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Tech News

Venmo is finally adding a private friend list feature following Biden report

Venmo, the PayPal-owned financial app that makes it easy to send money to your friends, is rolling out an important update that adds a major new privacy option. Going forward, Venmo users will have the option to hide their friend lists, making it harder for other people to identify their social circle. The change follows the discovery of President Biden’s Venmo account and the people he was linked to through it.

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an article that included a brief mention about Joe Biden’s use of Venmo — and that quickly led to a report from BuzzFeed announcing that it had discovered the president’s account. Though the report didn’t reveal his associates, it did detail the number of people in his social circle the writers were able to find, renewing talk about the financial app and related privacy concerns.

Though Venmo users have had the option of hiding their transactions from public view, the app has never offered a way for users to hide their friend lists. Many have pointed out the potential privacy issues this can cause, including making it possible for someone to stalk an ex, get an idea about a person’s life and routines, and even shed light on whistleblowers.

Only days after the report detailing Biden’s Venmo account, the company has revealed that it will enable users to hide their friend lists — though these lists will be made public by default. As well, users will be able to set their list to ‘friends-only,’ Venmo told BuzzFeed News, offering a compromise between privacy and the app’s social network foundation.

This is a win for privacy advocates who have spent years highlighting the issue public friend lists pose to users. The ability to make transactions private only offered a certain degree of protection, particularly if friends on their public list made their own transactions public. Everyone from scammers to stalkers could leverage this information, and that’s a big concern when it comes to public figures like the president.

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Tech News

PayPal and Venmo are getting third-party crypto wallet support

PayPal and Venmo, two popular financial apps, will soon allow users to send their cryptocurrency assets to a third-party wallet, eliminating the need to hold the digital coins on either platform. This is a more secure option for people who may have a considerable amount of cryptocurrencies, though others who prefer the convenience can leave the coins on their PayPal or Venmo accounts.

PayPal’s Jose Fernandez da Ponte revealed the news during the recent Consensus 2021 event held by CoinDesk. Both PayPal and Venmo only recently added support for cryptocurrencies, but it has been limited to buying, selling, holding, and Checkout with Crypto — meaning that if you purchase crypto with either platform, the digital coins can’t be sent to your third-party wallet.

Though keeping a certain amount of cryptocurrency in your PayPal or Venmo accounts is convenient for those who use them often, it is inadvisable to keep a large sum of crypto anywhere but a wallet you fully control, such as a hardware wallet or one set up on your private computer.

PayPal launched with support for only a few of the big cryptocurrencies, but they’re the same ones you’re likely to use when making a purchase — bitcoin, etherium, and litecoin. Exchanges like Kraken and Coinbase enable users to acquire, sell, trade, and hold a greater variety of coins, but may be more intimidating for those new to the world of digital money.

The ability to easily purchase one of these major coins using your existing PayPal account is far easier than making a wire transfer to a big crypto exchange. Now that third-party wallet support is inbound, it’ll make PayPal and Venmo two major options for the average consumer who wants to acquire some crypto and for enthusiasts who want the ease of buying things with it.

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Security

Venmo now lets you make your friends list private

Venmo has added new privacy controls for friend lists following a jaw-dropping incident where BuzzFeed News was able to track down President Joe Biden’s Venmo account because of the app’s leaky privacy protocols. App researcher Jane Manchun Wong discovered earlier on Friday that Venmo was working on the new controls.

“We’re consistently evolving and strengthening the Venmo platform for all of our customers. As part of these ongoing efforts, we are enhancing our in-app controls providing customers an option to select a public, friends-only, or private setting for their friends list,” a Venmo spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

To find the new controls, tap the hamburger icon while on the main feed, then tap “Settings,” “Privacy,” and then “Friends List.” The Friends List menu appeared for me and another Verge staffer while I was writing this article, so if it hasn’t rolled out to you just yet, sit tight.

In the new menu, you can pick if you want your friends list to be public, visible to friends, or private. You can also toggle whether or not you want to appear in others users’ friends list.

The new toggles fix a major privacy hole in Venmo that has been known for years: there previously was no way to keep your list of Venmo contacts private, meaning that you could see the contact list of any other user on the platform. The hole was bad enough that following a brief mention of Biden using Venmo in a recent New York Times profile, BuzzFeed News was able to track down the president’s account in less than 10 minutes. The publication also found the accounts for many in his inner circle.

While you’re in your privacy settings, I’d also recommend setting your Venmo feed to private.

Correction: Clarified that Venmo’s previous friend settings included a privacy flaw, not a security flaw.



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Security

Venmo shows who you’re friends with even if you’re Joe Biden

Venmo has a major privacy flaw that’s been well-known for years: there’s no way to keep your list of Venmo contacts private. That means you can see the contact list of any user on the platform, a flaw that’s so large that BuzzFeed News was able to track down President Joe Biden’s Venmo account in less than 10 minutes.

BuzzFeed News didn’t just find the president, though; the publication also discovered accounts for many people in Biden’s inner circle, and, because of the nature of this flaw, all of their contacts as well:

BuzzFeed News found nearly a dozen Biden family members and mapped out a social web that encompasses not only the first family, but a wide network of people around them, including the president’s children, grandchildren, senior White House officials, and all of their contacts on Venmo.

BuzzFeed News dug in after seeing a mention of Biden sending his grandchildren money over Venmo in a New York Times article published Friday. Biden’s transactions weren’t public (unlike Matt Gaetz’s, at one point), and all of Biden’s friends on Venmo were removed after BuzzFeed News contacted the White House for comment, the publication reported. (Venmo gives you the ability to remove contacts, but you have to do it manually.)

When asked for comment on the situation, Venmo provided the following statement:

The safety and privacy of all Venmo users and their information is always a top priority, and we take this responsibility very seriously. Customers always have the ability to make their transactions private and determine their own privacy settings in the app. We’re consistently evolving and strengthening the privacy measures for all Venmo users to continue to provide a safe, secure place to send and spend money.

As of press time, Venmo has not replied to a question asking if the company plans to let people make their contact lists private, which could help prevent something like this from happening in the future.

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Tech News

Venmo app adds support for buying and selling popular cryptocurrencies

Venmo is the latest financial app to get into the cryptocurrency market. The PayPal-owned platform has launched a new crypto market feature that enables its users to buy, sell, and hold various cryptocurrencies directly in their account, simplifying the process for users who may otherwise be confused about how to set up and use a dedicated wallet app.

Cryptocurrencies refer to digital ‘coins’ that come in many varieties, some focused on privacy, others on convenience. The most popular crypto at the moment is bitcoin, and its continued rise has brought popular attention to digital assets. Many people, however, remain confused about how to acquire, hold, and trade the assets.

The new crypto feature is rolling out on Venmo as of today. Once you get access to it, you’ll be able to access cryptocurrency charts that show each coin’s performance over the recent past, as well as tools for buying and selling crypto assets. Venmo says it is also adding guides in the app to help users get started.

At this point, the app is offering support for only four popular cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, and Litecoin; it’s unclear whether the platform plans to support other digital coins in the future. In addition to buying and selling, users can hold their crypto in Venmo — though, of course, you’d likely be better off putting your coins in a dedicated wallet if you plan to hold a considerable amount.

Venmo is the latest in a growing number of apps that simplify the crypto process for those who may not be comfortable with more complicated methods. Coinbase, for example, enables users to quickly purchase, hold, and sell a larger variety of crypto coins using a mobile app, likewise showing trends and current value.

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