Humans are funny about what information they choose to share. Many were aghast when it was revealed that Facebook collected and sold U.S. consumer data to UK firm Cambridge Analytica for use in the last presidential election without their consent. Even though most do not know what data was used, how or if it was used, consumers felt their information had been unrightfully given. Contrast that with reports of information that is shared as a part of financial person-to-person (P2P) transactions. PCMag reported on the rather sensitive data that is made public by P2P provider Venmo:
If you’ve ever used Venmo to sell drugs, flirt with a lover, or pay your bills, be careful how you describe those transactions. By default, these phrases or emoji are public, and taken as a whole they can paint a pretty clear picture of how you live your life.
The Venmo API lets developers access public transactions, and one privacy researcher did just that. She then created a website cataloging how the mobile payments app can easily expose personal details.
Mozilla media fellow Hang Do Thi Duc analyzed the data of 208 million public Venmo transactions involving about 18 million people for the site, called “Public By Default.”
“By looking through them, I learned a scary amount about Venmo users,” she said in an email to PCMag. “I was able to follow a drug dealer’s sales, watch a couple fight viciously on Valentine’s Day, and learn exactly how many mangos a Santa Barbara, CA food cart sells each week.”
The difference between these two scenarios may be the perceived level of control that consumers have over the information that is exposed. With Venmo, there is the opportunity to keep the commentary and emoji private, however few actually take the time to make that adjustment. Just in case you are just now thinking about what you may have shared, here are the steps to take:
To make your Venmo transaction private, tap the app’s hamburger menu (), and select Settings > Privacy and choose a default privacy setting: public, friends, or private. You can also make your past transactions private in the same section.
Overview by Sarah Grotta, Director, Debit, and Alternative Products Advisory Service at Mercator Advisory Group