This was just one of a bunch of really weak privacy features on Venmo. The fact that there was no way to hide your account or have a private profile on there was troubling, especially since your friends list was often synced to your phone contacts and/or your list of Facebook friends.
Public friends lists meant big privacy problems for people. Therapists who were paid by their clients inadvertently exposed said clients. Victims of stalkers or harassment were easier to find. Even public figures and celebrities weren't immune to the vulnerability.
Hours after our story, Biden's Venmo account was taken down. While it didn't have many friends, anyone could have used the open feature to map out the social circles and connections of the president and the people around him. Privacy experts called it a potential threat to national security.
While some people have changed it, many haven't, including senior White House and Biden Cabinet officials. One official even had their past payment history open to the public, allowing people to see payments to friends, family, and babysitters.
After we sent our inquiry, the Venmo accounts of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki all had their friends lists set to private.
"This reveals a situation that is all too common: that the default on tech platforms is an oversharing of private information that is difficult to change," a senior White House official told BuzzFeed News. "The Biden administration intends to strengthen privacy protections so it’s easier for people to keep their personal information to themselves."