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Venmo is finally ditching a notoriously controversial and unsettling feature — the ability to see strangers’ transactions.
The PayPal-owned app — which rocketed to success by combining easy mobile payments with elements of social media — revealed Tuesday that it’s axing its “global feed” that had allowed customers to see payments between other users even if they had no connections in common.
Venmo, which has more than 70 million users worldwide, had taken flak from privacy advocates for years over the global feed feature, as well as the fact that it publicly displays users’ friends.
In 2018, a coder and privacy researcher created a Twitter account that posted public transactions from Venmo — including what were apparently payments for drugs and requests for cash from sugar daddies, Vice reported. The researcher said the purpose of the project was to show how much information Venmo users were inadvertently sharing online.
The same year, Venmo settled with the Federal Trade Commission over accusations that the company misled consumers about the extent to which they could control the privacy of their transactions. The company did not pay a fine but agreed to additional compliance and oversight measures.
The issue escalated further this May when reporters from BuzzFeed News found President Biden’s Venmo account in “less than 10 minutes” — and were able to sketch out a map of the president’s close contacts, including family members and White House officials.
Following the report, Biden and his wife Jill deleted their Venmo accounts.
Going forward, the app will still have a social feed that displays friends’ transactions, but users will also be allowed to opt out and keep their transactions completely private, according to the company.
Venmo users will also be able to opt out of being shown on other users’ friends lists, the company said Tuesday.
“This change allows customers to connect and share meaningful moments and experiences with the people who matter most,” Venmo said in a blog post.