Jan. 31, 2014 at 1:41 PM ET
It has been a bad month for young tech moguls. In early January, Evan Spiegel of Snapchat had to explain himself on TODAY after 4.6 million user accounts were hacked. On Friday, Lucas Duplan, the 22-year-old founder of Clinkle, also became the subject of scrutiny after several tech blogs reported that his mobile payments start-up had been hacked — this time before the company had even launched to the public.
Clinkle denies it was hacked. Instead, it put the blame on Andrew Aude, a former intern for mobile-to-mobile payments company Venmo. Clinkle spokesperson Ana Braskamp's response to NBC News:
TechCrunch/PasteBin are describing visibility that was purposefully built into the system as part of our preliminary user testing and was always intended to be turned off. We were using an open API, which has now been closed. That said, only names, phone numbers, photos, and Clinkle unique IDs were accessible.
We tracked the activity and Andrew Aude, former Venmo intern, was responsible for accessing the information. He also entered our system in September and exposed our screen shots.
Overall, only 33 test users were affected, with their names, phone numbers and profile pictures posted to PasteBin, a site where users can publicly store text.
So what is the big deal? One of those pictures, posted on tech blogs ValleyWag and TechCrunch, featured Duplan smiling while holding what appears to be $30,000 in cash. (Braskamp commented, "And in case it's not obvious, the money in the picture that's circulating of Lucas is fake.").
That is probably not the image that Duplan wanted to send. Clinkle suffered some bad publicity after axing 25 percent of its staff in December. Paired with the fact that Clinkle is marketing itself as a secure mobile payments company — even if it hasn't revealed how it works — and this could be a PR setback.
On the other hand, it recently scored some publicity wins in the form of $30 million in funding and the recent hiring of Mike Liberatore, an executive from PayPal. In October, it hired Barry McCarthy, the former chief financial officer of Netflix.
Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com