Why isn't your Venmo private?

by Randy Gingeleski

2 minutes to read

If you use Venmo and your transactions *are* private, ignore. Otherwise read. ☠️

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Venmo is a mobile-centric, Paypal-owned vehicle of transferring money between yourself and others.

There’s a social network aspect to it. You see transfers of money between “friends” – just descriptions, though, not amounts.

This isn’t a post on what Venmo is, though. Or about why you should use it at all (i.e. ease of money transfer over traditional Paypal), use it over competitors (i.e. “Cash App”), etc.

I just want to call out the app’s default lack of privacy for existing users. As an information security professional, this feels like an obligation.

Your exchanges on Venmo are public by default. So if anyone in the world also on Venmo wanted to browse everything you’ve done, that’s possible but unlikely. What’s more likely is your “friends” will infer a lot about you.

From just going into the app every once in a while for exchanges, and seeing like the 5 most recent ones amongst “friends” (the default view), I can infer a lot.

Like that a recruiter I know goes out drinking soju quite often. Or somebody I graduated high school with charges his girlfriend for rent.

My Venmo friends view

This all isn’t any of my business. But it’s hard not to notice given this default view on recent “friends” transactions.

Disconnecting Venmo from other things, like your phone contacts or Facebook, may treat some of these symptoms. There’d just be some user experience cost as it’d be harder for you to find people you know for exchanges.

However, all of that is not addressing the cause which is easily addressable.

You just… adjust your privacy setting to “private” so only you and who you transact with can see stuff.

My Venmo privacy settings

For me this seemed like a no-brainer… after realizing the issue.

I’ve had the app since 2013 (found out about it early from a client when freelancing) but didn’t think through this privacy thing until maybe 2017. That’s when my use spiked for various reasons, and I started to notice a lot of info regarding others’ usage.

Venmo describes how to adjust privacy here and you can retroactively restrict older activity.

Maybe this is all just my anti-social-networking stance, however. It’s possible peers enjoy the voyeurism of others on their monetary exchanges. Or their crafty messages/emojis describing them.

Make the choice that feels right to you. 🌝

Related: Wired post on Venmo privacy and alternatives

Related: “Vicemo” shows public drug-related transactions