A profile of President Biden in the New York Times on Friday revealed that he does something a lot of grandparents do—send his grandkids money via Venmo. That prompted BuzzFeed to do an investigation of sorts. And in less than 10 minutes, the site located Biden's Venmo account and the list of social connections linked to it. From there, BuzzFeed mapped out a network of private connections involving the first family and senior White House officials. And it was easy. In the end, it amounts to "a national security issue for the United States, and a major privacy concern for everyone who uses the popular peer-to-peer payments app," per BuzzFeed. The issue revolves around concerns that privacy advocates have raised for years about Venmo, an app owned by PayPal.
For starters, everyone's interactions on the app are public, by default. That's easily enough fixed in settings. But users cannot make private their list of contacts, meaning "it can provide a window into someone’s personal life that could be exploited by anyone—including trolls, stalkers, police, and spies." Or consider what happened to Monica Dean, an anchor for NBC 7 in San Diego. Someone created a fake account using her image, then started asking people on her contact list for money. Fortunately, one of them texted her first. In response to BuzzFeed, a Venmo spokesperson says that users' privacy is a "top priority" and that "we’re consistently evolving and strengthening the privacy measures for all Venmo users." The White House has not commented on the Biden report, but all friends on the president's account have been removed. (Read more Venmo stories.)