Facebook’s decision to reverse course and ban Alex Jones’ inflammatory disinformation factory is big news. It shows that the social giant is willing to admit mistakes in its continuing search for the right balance between free speech and users’ welfare.
Yet, among many Facebook watchers, the bigger news this week came from The Wall Street Journal, which reported the tech titan was barreling into financial services — potentially violating users’ privacy in the process.
The Journal’s salacious headline said it all: “Facebook to Banks: Give Us Your Data, We’ll Give You Our Users.”
The idea that Facebook was asking banks for users’ financial information — like credit-card transactions and account balances -- raised red flags among privacy advocates, while analysts and investors salivated over the potential new revenue stream.
However, Facebook says the story gives readers and Wall Street the wrong impression about its dealings with banks and other financial services.
The story “implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data,” a Facebook spokeswoman said on Tuesday. “This is not true.”
Like countless other businesses, Facebook insists it’s simply helping banks and credit-card companies offer services like customer chat or account management via its Messenger service.
“The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone … and it’s completely opt-in,” the spokeswoman 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,” the spokeswoman added.
The problem, of course, is that Facebook isn't the most trusted brand following its Cambridge Analytica scandal and successive screw-ups.
For the tech titan, it’s also unfortunate that the Journal's story is hidden behind a paywall. Many readers rely solely on headlines to shape their views.
At least among consumers, it's therefore possible that any good will Facebook generated by banning Alex Jones was wiped out by the Journal's fiery headline.