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Computer science student Dan Salmon scraped 7 million Venmo transactions between July 2018 and February 2019 as a warning to other users of the Paypal-owned peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app to set their accounts to private, per TechCrunch. Salmon was able to scrape 40 transactions per minute, amounting to 57,600 transactions per day.
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Venmo’s faced backlash from regulators and consumers regarding its privacy over the past year — but Salmon’s effort shows users are still concerned. PayPal settled with the FTC last year over privacy and security violations, saying it would change its disclosure to more clearly tell users how to limit the sharing of transaction details. But last year, another user raised concern after accessing 207 million Venmo transactions — and Salmon’s efforts show that Venmo still has work to do.
Here’s what it means: Venmo’s social feed structure is one of its biggest draws — but it’s also what repeatedly invokes the question around privacy.
- Venmo’s social component differentiates it from competitors like Square Cash or Zelle. And it’s been a driver of repeat engagement, as many users open Venmo even when they’re not transacting — interacting with it like a social media platform.
- But Venmo transactions are public by default. Users can easily go into their settings and switch their accounts to private — but many are seemingly unaware of this setting. Last year, Mozilla collected 25,000 petition signatures asking Venmo to set transactions private as a default setting. At the time, 77% of respondents to a Mozilla and Ipsos study said they don’t think P2P apps should automatically make transaction details available for anyone on the internet to see without users choosing to make them public.
The bigger picture: Venmo’s reportedly mulling eliminating its public feed — but if engagement lowers as a result, it could have a harder time upselling users on lucrative products.
- Venmo is unlikely to lose users if it removes the public feed. Venmo execs were reportedly in talks last year about eliminating the ability for users to publicly post and view transactions on Venmo amid backlash. However, given Venmo’s well-established user base of 40 million — which makes it one of the largest platforms in the country — it’s unlikely to lose customers after a feed restructure and could benefit from settling any privacy concerns.
- But it might see lower engagement — which could impact its monetization efforts. Venmo has been aggressively working to monetize through commerce initiatives that generate fee revenue, and it’s largely been successful: In Q4 2018, 29%of customers used these offerings, like the Venmo debit card, Instant Transfer, or Pay with Venmo. And Venmo is on track to generate $300 million in revenue this year. But ongoing privacy concerns could be detrimental to its monetization push if low consumer trust steers people away from trying its other products. The firm will ultimately have to weigh the mounting privacy concerns against the potential impact restructuring its feed would have on monetization.
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