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May 28, 2018

People use Venmo to spy on cheating spouses—it’s proving more effective than Facebook - May 28, 2018 - Personal Finance | MarketWatch

marketwatch.com

People use Venmo to spy on cheating spouses—it’s proving more effective than Facebook

Leslie Albrecht

Nicole found out the guy she was dating was already in a committed relationship. Abby learned that her ex had most likely hooked up with someone new, and Ben discovered that a long-ago casual fling had apparently developed a drug habit.
The sleuthing tool that cracked these relationship mysteries was not a private investigator, but the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo.
The mobile payment service, which processed more than $35 billion in payments last year, is a no-fuss solution for splitting the dinner bill after a night out with friends.
But Venmo users have found it’s also an extremely effective tool for keeping tabs on friends, partners and exes, researching crushes, and in some cases, uncovering infidelity. Some even say Venmo is a better method for watching people than more explicitly public social media platforms like Facebook FB, -0.54%  or Instagram.
Some users seem to forget that their transactions are public by default, and their payment activity provides an unfiltered paper trail of what’s really happening in their lives.
“What you’re seeing on Instagram or Facebook is what they want you to see,” said Abby Faber, a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University. “They’re edited pictures that they put up. But with Venmo, it’s very normal casual interactions. It’s what they were doing and spending money on.”
In her case, she checked up on her ex-boyfriend and saw he was spending money on pizza and the popular video game Fortnite—and making regular payments to one girl, who Faber guessed is his new hook-up.
She also did some fact-finding on a new crush and saw that she may have competition: he had recently donated to another girl’s charity event. “Not that I care,” she said. “It’s just interesting to see.”
The social feed is Venmo’s ‘secret sauce’
Venmo has had a social component since it launched in 2009. Users see a feed of both their own friends’ payments and total strangers’ activity every time they open the app, and it’s easy to look up users. Exact amounts aren’t listed, but you can see who’s paying who and which words or emoji they use to describe the payment.
That’s bad news for people who use Venmo to pay their drug dealer and then actually write “drugs” in the payment’s description field, but great for amateur detectives. One Chicago woman told MarketWatch she used to do “minor celebrity stalking” of “Saturday Night Live” cast members and former Disney Channel DIS, +0.09%  child actors on the app.
The social feed is Venmo’s “secret sauce,” said Erin Mackey, a spokeswoman for Venmo and its parent company PayPal PYPL, -0.72% In fact, it’s usually the reason people are logging on. “Our most active users check Venmo daily and the average user checks Venmo two to three times per week—and it’s not for payments, but to see what their friends and family are doing.”
Privacy options have changed
Venmo’s public-by-default social component caught the eye of the Federal Trade Commission in 2017, and the agency accused Venmo of “misleading” users about the fact that they needed to change two separate privacy settings to make their transactions completely private. Venmo reached a settlement with the FTC, and a company spokesman noted that users now have three options for controlling who can see their payments. “Payments are very personal at heart,” said spokesman Pablo Rodriguez. “Just like with anything that’s social, you have to decide how much you want to share.”