Venmo is discontinuing its longtime policy of telling every stranger on the fucking planet who new users are sending money to and why for no reason whatsoever, according to Bloomberg.
The mobile payment app has since its inception had social features that no one asked for, with every transaction appearing on a timeline alongside the memo field that says what a payment is for. By default—and unbeknown to most newly registered users—that feed is set to public, or as the Venmo settings menu puts it, “Visible to everyone on the internet.” That means any person on the app can see how someone who hasn’t bothered to change the settings is using it, a red flag so glaring it came up in a Federal Trade Commission settlement in 2018.
No one wants randos spying on their transactions, making this feature a voyeuristic and utterly confusing invasion of privacy at best (and at its worst, revealing who a user is banging, having a lunch-break job interview with, drunkenly getting pizza with at 3:00 a.m., or buying drugs from). The available evidence suggests many, if not most, users still seem to be unaware they’re broadcasting their Venmo transactions to the open web. For example, the author of this article hopped onto Venmo this afternoon and was immediately greeted with a list of transactions between total strangers with public profiles, revealing payments tagged “Beer,” “danks,” “Broke bich gotta pay for parking,” “my toes,” “No more fortnite,” “Drugs,” “Birdies and strippers. But mostly strippers,” “$3XU4L F4V0R$,” “7am pregame,” “I’m drunk,” “Crack cocaine in the morning,” “So there I was, pesto cream on my tittys,” and “Down ass foo I’m fuckinnnnnggg deaaaaad.” Others were simply suggestive emojis, like the eggplant, peach, splash, and tongue.
Similarly, Venmo made friend lists on the app public by default, which is how reporters tracked down President Joe Biden’s account in May 2021.
Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Venmo is now opting to eliminate the global social feed, meaning that the public feed will be going away entirely, presumably meaning the default privacy setting will now be “Friends” (“Visible to sender, recipients, and their Venmo friends”). In a blog post, Venmo owner PayPal explained that while it always intended friends to be able to “split and share payments and experiences,” it was moving away from intentionally making that a privacy nightmare:
Venmo has always been social at its core, designed to be a place where friends can split and share payments and experiences. As part of our ongoing efforts to continually evolve the Venmo platform, while staying true to the heart of the Venmo experience, we are removing the global feed, and the friends feed is now the only social feed that will appear in the app. The Venmo community has grown to more than 70 million customers, so this change allows customers to connect and share meaningful moments and experiences with the people who matter most.
As TechCrunch noted, the ability to make transactions public is still available, although the transactions will only be visible on a user’s profile. PayPal also took time to reiterate that Venmo recently began allowing users to set their friend lists to private, a change it announced in the wake of the Biden fiasco and finally rolled out in June 2021.
While this is an upgrade, we strongly urge you to ensure your default privacy setting is toggled to Private (“Visible to sender and recipient only”). Again, any setting other than this is like letting friends read through your Venmo payment history on a whim.
Venmo also confirmed it is rolling out a feature this week that allows users to tag a transaction as a purchase of goods or services, thus qualifying for the company’s protection plan. That switch will also mean Venmo will begin charging merchants fees amounting to 1.9% of the transaction plus 10 cents, which Recode reported hasn’t exactly gone down well with small business operators used to no-fee payment processing. Some of those merchants have taken to social media to voice their complaints, in some cases urging customers to forego payment protection in order to help keep them in business.