This is a reminder that you’re probably oversharing on Venmo

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There’s an app for snooping on your friends, family and colleagues to find out about their fancy dinners, the people they are dating and the parties they are attending that you weren’t invited to.

It’s not a social networking app like Facebook or Snapchat. It’s Venmo, the app that became popular more than a decade ago by enabling people to send mobile payments to one another and to post those transactions, often in the form of cute emoji, on a public timeline.

The snooping works the other way around, too. Even if you seldom use Venmo today, the app is most likely leaking sensitive information about you to the general public.

How do I know? I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I recently discovered that my contacts list, which includes the names of people in my phone book, was published on Venmo for anyone using the app to see.

That’s because more than a decade ago, Venmo made people’s contact lists visible to its users. It created an option to hide the address book only two years ago, long after I had stopped using the app.

Venmo is a strong example of how even as social norms shift on the ways we use technology, the companies and their apps don’t change much. Venmo was founded in 2009 as a music startup that let users buy songs from bands through a text message. By the time eBay acquired it in 2013, it had become a mobile wallet service that was trendy among younger people who were gung-ho about sharing information about themselves online.

At the time, social networking was novel, and posting your thoughts, movements and achievements for everyone to know about was cutting edge, not sinister. Since then, we have learned the hard way that sharing such seemingly innocuous information can be hazardous. Stalkers, employers or data brokers can use the data to study our whereabouts and activities to target us.

But Venmo remains an app with a strong social networking element, one of many in a generation of apps that are now nearly 15 years old. And if you have apps and internet accounts from then that are on autopilot, it’s best to revisit them periodically to check their settings so that you can safeguard your privacy. If you no longer find value in the service, the safest bet may be to delete the account.

Before we get into that, let’s dive into why Venmo remains a privacy concern and what to do to protect your data.

Venmo transactions

In the early 2010s, as smartphones became popular, Venmo rode the coattails of companies like Facebook and Twitter, which brought the concept of a public timeline into the mainstream. Similar to those networks, Venmo allowed people to publicly post to a feed, in its case details of payment transactions, including the dollar amount, time, date and a description, such as a pizza or taxicab emoji.

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