could allow Facebook to customize “services”, as it describes them, to target you more effectively. That same data, merged with third-party services to look at your credit and buying habits, plus the enormous database Facebook already has on you and your “Facebook friends”, could position the social media company for some frightening manipulation of your financial life.

In an article published in Forbes on August 6 in response to the WSJ story, tech writer Curtis Silver pointed out that “Facebook has been a cesspool of privacy issues for quite a while”. He went on to say point out that the company is just “a data content farm for paying customers”, and warned that people should “quit Facebook before it inevitably access your banking data”.