Venmo’s latest promotional video asks “How do we know what we really shared this past year?” The answer is every transaction you made using the app. The video doesn’t tell you that.
Venmo is a popular peer-to-peer mobile app that combines basic social media features with the ability to send and receive money from friends. It’s owned by PayPal and can only be used in the United States. Venmo would be useful except for one thing. The app’s default privacy settings leave every transaction the user makes open to anyone who wants to look. They don’t need the user’s permission and they don’t even need the app. All that’s needed is Venmo’s developer API.
Cash App Zone reported that Dan Salmon, a computer science student, scraped over seven million Venmo transactions scattered over six months between July 2018 and February 2019. The data were scraped with the goal of informing users that their Venmo transactions are not as private as they might think. Goal achieved.
Each transaction includes the name and picture of the sender and receiver, the date and time when the transaction occurred, what the payment was for, and any text or emoji included with the transaction. The dollar amount is not shown.
The problem is that the user’s transaction history is set to public by default in Venmo’s privacy settings. Past and future transactions can be set to private, but it takes several steps to do so. If you’re one of Venmo’s 40 million users who hasn’t changed your privacy settings, here’s how to do it.
- Tap Settings
- Tap privacy
- Under Default Privacy Settings tap Private
- Under More tap Past Transactions
- Tap Change All to Private
It’s hard to believe a company that handles tens of millions of money transactions would release an app with a default setting that makes transaction history public. It’s even harder to believe it’s still going on when Venmo was called out in 2017 by Public by Default for doing the same thing. If Venmo is going to be this lax about protecting user privacy, you might want to consider dumping it in favor of an alternative app that takes privacy seriously.