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Facebook’s push to gain access to users’ banking data and other sensitive financial information could help make online banking more efficient - or it could backfire among those sceptical that the world’s biggest social network can reliably safeguard personal data.
The site has joined a growing race among big technology companies seeking private information once regarded as off-limits: users’ checking-account balances, recent credit card transactions and other facts of their personal finances.

Facebook said this week that it had proposed data-sharing partnerships with banks and credit card companies that would allow users to access their personal account information from within the social network’s messaging service, Facebook Messenger, as an alternative to speaking with customer service representatives or automated chatbots on the companies’ banking or credit sites.

Facebook said the data would not be shared with marketers or used for ad-targeting purposes, and no major US financial institutions have announced that they’re interested in a joint arrangement.

But a company representative said several unnamed banks and credit card companies had voiced interest in teaming up with the social network, even proposing their own potential deals.

“The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone - and it’s completely opt-in,” Facebook spokesperson Elisabeth Diana said. “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.”

But Facebook’s past scandals over data privacy have left industry and privacy experts wondering how the more than 1billion Facebook Messenger users might react to the company wanting to link their social media profiles with their private finances and spending histories.

Facebook said the banking information wouldn’t be included in the vast stores of information the site uses to build people’s personality profiles.

“It’s the most intimate information about our personal behaviour possible, perhaps even more intimate than how we comment on our friends’ feeds,” said Zachary Townsend, the former chief data officer of California and a partner at Deciens Capital, a venture capital fund that specialises in financial technology.

“The idea that Facebook, which basically aggregates information to sell to third parties, could also add financial information to that mix seems uncomfortable, given their history.”

Many of the tech world’s major players have shown similar ambitions in tapping users’ financial data, which could help companies lock in customer loyalty, help developers provide more sophisticated tools - and give advertisers lucrative clues into users’ offline interests and buying intentions.

Apple and Google provide mobile-payment services that allow users to access financial information and pay for products with their phones. Amazon.com offers users a credit card issued by JP Morgan Chase.

And Google last year announced a deal that would let it review and analyse roughly 70% of all credit and debit card transactions in the US.

“What you purchase is the ultimate predictor of what you’ll purchase in the future. It’s an indication of your stage of life, and there’s a lot that can be packaged up and targeted based off that,” said Mike Herrick, an executive at Urban Airship.

“Everybody’s mad at Facebook, but they’re just one of many participants in this data ecosystem.”