MacDirectory Magazine

Ergo Josh

MacDirectory magazine is the premiere creative lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts featuring interviews, in-depth tech reviews, Apple news, insights, latest Apple patents, apps, market analysis, entertainment and more.

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Venmo is a popular mobile payment platform. It’s also, in the words of one security expert, “a privacy nightmare”. U.S. president Joe Biden found that out the hard way when BuzzFeed journalists discovered his personal Venmo account — along with an extensive network of his personal social connections. It seems that a New York Times piece mentioned in passing that Biden sometimes used Venmo to send money to his grandkids. That little tidbit piqued the BuzzFeed reporters’ curiosity, and they started searching for the President’s Venmo profile. They found it in under 10 minutes — using nothing more than the platform’s search function and its public friends feature. The incident underscores some serious privacy issues with Venmo — issues that critics have been talking about for years now. For one thing, Venmo publishes user transactions to social media-like feeds (minus the actual dollar amounts). Venmo users also have a “friends list” of other users that they’re connected to. These lists are visible to other people on the platform. Venmo’s oddly social dimension is the result of the platform’s history. Although it’s now a large payment service (owned by PayPal, no less), Venmo was originally conceived as a fast and easy way for friends and roommates to send one another small amounts of money. Since the founders envisioned Venmo being used by people who knew each other well (or even lived together), the social aspect was seen as a way to make the service engaging, and to help grow the user base. But unfortunately, this has created privacy problems for users. As some observers have pointed out, Venmo has already revealed the patient lists of counselors, resulted in women being stalked by their boyfriends, and exposed the confidential sources of journalists. Lessons for John Q. Public The Biden Venmo account has now been removed, but the fact that such a high-profile individual was found with such apparent ease should be a wake-up call for the rest of us. For one thing, all Venmo users should take steps to protect their privacy on the platform (more on this in the next section). In addition, consider the fact that a casual comment to a reporter led to President Biden’s personal information being exposed. This is a good reminder of why it’s so important to keep the details of your personal life private online. Most of us aren’t going to be talking to Times reporters, of course. But many of us use social media, and publish things about our personal lives there. If that information is public-facing — for example, if we haven’t restricted our Facebook posts to friends only — it could make its way into the wrong hands. This sort of “open source intelligence” is often how bad guys find material for targeted phishing attacks, social engineering schemes, and scams. If you need some help with how to safeguard your privacy, Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains a useful guide to protecting yourself on social networks. Making Venmo safer If you use Venmo, you should take a few moments to consider the privacy implications. For one thing, strangers might be able to see details of your activity on the platform. In addition, other people can see who your Venmo friends are. This could reveal information about your personal network — information that you might prefer to keep private. If you’re concerned about these Venmo privacy issues, here are some recommendations for how to use the service more safely. 1 - Set transactions to private by default Venmo transactions are public by default. You can set individual transactions to private, which is nice, but it also means you’ll have to remember to switch the transaction over to private as you make it. For most users, setting all transactions to private by default is the way to go. To do this, open the Venmo app and go to Settings Privacy. Look for the Default Privacy setting and change it to (you guessed it) Private. 2 - Switch past transactions to private If you’ve used Venmo for a while, you may have a lot of past transactions that are visible on the platform. You can change these to private retroactively if you like. You can’t undo this, so make sure you really want to hide all of those old transactions before you pull the trigger. To make past transactions private, go to Settings Privacy and look for Past Transactions. Set it to Private and you’re done!

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