A BuzzFeed News investigation recently discovered that President Joe Biden’s Venmo account was not only easy to find, but had a public friends list that posed a threat to national security. BuzzFeed News notified the White House that the president’s Venmo friends and their transactions were visible and shortly afterward, both the President and the First Lady’s Venmo accounts disappeared from the app.
Because of Venmo’s default privacy settings and unchangeably public friends list, it’s likely that it was easier to remove the account than let the United States president continue to have one, which poses the question: What can someone who isn’t the Commander-in-Chief do to protect their privacy on Venmo?
The answer is not much, but there are few options. I set out to change my Venmo privacy settings to see what could be done for normies.
Before I checked, I assumed I was one of the super private Venmo people who already changed their base settings to private. This turned out to not be true. Even though I’m in the habit of individually setting every transaction to “visible to sender and recipient only,” my defaults were still aligned with Venmo’s automatic public setting.
To view and change this, tap the three horizontal bars at the top right of the Venmo main screen and hit “Settings,” then “Privacy,” and select the Default Privacy Setting that suits you. I changed my default to “visible to sender and recipient only.”
I don’t know why Venmo doesn’t make this the default. There is zero value in anyone finding out I sent 20 bucks to my former roommate for pizza and beer in 2017.
The second step in this process is to check your friends list. There is currently no way to make your friends list private on Venmo. In President Biden’s case, this feature posed the greatest national security threat because it exposed his public friends list and their spreading web of connections with no option to just…not do that. Even though his transactions were private, his friends might not have been, or their friends, and so on.
I am not the president but I also don’t like the idea of randos assuming I know people I don’t actually associate with, so I decided to clean house. Tapping the three horizontal bars on the top right brought up the Venmo menu with my name and number of friends, who at the beginning of this experiment numbered 251 entire people. That is laughable. I am simply not that well liked.
Tapping on this number led me to a contacts-style list of people on my friends list, most of whom I have not spoken to in close to a decade and two of whom were actually dead (rest in peace). There is no way to mass-cull the Venmo friends list, so to narrow down the amount of visible connections, you have to manually tap each name, tap the “Friends” button below their profile picture and hit “Unfriend” when a small menu pops up from the bottom of the screen.
I did this 190 times and it felt great. I snipped out high school randos, people I went on dates with once and never spoke to again, two therapists who frankly annoyed me but still took my money, and anyone whose name I didn’t recognize. This left me with a list of 61 “friends,” or as my criteria for Venmo connections goes, people I might possibly end up at dinner or drinks with in the next three years.
That’s pretty much all anyone can do to adjust their privacy and narrow down their visible connections on Venmo. Perhaps after the news about President Biden there might be a change coming regarding making friends lists completely private, but for now it’s changing one setting and thinking hard about who you actually want to be associated with on a payment app.