Op-Ed – Facebook Courts Disaster – Now It Wants Your Financial Records

Facebook's latest stance could be its biggest PR disaster so far. The company denies having made the request but the damage is done.

Facebook has spent the majority of 2018 embroiled in controversy, and it looks like it wants to continue down that path. Instead of taking a step back to rebuild consumer trust, it is plunging headlong into a PR disaster by asking banks to share their customers’ private banking records on its Messenger service.

By Dan Goldstein & Adam Rowan

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal

When news emerged that data for 87 million users was “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data mining firm, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress, and federal agencies launched investigations into how Facebook handles its users’ data. Then, in July, the company experienced the largest single-day drop in stock value in the history of Wall Street.

Now Facebook Wants Access to Your Banking Transactions

Now, according to Reuters and as reported by The Scope Weekly, the social network is asking major banks to allow Facebook Messenger access to private customer financial records including account balances, financial transactions and more.

Facebook’s efforts to access consumers’ private financial records couldn’t come at a worse time. If consumers haven’t completely lost faith in the company, this could push them over the edge.

It hard to imagine a death spiral for a highly profitable company with more than 2 Billion users, but if Facebook doesn’t start demonstrating that it cares about consumer privacy, we may see users flee in unprecedented numbers.

Bad Timing and Even Worse Judgment

While it may have had good intentions, when a company faces this much bad press for its mishandling of consumer data, the last thing it should do is to dig a deeper hole by asking to handle even more private consumer data.

Facebook should have taken the bull by the horn and proved to all its stakeholders that it takes financial privacy seriously. Mark Zuckerberg’s short-lived apology tour is far from enough. Changing people’s minds on such a sensitive topic requires more than a little PR. It should be engaged in a long-term very public campaign to change its image by reiterating the importance of consumer privacy to its staff and its users as well as focusing on new initiatives like introducing new cybersecurity protections that benefit consumers on and off Facebook.

Instead, Facebook continues to demonstrate that it is tone deaf and opened the door to even more criticism.

A Major Mistake for the Banks

The last thing a major bank should want is to get caught up in the Facebook privacy scandal. Large banks already have their PR challenges between hackers and the highly publicized Wells Fargo false accounts scandal not to mention the recent Wells Fargo computer error that led to wrongful denial home loan modifications that could have helped customers get back out of foreclosure.

Given the current environment, Facebook will have a significant challenge convincing financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo that it can protect private financial information. Frankly, if any of these banks go down this path and get burned, they deserve it.

Expect Lawsuits and More Regulation

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation seems squarely aimed at penalizing the data collection and usage practices of Facebook. With the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, the United States has passed its first piece of significant privacy protection legislation as well. If Facebook continues down this road, more market value losses, lawsuits, and aggressive regulation seem all but inevitable.

Dan Goldstein is the president and owner of Page 1 Solutions, LLC, a full-service digital marketing agency serving attorneys, doctors, and dentists throughout North America. He is also a licensed attorney who previously worked in the Securities & Corporate Practices division of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Adam Rowan is the content specialist at Page 1 Solutions. He has written on a wide range of digital marketing and technology topics for more than ten years.

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