What could be better than an app that lets you make payments to friends, charities or crowdfunding sites with a few taps on your smartphone? How about an app that does all that -- and tells everyone what you spent.
That's essentially what French mobile payment company S-money, a subsidiary of banking group BPCE, has created with its integration of Twitter as a means of transmitting payment orders to its existing mobile app.
S-money's app allows French bank account holders with a French mobile number to make payments to one another or to organizations that subscribe to the service. However, there's no technical or regulatory reason why the service couldn't operate in other countries, said BPCE development director Nicolas Chatillon, as S-money holds a European Union license to make financial transactions.
To make an S-money payment over Twitter, sender and recipient must first link their Twitter usernames to their S-money accounts, and the sender must also install the app on their phone. After that, it's as simple as sending a tweet to @SmoneyFR with the hashtag #envoyer (send), the amount in euros and the Twitter username of the recipient. That's almost as simple as making a regular payment via the app, which involves entering the email address, phone number or S-money username of the intended recipient, and the amount to be sent.
In both cases, the app will then display the transaction details and ask for a PIN code to confirm it. Once that is entered, the recipient receives an SMS informing them the payment has been made to their account.
The difference is that the payment orders sent by Twitter are available for all the world to see.
That's appealing to the organizations that partnered with S-money for the launch.
"We need this visibility," said Gaëlle Jones, head of corporate and institutional donors at Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger), a French charity that fights malnutrition worldwide. "It's through this visibility on social networks that we can mobilize more donors and supporters."
Those making payments to Action Contre la Faim send a message to their followers, she said: "I'm committed: Why aren't you?"
But BPCE's Chatillon suggested that there can also be social advantages to publicizing payments between individuals. If someone forgot their wallet and borrowed from a friend to pay for dinner at a restaurant, then making the repayment public tells their circle of friends, "I'm someone who repays their debts."
Complaints from some Twitter users about the disclosure of transaction details miss the point that those making the payments have chosen to publicize them -- although the recipients don't get a say in that. The tweeted transactions are as secure as those made directly via the app, protected by the user's PIN.
One area that could leave people vulnerable is the handling of payments involving Twitter users not yet signed up for S-money. They receive a tweet from S-money's customer service account, @SmoneySAV, telling them "To benefit from this service, go to s-money.fr/twitter," identifying the sender and recipient of the payment. But whereas @SmoneyFR is a Twitter verified account, that for @SmoneySAV isn't, yet -- and it only has a handful of followers.
That could open the way for someone to scrape transaction details from the Twitter feed and launch phishing attacks on participants from a fake customer service account. Chatillon said he expected @SmoneySAV would be verified soon, giving added weight to its messages, while a colleague of his suggested that, since phishing attacks would also need to be public, they would be spotted and shut down rapidly.
Twitter has 3.5 million users in France, while the S-money app has just 100,000 downloads, according to Chatillon, leaving plenty of room for growth.
One thing that might drive sign-ups: S-money provides the payment service behind "Paris Taxis", a new app for finding a ride in the French capital. City authorities funded development of the app to modernize the way taxis work in the city, in the face of rising competition from limousine and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Chauffeur Privé.
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