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October 08, 2014

Facebook Messenger Already has Code for Payments Feature

Recent activity by Facebook suggests that the social media site is getting into the peer-to-peer payment business. In addition, a security expert and computer science student uncovered code in the iOS version of Facebook Messenger that supports debit card payments. This combined with the fact that other companies hope to add support for processing payments has some speculating that giants like Facebook and Google could transform the financial payments industry.

Jonathan Zdziarski, a security expert, and Andrew Aude, a computer science student at Stanford, both recently analyzed source code in the iOS version of Messenger that supports payment processing, even though such a feature is not accessible through the app’s user interface.

Aude used Cycript to examine the inner workings of Messenger. The program runs as a console app, giving developers the ability to attach to actively running iOS or Mac OS X code and modify its behavior with code in Objective-C++ or JavaScript. It can be downloaded free of charge as a ZIP file from Cycript’s website. Aude found, among other things, that the payment code supports debit card transactions, but not credit card or PayPal transactions.

Other signs besides hidden source code indicate Facebook is serious about supporting payments in Messenger. In June, it hired David Marcus to take over the Messenger unit. He was formerly the president of PayPal and the founder of Zong, a payment company that eBay acquired in 2011. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg downplayed the significance of Marcus’ hiring, stating that the company is taking its time to implement a payment processing solution.

This is probably a wise decision on Facebook’s part as any solution, especially one dealing with money, needs to have bugs worked out before users can rely on it. One of the things that Zdziarski found in examining Messenger is that it would store credit card information in memory if payments are enabled and thus poses a security risk. Not a good thing if you are handling other people’s money.

The bigger issue is what effect Facebook would have on banking. With over one billion users it has the potential to influence the financial services industry. Google Wallet and Apple Pay have a lot of clout too, a fact that JPMorgan and Chase CEO Jamie Dimon expressed at a conference back in May. Whoever eventually wins control over this market is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: the winner will be the one who comes up with the best technology and can sell it to the biggest audience. 




Edited by Maurice Nagle



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