It's pretty easy to find people on Venmo if you have the patience to go through someone's friends' list, which is visible to anyone on the app. In fact, it's so easy, BuzzFeed News was able to find the accounts of President Joe Biden, the first lady and other members of their family a couple of weeks ago. Now, the PayPal-owned mobile payment service has started rolling out a change in users' privacy settings that would allow you to hide your friends list.
Jane Manchun Wong, a software engineer and app researcher known for unearthing yet-to-be-released features in applications, discovered the new setting on Friday. The new Friends List section lets you set your lists to be visible to friends only or to be visible only to yourself. However, it's still set to public by default, which means any Venmo user can see your list unless you go into your settings and change it. You can now choose not to appear in other people's friends lists, though, by making sure the appropriate option is toggled off in the same settings section.
Venmo has confirmed the new feature to BuzzFeed News, telling the publication that it's enhancing its "in-app controls providing customers an option to select a public, friends-only, or private setting for their friends list.” The publication says some users have already set their lists to private, but the feature may take some time to make its way to everyone.
Critics and groups like the EFF have been calling out Venmo for years now for not giving users the ability to hide their friends lists. It's a privacy and security issue, seeing as it makes it easy for anyone to look up who's paying who. EFF Associate Director of Research Gennie Gebhart said back in 2019: "Your bank doesn't put details of your financial transactions into a public timeline, and Venmo shouldn’t either without your affirmative consent."
While the option to hide friends lists now exists, critics believe Venmo's action is still lacking. As Kaili Lambe, a senior campaigner with Mozilla, told BuzzFeed News: "... consumers shouldn’t have to dig around in product settings to find basic privacy protections. Consumers expect privacy to be the default and so do we."