Venmo, the popular payment app, aims for a different vibe from its parent company PayPal. It’s the fun, emoji-filled, mobile-only option for peer-to-peer payment.
The problem is, Venmo’s privacy settings are public by default, meaning those emojis – and the senders and recipients of the transactions associated with them – are public to the whole world. 😳
Mozilla and others have pointed out the risk this poses – including enabling stalking of survivors of intimate partner violence, social engineering, ransom demands, more.
But Dan Schulman, CEO of Venmo’s parent company, PayPal, hasn’t backed down, defending his company’s negligent track record on privacy in 2019 by saying: "I think the boundaries between private and public are much more blurred than when we were growing up. To that generation, and we shouldn't put our values or our judgment on it, sharing and understanding what their friends are doing and what's important to their friends is incredibly reinforcing."
We think everyone deserves privacy by default, but unfortunately Schulman hasn’t come around – so we found him on Venmo, and shared our 2 cents.
Recently, Venmo came under heavy scrutiny for its public-by-default settings when reporters found President Biden on the platform. In response to that news, Venmo quietly offered a new setting to make friends lists private – something Mozilla joined our partners at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in calling for more than two years ago.
The new privacy options for your friends list are a step in the right direction (read how to change them here). But much like Venmo added the option for private transactions only after the release of Mozilla Fellow Hang Do Thi Duc’s publicbydefault.fyi and a subsequent Mozilla campaign, it’s too little too late.
The burden shouldn’t be on users to dig through their settings for the most basic privacy protections – particularly when so few expect a financial app to be public-by-default in the first place.
That’s why we again partnered with EFF to send this letter to Dan Schulman urging Venmo to finally make privacy the default. We’ll keep fighting until Venmo users no longer need to take multiple steps to keep their transactions, friends list and even their location private on the platform – that is, until privacy is the default.