As Facebook pushes local businesses, new data-mining issues surface

The social media platform is making it easier to customize commercial profiles in the hope of helping users find local retailers and services. However, concerns about trust persist.

After years of trying to connect the world, Facebook wants users to find entrepreneurs in their own neighborhoods.

Facebook announced changes to its business profile pages that should help drive traffic to local small businesses—but big corporations can take advantage of these features as well.

The changes were announced in a blog post, where Facebook wrote, in part:

We’re redesigning Pages on mobile to make it even easier for people to interact with local businesses and find what they need most. For example, you can make a reservation at a restaurant; book an appointment at a salon; or see most recent photos, upcoming Events, and Offers. You can also now see Stories on Pages to get to know the people behind the business.

The company also has launched a standalone app called Facebook Local, which highlights nearby events and businesses.

It’s part of Facebook’s push to make users’ feeds more personal.

Engadget wrote:

The changes are helpful if you’re looking for new places to eat or get a haircut, but they might also be necessary. Facebook’s renewed emphasis on friends over publishers in your News Feed could make it that much harder for businesses to vie for your attention, especially as the feed itself becomes increasingly crowded. This gives you a better reason to look for those local businesses, and might help smaller outfits that would otherwise struggle to stand out.

Here are the changes. Facebook is:

  • Updating business pages, so users can make restaurant reservations, book appointments and see Stories from founders and employees
  • Boosting recommendations from local community members
  • Continuing to build events with options to buy tickets in in the event page, and other features
  • Expanding the job application tool to everywhere in the world
  • Offering a standalone Facebook Local app, as well as a local section on Facebook’s main platform

Facebook provides examples of local businesses it wants to support.

It shared:

Courtney and Marc Jackson from Buffalo, New York, who have had a weekly date night at their favorite Mexican place, Lloyd Taco, since it started as a food truck in 2010. The couple follows Lloyd’s Facebook Page for updates about its restaurants, events and specials. They got to know their favorite spot so well, Marc proposed with a Lloyd takeout box, Lloyd catered their rehearsal dinner, and they took wedding photos at the restaurant on their big day where they were met with champagne. “Our love story wouldn’t be what it is without Lloyd, and Facebook is what made getting to know our favorite restaurant so well possible,” Marc said.

The changes come as Facebook addresses the scandal and loss of trust that have rocked the platform and caused its stock price to swoon, the single largest drop ever for an U.S. company. The platform has also introduced tools to inform users of their social media habits and to inspire more thoughtful interaction with the platform.

New concerns about user data

However, data questions continue to dog the company. Though data misuse has been a hot topic for the site, Facebook appears to still be searching for access to sensitive user data.

A Wall Street Journal article reported that Facebook was asking banks for financial transaction data, a program advertised to help both Facebook and the banks keep more customers. Facebook rejects the allegations.

The BBC reported:

Facebook has denied reports that it is actively asking banks for details of users’ financial transactions.

The statement follows a story in the Wall Street Journal that said the social media giant had asked US banks for such data.

Facebook said some users opted in to accessing some financial information in its Messenger app.

Any data that was accessed by the company for such purposes was not used for advertising, it added.

The Wall Street Journal had reported that Facebook approached JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and US Bancorp to ask for information about users’ account balances and card transactions.

However, Facebook said that users must opt in to linking the Messenger chat app to their bank accounts.

On Twitter, many expressed shock that Facebook might be plumbing financial institutions for information:

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