by Bill Snyder

Why Facebook Forced You to Use Its Messenger App (Hint: $$$)

Oct 07, 20143 mins
Consumer ElectronicsFacebookSocial Networking Apps

Facebook reportedly plans to let users send money to friends and pay for certain services via its Messenger app. columnist Bill Snyder warns against trusting a company that doesn't prioritize user privacy with sensitive financial information.

If you’re like me, you probably wondered why Facebook forced everyone to use its Messenger app for chat. (Well, technically it didn’t force people to use the app, it forced people who want to send Facebook messages to use the app.) Wonder no more. As is often the case with Facebook, the answer is money. Facebook is reportedly gearing up to enable mobile payments within Messenger.

The move has the potential to be a very lucrative ploy for Facebook. Acting as a facilitator between someone who wants to transfer cash to a friend or pay for third-party goods or services is a multi-billion dollar market, according to The Guardian.

I don’t have a problem with Facebook making money, that’s why it’s in business. I am only mildly annoyed about having to use the standalone Messenger app. Given Facebook’s dismal track record of abusing user privacy, I think you have to ask: Do I really want to trust banking information to those bozos?

There’s an amusing footnote here: Facebook didn’t want anyone to know that Messenger will become a mobile payments tool. Turns out, the company that isn’t good at keeping user data secret also isn’t good at keeping its own secrets.

A Stanford University computer science student found the payment feature buried inside the app. The student, Andrew Aude, broke the news via Twitter on Saturday, and explained that he used a developer tool to get under Messenger’s hood.

“With Facebook Messenger, you attach money just like you attach a photo or a location,” he wrote. Aude later Aude told Gizmodo that the test he saw requires a debit card — bank account and credit card transfers aren’t allowed, at least not yet.

Facebook neither confirmed nor denied the news, but there’s reason to believe Aude. In June, Facebook hired former PayPal president David Marcus to take the reins of Facebook Messenger. The hiring ramped up speculation that a payment feature was coming to the app, according to VentureBeat. During Facebook’s last earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company was going to implement some form of payment scheme in Messenger but didn’t give an indication of when.

The social network already stores its users’ credit card information, so they can use their Facebook accounts to log-in on select retailers’ sites and have Facebook populate the payment fields for faster checkout.

Given the huge number of recent data breaches, putting your trust in a company that doesn’t take privacy very seriously simply isn’t prudent.