Two weeks later Buzzfeed News allegedly found President Joe Biden’s Venmo account using the app’s search tool and public friends function, quickly triggering cybersecurity and the national security alarm, Venmo gave users the ability to make their friend list private.
Switching to one of the Venmo most criticized characteristics over the years, who has been spotted by BuzzFeed News and application researcher Jane Manchun Wong on Fridays, allows users to make their friends list public, friends-only, or private. With these new privacy settings, one would hope that people like President Biden, or anyone for that matter, will be harder to find on the PayPal-owned app.
So far, Venmo has been the only major social network with a contact-based friend list that couldn’t be made private, according to Buzzfeed. When users sign up for Venmo, they are prompted to authorize the app to access contacts on their phone to automatically add these contacts to the Friends list. (This is not required, although some have criticized the app for appearing to make contact sharing mandatory).
The list, along with the in-app search tool, would have allowed the outlet to find Biden’s Venmo profile after less than 10 minutes of research. Buzzfeed was motivated to search for Biden’s account after the New York Times published an article on the President which included a passing mention that he had sent money to his grandchildren using Venmo. Buzzfeed also uncovered what appeared to be the Venmo accounts of First Lady Jill Biden, nearly a dozen members of the Biden family and senior White House officials.
A Venmo spokesperson confirmed the new privacy feature to Gizmodo on Saturday.
“We are constantly evolving and strengthening the Venmo platform for all of our customers. As part of these ongoing efforts, we’ve added built-in controls giving customers the option to select a public, friends-only, or private setting for their friends list, ”the spokesperson said. “We look forward to continuing to provide customers with a seamless payment experience. “
In an article on his help Center, Venmo has also confirmed that it will now include a “Appear in other users’ friends list” button. He added that users who choose not to appear in other users’ friend lists will not appear even if their friends have chosen different privacy settings.
As rated by Buzzfeed, people could use someone’s friend information on Venmo to map their activity, which can lead to harassment and put them at risk. This information could also reveal other types of sensitive information, such as the identity of a therapist’s patients.
While this is a welcome and long-awaited change by Venmo, it deserves to be analyzed in more detail. Wong points out that as of Friday, the privacy setting for Venmo’s friends list was public by default. To be clear, Venmo isn’t the only social platform that uses audience by default—Twitter and Instagram do too, for example, but given her idiosyncrasies such as her contact-based friend list and the fact that she deals with money, it might be better to rethink this to ensure privacy and Security.
At the very least, it should explain the risks of making your friends list public and allow users to make an informed choice for themselves.