Facebook delves deeper ... into your credit card

Just when you thought it was safe to move back into social media, Facebook will be giving you a little reminder it wants more than your email address, wedding pictures and political beliefs.

According to reports from the United States, the company wants you to share a bit more - things like your credit card numbers and offline addresses.

The move comes from a new Facebook service called Gifts. It allows Facebook users - in the US for now - to buy presents for their friends on the social network.

The New York Times said the gift service was part of an aggressive moneymaking push aimed at pleasing Facebook's investors after the company's dismal stock market debut.

Facebook has stepped up its mobile advertising and is starting to customise the marketing messages it shows to users based on their web browsing outside Facebook.

To power the Gifts service, Facebook rented a warehouse in South Dakota and created its own software to track inventory and shipping. It will not say how much it earns from each purchase made through Gifts, although merchants that have a similar arrangement with Amazon.com give it a roughly 15% cut of sales.

If it catches on, the service would give Facebook a toehold in the more than $US200 billion ($NZ243 billion) e-commerce market. More importantly, it would let the company accumulate a new stream of valuable personal data and use it to refine targeted advertisements, its bread and butter. The company said it did not now use data collected through Gifts for advertising purposes, but could not rule it out in future.

Facebook already collects credit card information from users who play social games on its site. But they are a limited constituency and a wider audience may be persuaded to buy a gift when Facebook reminds them a friend is expecting a baby or having a significant birthday.

The Gifts service, which grew out of Facebook's acquisition of a mobile application called Karma, was introduced in September and expanded earlier last month on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday shopping season.

Facebook's latest move into online commerce steps into territory dominated by web rivals Amazon and Apple. Both companies have far more information about shopping behaviour and stored credit card numbers - important for repeat and impulse purchases.

Apple is considered the leader when it comes to credit cards; it said in June it had 400 million on file. PayPal, a division of eBay, has 117 million users, all with stored payment information, and eBay itself has an additional 108 million customers, some of whom have stored payment data.

Mackline has been looking online for family Christmas presents but decided that because all of the products could actually be bought in high street shops, browsing was good but physical purchases would be made at local retailers.

Admittedly, my Kindle stores books bought from Amazon. But this year, I am buying real books. Reports out last week pointed to a huge surge in online shopping in New Zealand, Australia and the US.

Cyber Monday, in the US - which followed Black Friday and Super Saturday - was huge.

Mackline is no way opposed to online shopping but urges readers to remember that high street retailers employ your neighbours, friends and relatives.

And is giving Facebook your credit card and home details the best use of your time? On Facebook, the gifts you buy for people will help refine the algorithm. Over time, Facebook says, the gift recommendations will only get better.

Perhaps one day, Facebook will tell you exactly what to get your partner for Christmas.


Twitter: @mackersline