Venmo is one of the most popular person-to-person and person-to-business mobile payment services in the United States. Part of the reason for this, especially for young people, is the service’s social networking tools. Using these tools isn’t always recommended for various reasons and comes with some risks. Luckily, you can set your account to private with ease.
Venmo: The Appeal
As previously noted, Venmo has set itself apart from other banking services is by offering social networking interaction. At the heart of the communication are various “news feeds,” which let others know when you make a transaction (and to who), without the payment amount.
There are three news feeds in Venmo, worldwide, friends-only, and personal. The first and second feeds are similar in that you can react to transactions from others using a “like” or comment, just as you can on regular social networking services. Communicating in Venmo isn’t limited to text. You can also use emoji, Snapchat’s Bitmoji, and Holler stickers.
The worldwide Venmo feed is a running list of transactions happening across service. The friends-only feed only includes purchases made by your friends. The personal feed consists of a history of your Venmo transactions, starting with the most recent.
When you tap on another user, whether through the worldwide or friends-only feed, you can learn more information about them. This information includes their full name, Venmo handle, and list of Venmo friends. On the user profile, you can also see their transaction, again not the payment amount, or make a friend request. Naturally, you can also request or send money to the person.
Venmo: The Concern
The biggest privacy issue regarding Venmo is that strangers can view your name and transaction details less the amount of money spent. More distressing, the worldwide Venmo feed is the default setting. You can change the setting, as you’ll see below.
In 2018, a Berlin-based coder and privacy researcher looked at over 207 million Venmo transactions from the year before. Using this information, they were able to determine information about users. As Market Watch noted at the time:
Do Thi Duc (the researcher) detailed the life stories and personal habits of several users with data gleaned in her analysis. In one case, she was able to determine that two users who frequently made transactions with one another were a married couple. They owned a car and a dog they had recently taken to the vet. They shop for groceries weekly at Walmart. They’re paying off a loan, and get utilities from San Diego Gas & Electric. They most frequently order pizza when eating out.
The information Venmo collects isn’t just available to everyday users. Marketers also have access to this public information and use it accordingly.
What You Can Do
For added security in Venmo, you should change your settings to friends-only, and personal. The former only shows transactions visible to the sender/recipient, and your Venmo friends, while the latter limits transaction information to only yourself and the sender/recipient.
To adjust the privacy settings in the Venmo app:
- Tap on the Venmo app on your mobile device. The Venmo app is available on the App Store and Google Play.
- Choose the hamburger icon at the top left of the app.
- Select Settings.
- Tap Privacy.
- Change the Default Privacy Setting to Public, Friends, or Private, depending on your choice.
- Tap Past Transactions under More.
- Change Privacy for Past Transactions to Change to Friends or Change All to Private. You decide.
Your privacy settings only affect whether others see your transactions; they don’t change what you can see about others. If two users involved in a single transaction have different privacy settings, Venmo applies the more restrictive level. Additionally, users can override their overall privacy settings for any individual purchase.
Other Privacy Settings
You can block other Venmo users at any time using the app. When you block someone, they can’t access your account anymore or send/request money. To better protect your Venmo account, you can add a passcode or Touch ID/Face ID, when applicable.
Venmo is an excellent service for anyone in the U.S. who wants the flexibility of sending money for purposes such as splitting a dinner bill, a trip to the movies, or something more substantial like paying for freelance work. While its social networking interaction tools are perhaps fun to use, they can lead to privacy issues. Decide which level of security is most comfortable for you.