Venmo, the PayPal-owned financial app that makes it easy to send money to your friends, is rolling out an important update that adds a major new privacy option. Going forward, Venmo users will have the option to hide their friend lists, making it harder for other people to identify their social circle. The change follows the discovery of President Biden’s Venmo account and the people he was linked to through it.
Earlier this month, The New York Times published an article that included a brief mention about Joe Biden’s use of Venmo — and that quickly led to a report from BuzzFeed announcing that it had discovered the president’s account. Though the report didn’t reveal his associates, it did detail the number of people in his social circle the writers were able to find, renewing talk about the financial app and related privacy concerns.
Though Venmo users have had the option of hiding their transactions from public view, the app has never offered a way for users to hide their friend lists. Many have pointed out the potential privacy issues this can cause, including making it possible for someone to stalk an ex, get an idea about a person’s life and routines, and even shed light on whistleblowers.
Only days after the report detailing Biden’s Venmo account, the company has revealed that it will enable users to hide their friend lists — though these lists will be made public by default. As well, users will be able to set their list to ‘friends-only,’ Venmo told BuzzFeed News, offering a compromise between privacy and the app’s social network foundation.
This is a win for privacy advocates who have spent years highlighting the issue public friend lists pose to users. The ability to make transactions private only offered a certain degree of protection, particularly if friends on their public list made their own transactions public. Everyone from scammers to stalkers could leverage this information, and that’s a big concern when it comes to public figures like the president.