Venmo Will (Finally) Let You Make Your Friends List Private

The new privacy feature comes after BuzzFeed News reportedly found President Joe Biden’s Venmo account and could access the commander-in-chief’s friends list.

Prior to this recent rollout, users of the money transfer app could not change the privacy settings of their friends lists, which were public by default. | Getty Images
Prior to this recent rollout, users of the money transfer app could not change the privacy settings of their friends lists, which were public by default. | Getty Images

Venmo now allows users to make their friends lists invisible — a feature that privacy advocates have long called for. Prior to this recent rollout, users of the money transfer app, which was founded in 2009, could not change the privacy settings of their friends lists, which were public by default.

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

Jane Manchun Wong, a researcher who often publicly identifies new app features before they’re officially released, first spotted the new feature on Friday.

The new feature comes more than two weeks after BuzzFeed News reported it found President Joe Biden’s Venmo account within 10 minutes of searching for it. Though the commander-in-chief’s transactions were set to private (transactions on Venmo are public by default), BuzzFeed News said it could access his friends list and therefore found the Venmo accounts of several members of the Biden family plus members of the administration. The president’s Venmo account is no longer online, according to BuzzFeed News, which didn’t publish any of the usernames involved in its story “due to national security concerns.”

In 2019, digital civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Mozilla wrote an open letter to Dan Schulman, the CEO of PayPal, which owns Venmo, imploring him to allow Venmo users to change the privacy settings of their friends lists.

“The list of people with whom you exchange money paints a startlingly clear picture of the people who live, date, and do business with you,” EFF and Mozilla wrote.

Gennie Gebhart, the acting activism director at EFF, told BuzzFeed News last week that it is “past time” for Venmo to take this step.

“What we'd really like to see Venmo do next is make privacy the default for friend lists and transactions, not just a settings option,” Gebhart said.

If you want to set your Venmo friends list to private:

  • Access the hamburger menu in the top right corner of the app.
  • Tap “Settings.”
  • Tap “Privacy.”
  • Tap “Friends List,” which is the last option in the Privacy screen.
  • Choose to make your friends list public, visible to Venmo friends, or totally private. You can also choose not to appear in other peoples’ friends lists, regardless of their settings.