How to get caught buying drugs on Venmo: This Twitter bot

Follow @venmodrugs.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
2 min read

The Twitter bot's page.

Screenshot by Marrian Zhou/CNET

Thanks, internet. You've created the worst way ever to get busted buying drugs.

A new Twitter account is scraping Venmo , the mobile payments app, to catch people buying or selling drugs. If you suggest anything like drugs, alcohol or sex in the Venmo message accompanying your payment, the Twitterbot, called @venmodrugs, might find and tweet it.

The tweets show your first name and last initial -- not that we think you're doing anything you aren't supposed to be doing on Venmo! They also include the photo on your Venmo account and whatever incriminating message you included with your payment.

The bot doesn't tweet out the transaction amount and will remove a tweet mentioning you if you @ it.

@venmodrugs highlights the public nature of the payment service's transaction histories, which are public by default. Whether you're really buying drugs or just joking around with friends, the Twitter bot serves as a reminder that your Venmo transactions are open for all to see and you should "consider setting your transactions to private."

The Twitter bot was created by researcher Joel Guerra, reported Motherboard. This idea reportedly emerged from a project named Public by Default, where researchers scraped and analyzed Venmo users' transaction histories to get a sense of who they are.

"I wrote the code and had no expectation that anyone would pay attention to it," said Guerra in an email statement. "I was digging through the [Venmo] data streams and saw many people put silly drug and sex references. I thought making a bot that tweeted those funny transactions would be a clever way to draw attention to the fact that people should consider their privacy settings on Venmo and online in general."

Venmo says it doesn't allow illegal transactions on its service.

"Purchasing or selling illegal goods is strongly prohibited on Venmo," a company representative said in an email. "If needed, Venmo will take appropriate action, which can include permanently banning the offender."

We don't think that will stop a bunch of attention seekers from trying to get their transactions posted on the bot's Twitter page. 

First published on July 19, 1:28 p.m. PT.

Updates, 2 p.m. PT: Adds Joel Guerra statement.

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