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Published: Mar 29, 2018 4 min read
Millennials Say 'Venmo Me' To Fuel Mobile-Payment Surge
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

As Facebook hashes out its privacy woes in the public eye, Venmo is fighting a similar, albeit quieter, battle.

The peer-to-peer payment app rolled out a shiny new privacy policy this week, following a two-year Federal Trade Commission investigation into their old one.

Despite claims of “bank-grade security,” Venmo’s privacy, security, and data-sharing practices left users exposed to cyber theft and other privacy risks, according to the FTC. The beefed-up policy, which hit this week with 3,000 words and a handful of infographics to spell out exactly how the company collects, stores, and shares personal information, is a (federally mandated) step towards making things less murky. But it might not make users any more comfortable.

What Venmo Collects

Like most financial institutions, Venmo collects and stores a number of personal details from the people who use its web and phone app — things like social security numbers, account balances, transaction histories, and credit scores. And it shares that data with certain entities, like parent company PayPal, and third party providers of fraud protection services, according to the policy.

Venmo also collects what it calls “social web information,” with the help of plugins on sites like Facebook. Sometimes, that means collecting data on a user’s friends, too, which is one of the increasingly hairy privacy areas Mark Zuckerberg & Co. are themselves taking some heat for.

Because Venmo is both a money app and a social network, there are elements to its interface that already make some people squirm. When you use the app to pay a friend for a bar tab, or an Uber ride, the payment pops up in your friends' Venmo news feeds, and unless you specifically tell it not to, it also appears in Venmo’s rolling public feed.

In 2014, The Atlantic called the Venmo newsfeed "one of the most interesting, informative social networks out there. But don't say that too loud, or you'll feel like a creep."

What Venmo Uses Your Information For

Unlike Facebook, Venmo says point blank that it doesn’t share user information with third parties for their promotional or marketing purposes. In an email to Money, a Venmo spokesperson says the company goes “to great lengths to protect our customers’ personal information, and we do not share, sell or rent personal data with unaffiliated third parties for any purpose other than the services such third parties perform for us.”

But in another similarity to Facebook’s now hotly-contested privacy policy (or lack thereof) the stuff Venmo does share with third parties — everything from your transaction history at its expanding list of retail partners (every merchant that accepts PayPal, from Lululemon to Dominos) to the emojis you blast onto the public newsfeed — doesn’t go away when you cut ties with the company. In other words, even if you disable the app and never sign into Venmo again, it still has, and might be sharing, some of your information.