back to article FYI: Your Venmo transfers with those edgy emojis aren't private by default. And someone's put 7m of them into a public DB

Graduate student Dan Salmon has released online seven million Venmo transfers, scraped from the social payment biz in recent months, to call attention to the privacy risks of public transaction data. Venmo, for the uninitiated, is an app that allows friends to pay each other money for stuff. El Reg's Bay Area vultures …

  1. adfh

    Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

    In Australia, if you want to send a friend money, all you need is their NPP PayID for a near instant transfer, or BSB and Account number for a couple of days.

    Is this really difficult in the US? Why is Venmo a thing? ... and why the hell are they publishing transactions by default?

    1. IGotOut
      WTF?

      Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

      We old folks have this thing called cash.Totally private and the person instantly has it available to spend.

      Think it may catch on one day

      1. AdamWill

        Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

        The reason cash isn't entirely an answer is quite handily answered in the article: have you tried splitting a restaurant bill between 4 or more people using cash? It's a Bistromathics nightmare: person A owes $18.23 but only has a twenty, person B owes $42.63 but only has $35 on them and would like to owe the rest to person C, meanwhile person D has sneakily gone to the loo and will never come back...

        The other reason being, to safely give cash to another person you both need to be physically present. It is quite handy to be able to send another person money instantly (or close to it) without being actually in the same room as them.

        As mentioned above, though, sane countries' banking systems have already solved this problem fine. Venmo is only any use if yours hasn't.

        1. eldakka Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          person A owes $18.23 but only has a twenty,

          If they are such a tight-wad that when bill-splitting with friends (the only people I'd enter into such an arrangement with in the first place) that they get shitty if they don't get their $1.77 exactly in change, or aren't happy only getting $1 back, they can just fuck off and never bill split with someone again unless they bring the right change to cover such a situation. I frequently say to people collecting money for the bill if it's only a dollar or 2 change "I don't expect any change - maybe leave any extra as a tip".

          person B owes $42.63 but only has $35 on them and would like to owe the rest to person C,

          that's person B and C's problem, not the one collecting the bill. Oh, and what ever happened to "you can buy me a drink at the bar we are going to, or the next time we go out, to cover it".

          meanwhile person D has sneakily gone to the loo and will never come back
          Then either a) next time they can pay up front before we order, or (preferably) b) they aren't actually a friend and can just fuck right off and will never be invited along again. Besides, if they'd do that, what makes you think they'd pay by venmo or any other payment process (e.g. cash), ever?

          If you are bill splitting with people who you can't trust to pay back directly (or balance up next time), or who will quibble about a couple dollars, or who you know the positions won't be reversed next time so averaged out over multiple meals/drinks over months or years of a friendship won't balance out or be worth it (i.e. they are a good friend and they are worse off than you so you don't mind covering them sometimes, or vice versa), then, frankly, you shouldn't be in bill-splitting situations with them at all.

          1. Joe W Silver badge

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            The way I'm used to split bills when going out with friends and colleagues in the US:

            Throw a number of 20s on the table after the amount has been announced. Be fair, i.e. if you had the Wagyu and five nice brandies and some people only had a soup you should give more. Basically: look at what you had and think and behave like a decent person.

          2. Roj Blake Silver badge

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            This was pretty much the plot of the Inside No. 9 story "The Bill"

          3. Elregouk

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            There is nothing more embarrassing than people who cry about splitting the bill fairly. Musn't like your friends that much.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          Over here, Germany, you generally each pay your part of the bill. The waitress just crosses off what you've paid for and tallies it up and gives you the bill for your portion. You then pay with either cash or debit card.

          Or if one person gets the bill, they "get" the bill, as in they have invited the others at his expense. With one group of friends, we take it in turns to pay - but we don't have a selfish sod in the group, who chooses the most expensive fish on the menu, just because he isn't paying. Sometimes I'll eat a salad, sometimes a steak, the others as well, over time, it evens itself out.

          On a couple of occasions we've been out with the company and you either pay back the next day/week or you transfer the money from your bank account to theirs. Often, on a Friday, someone will go to the take-away and often somebody will have no cash, so the person collecting fronts for them and they pay back the next week.

          1. DavCrav Silver badge

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            "Over here, Germany, you generally each pay your part of the bill. The waitress just crosses off what you've paid for and tallies it up and gives you the bill for your portion. You then pay with either cash or debit card."

