Venmo is a simple payment service that allows for quick transactions between people. Owned by PayPal, it offers a convenient way to transfer funds between friends and family. Although you can use the app to pay for products and services to people you don’t know, Venmo doesn’t encourage that. You can never be too sure if they’ll deliver on their promise.
As far as privacy is concerned, Venmo allows you to have your transactions be public or private. If set to public, anyone who uses the app can see your entire transaction history. With that in mind, it’s good to know how to change your privacy settings.
Changing the Transaction Privacy Settings
Before you proceed, please make sure you have the latest version of the app. To check if there are any new updates, visit the app’s page on Google Play or Apple App Store, depending on the smartphone you’re using.
When making each new payment on Venmo, you can change its privacy settings. When in the main payment screen, tap the “Privacy” button in the lower right corner of the screen. Once you do, you’ll see three options available:
- Public – This makes the transaction visible to anyone on the Internet.
- Friends – The transaction will be visible to both the sender and the recipient, as well as to their friends who are using Venmo.
- Private – Only the recipient can see your payment.
Depending on which of the three options is currently your app’s default, you should see “(Your Default)” next to its name. If you want to change this setting, please read the following section.
Setting the Default Privacy Level
To set the default privacy setting for all your future transactions, use the app’s menu to do so. Whichever option you choose, this will also apply to all your past transactions as well.
- Open the Venmo app on your smartphone.
- In the main screen, tap the menu icon – the three horizontal lines in the upper corner of the screen.
- Tap the “Settings” option.
- Tap “Privacy.”
- In the “Default Privacy Setting” section, tap one of the options: Public, Friends, or Private.
- Return to the Home screen.
Now that you’ve chosen the default privacy for your transactions, you can rest assured it will stay that way. To be sure that’s the case, check your privacy settings each time the app updates. That’s because the app can sometimes revert the privacy settings to the default, which is “Public.”
Public Transactions Are Exactly That – Public
Having your transactions set to “Public” will allow others to see when you make payments through Venmo, as well as the description you attach to each one. Like any social network, this app also encourages social interaction by publishing user activities in the app’s feed. Although nobody can see the exact amounts you pay or receive, if they look at your transaction history on Venmo, they can recognize specific patterns.
When they pair your patterns with your presence on other social media platforms, it’s quite easy for almost anyone to get a grasp of your lifestyle. They can quickly figure out where you go, what you do, and what you buy. Using a bit of conventional logic, judging by the payment descriptions you leave, it’s also possible to roughly determine your average spending.
Since this data is public, any developer who knows how to use an API can download entire datasets that list all transactions of Venmo’s 40+ million users. That wealth of information can allow them to determine spending patterns of whole communities. They can use the data for marketing campaigns, as well as for other purposes.
For example, Do Thi Duc, a privacy researcher from Berlin, managed to collect all of the public Venmo transactions made in 2017. That translates to over 200 million sales and purchases in total. And each of those transactions has a description attached to it – a mandatory input that Venmo requires from you to be able to send a payment.
Using this data, Do Thi Duc was able to spot patterns of specific individuals. For example, one person had over 900 incoming payments related to selling marijuana. And that’s in 2017 alone. Another person paid for fast food, alcohol, soda, and desserts more than 950 times. Just imagine if a health insurance company used this data to determine the deals they can offer. It doesn’t sound that far-fetched.
Privacy Is Important
Even though Venmo considers itself a social network, people might find sharing their transaction history with the Internet a bit too much. Venmo is a payment service after all, so it may come as a surprise that the default privacy for your transactions is “Public” when you install the app.
Have you managed to change the privacy of your transactions? Which option have you set as the default? Please share your experiences with Venmo in the comments section below.