Venmo has long confounded older generations. While the millennial-friendly peer-to-peer payment service has grown quickly in recent years, many people over the age of 30 instinctively worry that posting publicly about how much you spend on food, drinks, cleaning supplies, and Uber rides is probably a bad idea. Now executives are reportedly considering tightening up the payment app’s privacy settings.
PayPal, which acquired Venmo in 2013, has been deliberating in recent weeks about whether to remove the option to post and view public transactions on the app, according to Bloomberg (paywall), citing an anonymous source. Payments between friends would still be visible to users on the home feed.
“Venmo is always evaluating what’s best for our customers,” a PayPal spokesman told Bloomberg. “The safety and privacy of Venmo users and their information is always a top priority.”
Venmo’s decision to incorporate elements of social media into its payment service has long made it distinct from the competition. Customers link their bank accounts or credit cards to the app so they can make payments using their phones. But they often include messages, jokes, or emoji with their payments, which are visible on a public newsfeed by default unless the settings are changed. Because many people never change the platform’s default setting, more than 200 million transactions were publicly available last year, according to a privacy researcher in Berlin.
In some respects, it would be a bigger surprise if PayPal weren’t considering getting rid of the public feed. As technology companies grow in size and clout, their vast depositories of data about our lives has raised questions about who has access to that information and what is done with it. And even in 2014, Venmo sparked a lively debate in Quartz’s newsroom between millennials and their elders, with one over-30 editor declaring:
People, you are just GIVING your privacy away! about sensitive things like money! we all need to have a big talk soon…
Government officials have had similar concerns. In February, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accused the company of misleading customers about the extent to which they could control the privacy of their transactions. PayPal settled the allegations, saying the investigation focused on issues and practices that had preceded its acquisition of Venmo.