Facebook plays catch-up with Messenger cash transfer test

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Would you trust Facebook with your debit card number? The network is reportedly working on a way to let you send cash to friends in its stand-alone Messenger app, just like Venmo and Square Cash. And Google Wallet. And PayPal.

Stanford student and iOS developer Andrew Aude discovered lines of code in the Messenger app that appear to be a test of payment transfers between friends. Aude tweeted screenshots of his find, a result of using the app developer tool Cycript, over the weekend. Aude told Gizmodo that the test he saw requires a debit card—no bank accounts or credit card transfers allowed, at least not right now.

If Facebook does roll out payment transfers between friends, it wouldn’t be a particularly novel idea. Plenty of other apps let you do the same thing, and with banking and credit card options. But now that former PayPal president David Marcus oversees Facebook’s mobile messaging, the cash transfer test could signal the future of Facebook products.

The social network already lets you store your credit card info, so when you use your Facebook account to log in on select retailers’ sites, you can choose to let Facebook populate the payment fields for faster checkout. Facebook is also testing a buy button for shopping from your News Feed. E-commerce is clearly high priority for the network, but it has to get past those pesky privacy issues and prove it’s a safe place to store your financial information.

Why it matters: Free cash transfers between friends could prove a useful jumping off point, a way to get people accustomed to making financial transactions with Facebook. Note that the network chose its stand-alone Messenger app for this test, which is what the company does when it wants to experiment without scaring people. Messenger has more than 200 million users. If Facebook opens the test up to more of those avid messagers, it may smooth the way for e-commerce and give the network an example to point to when people question its commitment to privacy.

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