ATLANTA - Dividing a dinner bill or paying the babysitter is easier than ever with payment apps. But, a feature on a very popular mobile app is revealing more about you than you may have realized. If you use Venmo, it's time to dip into the privacy setting.
I use Venmo to pay sitters and I have folks pay me through the app when I sell something online. It's so convenient. But I'll be honest, I thought I was being old-fashioned when one of its features made me wince. Venmo has a real social media feel to it. Your transactions, by default, are public on a news feed.
When you sign up for the app, the newsfeed is populated with people tangentially connected to you. And you can start watching how often they buy pizza or pay another friend for something.
It all seems benign, but a researcher scoured millions of transactions and gathered up enough info about individuals to make all sorts of discoveries. In one case, somebody's marijuana business was out there for everyone to see. Researchers tracked this couple and their crumbling relationship as it played out online. But it can be more menacing than that. The study tracked a woman, in an eight-month period, who made nearly 1,000 transactions for junk food and alcohol. That's the kind of info insurance companies might want to know about.
None of these apply to your life? How about these: A future employer could see what you pay in rent each month and know how much or how little to pay you. Oh, there's more, the researcher found one woman visited a food truck at the same time a few days a week. If we wanted to track down this stranger, we can. And that's creepy.
You can make each individual transaction private but go deeper into settings. There you hit 'privacy'. Tap on the word 'private' and just below it go ahead and make past transactions private as well.
Again, it's certainly a convenient service, but it's important to take added steps to make it a more private experience.
Now, this does not mean that Venmo won't share your information in other ways. If you read Venmo's privacy page, it's clear they collect a lot of data including account information, your phone number, your mailing and email addresses, social security number, and birthday. And this information can be used, they write, to connect your Venmo account to third party platforms.