            Yes, one of the first things you should learn when visiting Germany is "zusammen oder getrennt?", because you will be asked it.

    2. AdamWill

      Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

      "Is this really difficult in the US?"

      Yes, that's why. The US is weirdly bad at this, I assume because all their banks are fighting each other like cats in a sack or something. Venmo isn't a thing here in Canada either because we have stuff like Interac e-transfers.

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

      It's not that smooth in the US. Venmo is a thing because it's faster than anything else available. It also means someone can pick up the tab for a table of six and then request each person's share from them individually - the restaurant will not let you split it more than once.

      C.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

        And over here (Germany), the waitresses are used to splitting the bill 4, 6, 12 ways etc. They just go to each person in turn, cross off what that person had, tally it up and tell them how much they owe.

        It isn't difficult, it is just basic maths.

        1. Korev Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          The same happens here in Switzerland, the waiters/waitresses even offer to do it for you. We also have Twint for paying for stuff with your phone and transferring money from person to person.

        2. BigSLitleP Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          Even in England, you can ask a waiter / waitress to split the bill or pay individually. We tend to leave a bigger tip if we ask to do this just because it's extra hassle for them.

          1. Korev Silver badge

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            My experience of trying that in the UK is that the waiter/tress gives you a pretty nasty glare...

        3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          The German system also makes tipping pretty easy: you, or the waitress, work out how much you owe add on about 10 %, round up to the neares Euro. Pretty quick and means less faffing with change. So that $ 18.23 would be $ 20 - $22 depending on how you're feeling.

          For payments, why would I ever use something that's decoupled from the EFT of the banking system which is guaranteed to work? If you do want an electronic system then I can recommend Revolut, because you can use a real card* and, as it uses TransferWise for international transfers, you can avoid those horrendous transaction charges when not using your own currency.

          * As it's a London "FinTech" startup, which I trust about as far as I can throw, I use it as a pre-paid card. Support is a bit shit but generally works and the app does show the banks how these should be done. Better than the fucking "s-id" shit we're being forced to use! Still, at least Magisk now lets you use this on rooted phones.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            Revolut is a Lithuanian company and not covered by the FSCS in the UK, so if they go bankrupt you lose your money. Interesting comments about them in this article abou on-line banks in the UK in The Verge recently. https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/13/18663036/monzo-starling-mobile-banks-uk-report

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

              Thanks for the link. I've read other stuff about the usual sweatshop approach.

              They've now got a banking licence for Luxembourg which makes things slightly less dodgy. But that's the reason why I treat it as a pre-paid card.

              What I do like about the approach is you can get a real card, which means you're not dependent upon your phone for paying: some people seem to love paying with their phone. But you can also set the level of security including things like using GPS to limit transactions to where your phone is, ie. declining transactions where this is not the case.

              1. Is It Me Bronze badge

                Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

                I would recommend Monzo for the card and bill splitting, and it is a UK bank so fully protected to the usual levels.

                It has an API for you to interface with it in all sorts of interesting ways.

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

        the restaurant will not let you split it more than once.

        Places like that would go out of business pretty quickly in Europe… and we thought the US was supposed to lead the world in "service"!

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          Not letting you pay individually in USA? Cheeky feckers. And that's in the country where tips are expected.

          Next time, they should all go in and instead of (say) booking a table for 6, they should book 6 tables for 1, but say they don't mind sharing a table.

      3. J. Cook Silver badge
        Go

        Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

        Also, some POS systems can't cope with doing multi-splits, or, say, splitting a check 40 ways. (A collage club I used to hang out with would invade a restaurant after meetings, and usually the first thing out of the first person to order was 'separate checks' or phrasing around breaking the check(s) down to manageable amounts.

        We also tried to give adequate notice, and tipped heavily, because let's face it, a party of 30 people rolling in with little forewarning is generally a cause of panic for the kitchen staff. :)

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          I go to meetings for a business platform regularly in bars and restaurants around Osnabrück and there are usually 20 - 30 people there, we move tables constantly throughout the evening and the waiting staff are fine printing out the bill for the group, then going round to the individuals and getting the money off them - it doesn't go through the POS, they cross off each person's orders in turn, take the cash or run the card through the mobile reader, then at the end of the evening, simply close the POS entry as paid.

