This App Promises Easy Cash, But It’s a Security Nightmare Waiting to Happen
Earnin, a popular payday loan app, may not do enough to protect users
Earnin is a popular payday loan app with a simple promise: You can cash out part of your upcoming paycheck without any fees or interest, and you’re only asked to “tip” whatever you think is fair in return. But while Earnin may not demand much of your hard-earned dough for its services, the company is certainly taking hold of some very sensitive data in return.
Since launching publicly under the name ActiveHours in 2014, Earnin has raised $65.1 million over three investment rounds. It has users employed at more than 50,000 companies such as Walmart, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Apple. According to Crunchbase, Earnin has been downloaded nearly 1 million times in the past 30 days. (The company doesn’t release user numbers.)
It’s the kind of app banks have been warning people to stay away from for years.
To use the app, you’ll first need to fork over a host of sensitive financial, employment, and location data that, together, could mean a nightmare-grade disaster if Earnin is ever hacked. What’s more, Earnin isn’t protecting user data to the extent that some experts feel is necessary. Though it collects information including your work address, it doesn’t even offer two-factor authentication.
In other words: It’s the kind of app banks have been warning people to stay away from for years.
“I think it’s terrifying. It’s like a permanent Big Brother with access to some of your most intimate and sensitive information,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director at the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income and disadvantaged people in the United States.
Saunders, an expert on electronic payments, bank accounts, small loans, and consumer protection regulation, makes this comparison because the app monitors your every move. To verify that you’re actually earning money, Earnin tracks your location through its “Automagic” system. You provide your exact work address and pay cycle information, and Automagic keeps tabs on how much time you spend at that address, and…