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Facebook might let you chat with your bank over Messenger

Sources say the company has been in talks with several major US banks.
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NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook wants to incorporate your banking info into Messenger and has approached companies like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and US Bancorp over the past year, the Wall Street Journal reports. People familiar with the discussions told the publication that Facebook has sought data on card transactions and checking account balances and has proposed giving its users access to banking information such as account balances and fraud alerts through Messenger. The move comes as Facebook tries to boost engagement and banks grapple with how to reach more customers digitally. Since the original WSJ report, Facebook has clarified that while it may partner with banks so financial institutions can use Messenger for customer support, it doesn't have any interest in going beyond that.

But Facebook is still dealing with the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which generated a lot of distrust in how the company manages its users' data. The social media giant is facing lawsuits over the debacle in the US and the UK, is being investigated by various agencies and has inspired a handful of data privacy bills in both the House and the Senate. At least one major US bank left talks with the company due to privacy concerns, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A JPMorgan spokesperson told the publication that it wouldn't be "sharing our customers' off-platform transaction data with these platforms, and have had to say no to some things as a result."

"Like many online companies, we routinely talk to financial institutions about how we can improve people's commerce experiences, like enabling better customer service," Facebook spokesperson Elisabeth Diana told the Wall Street Journal. "An essential part of these efforts is keeping people's information safe and secure." Google and Amazon have also reportedly sought banking info in order to incorporate bank services into their virtual assistants.

Earlier this year Facebook halted a research project that aimed to collect individuals' anonymized medical information from both healthcare providers and its own platform. In April, the company said it had decided to put a hold on the project so it could focus on "doing a better job of protecting people's data."

Messenger has been a focus for Facebook in regards to both customer service and commerce. The company introduced a Messenger money transfer service in 2015 and expanded the tool to UK users last year. Facebook has also incorporated PayPal services into Messenger.

Update 1:00PM: Facebook sent Engadget a response to the Wall Street Journal's report and a spokesperson said that the company is not seeking financial transaction data from banks. The full statement is below.

"A recent Wall Street Journal story implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data – this is not true. Like many online companies with commerce businesses, we partner with banks and credit card companies to offer services like customer chat or account management. 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."

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