On Friday, The New York Times mentioned in passing that President Joe Biden “had sent the grandchildren money using Venmo,” a financial transaction app.
But a report by BuzzFeed revealed that Venmo is not all that secure because of how users – including the president of the United States – link their contacts.
After the White House was contacted by BuzzFeed, his ‘friends’ – which were publicly visible – were removed.
The bigger issue, BuzzFeed stressed, is that while transactions can be hidden by privacy settings, contacts cannot:
BuzzFeed News found President Joe Biden’s Venmo account after less than 10 minutes of looking for it, revealing a network of his private social connections, a national security issue for the United States, and a major privacy concern for everyone who uses the popular peer-to-peer payments app.
BuzzFeed News searched for the president’s account using only a combination of the app’s built-in search tool and public friends feature. In the process, 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.
There is no setting to make this information private, which means it can provide a window into someone’s personal life that could be exploited by anyone — including trolls, stalkers, police, and spies.
A spokesperson for Venmo told BuzzFeed in a statement that “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.”
BuzzFeed was also able to easily track down members of Congress and the press who used Venmo to send and receive money:
Using public friend lists and transaction feeds, BuzzFeed News found two members of Congress who were roommates in Washington, DC, as well as reporters who were on friend lists with Trump administration officials, potentially exposing sources. BuzzFeed News also has also spoken with survivors of domestic violence and abuse who suspected that former partners used Venmo to track them and therapists who use Venmo to receive payment from clients who were unaware that their friend lists showed who they were working with.
Those findings, BuzzFeed said, emphasize how vulnerable Venmo users are to scams, impersonations, and exposure to law enforcement if criminal activity is suspected (that was not the case with Biden, however).
“Biden’s transactions were not public, and he had fewer than 10 friends on Venmo. But he was easily verifiable given the people he was connected to, including an account that appears to be for his wife, first lady Jill Biden,” BuzzFeed wrote. “Jill Biden’s account, in turn, was linked to various aides, senior Biden staffers, and family members, including an account that appears to be for the president’s son Hunter Biden.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.