      4. NotBob

        Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

        Some restaurants may not let you split the bill more than once, but this is not the normal situation in the USA. Capitalism prevails. and they're happy as long as they get their money.

    4. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

      As for why it's a thing, the various problems with cash have been noted. One could write checks, and that would work most of the time, except that people in general seem to dislike them and prefer paying by card. Venmo provides a method for people to use payment cards to pay individuals. Whether that's important depends on the local alternatives, but the success of Venmo even though it charges a small fee per transaction shows that it provides a service useful for some.

      As for why it's public, I have no earthly idea. I didn't think that was the case. It seemed really stupid to me, with no perceivable benefit and requiring the Venmo people to spend a little time on a public interface for viewing them. No idea whatsoever who made that decision and what exactly is wrong with them.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

        Isn't that what online banking is for? Ask them for their account number and just transfer the right amount over.

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          My understanding is that the US is way behind when it comes on online banking.

          1. BigSLitleP Silver badge

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            My understanding is the US is way behind on a lot of things.....

          2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

            One big hurdle has traditionally been the ban on cross-state banking: banks have to apply for licences in every state they wish to operate and there are restrictions. Why this means that the credit card companies can operate is beyond me. Presumably, given the juicy fees (4% and higher) they can charge they've been able to lobby effectively for a cartel.

            It's poorly regulated US systems that lead to all the Silicon Valley solutionism. Take taxis: in Düsseldorf (and in many other cities in Germany), long before the interwebs there were telephones with prominently displayed numbers at all the taxi ranks (so you could call one from a local rank if you knew the number) and a single number for calling a taxi. Fees and surcharges are standardised so you know what you're going to pay and service in the middle of the night is attractive enought for drivers. Adding location-based stuff to this infrastructure was pretty straightforward but we still get to be the German HQ for that Silicon Vallley überturd: Uber.

            1. big_D Silver badge

              Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

              Do they at least only let drivers with a professional driving license and commercial insurance drive for them, or do they still let anyone with a normal license drive for them illegally and with voided insurance?

              I don't see how the Uber execs in Germany have avoided going to gaol, to be honest.

              1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

                I don't see how the Uber execs in Germany have avoided going to gaol, to be honest.

                Any documentable malpractice will probably be traceable only to sub-contractors or shell companies. There was an initial spate of advertising and media coverage but it seems to have subsided. Certainly haven't seen any branded card in the city centre but I'm sure there are. Taxis here are pretty efficient, though I did recently cancel a ride on Taxi Deutschland when I saw the driver going in completely the wrong direction) and reasonably priced (cheaper than the UK, km for km) so I think they're going to find it hard going unless they can nobble the regulators, like the scooter manufacturers seem to have managed: Scheuer has probably been offered some kind of sweetener.

                1. big_D Silver badge

                  Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

                  Yes, not happy about the scooters, but at least they are restricted to cycle paths and not allowed on the pavement...

                  1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
                    Facepalm

                    Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

                    The speed restriction and mandatory insurance are also important. Cycle paths will be bad enough, but they're also going to be allowed on roads where there are no cycle paths: that's just asking for trouble in busy city centres.

                    But I suspect that it won't be long before we have sufficient serious accidents for the whole thing to be reviewed. Strong acceleration, small wheels, high centre of gravity and feet close together or even behind each other do not make for a stable pose. Took all of a day for the first fatal scooter accident in Helsingborg.

        2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Can someone tell me why Venmo is a thing?

          Or their paypal address.

          But then pingit was launched over here (UK) ... I've only ever seen it used twice though (by the same pair of people).

  2. DougMac

    Can someone tell me why there's an app with social activity tied to payments?

    Why in the world would *anybody* think up, hey, what the world needs, is Twitter with payments?

    Hey, I sent you money! Thanks d00d!

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Can someone tell me why there's an app with social activity tied to payments?

      Well, if Facebook has it (to be called "Libra" apparently, though I think the irony will be lost on the agency that came up with that), surely the Twats will want it to?

      1. Kernel Silver badge

        Re: Can someone tell me why there's an app with social activity tied to payments?

        "Well, if Facebook has it (to be called "Libra" apparently, though I think the irony will be lost on the agency that came up with that), surely the Twats will want it to?"

        Yes, it will be interesting to see how well FB's new "currency" flies with that name - in New Zealand, and no doubt other countries, it's also the name of a range of feminine hygiene products, so there may be some degree of resistance due to the name.

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