WhatsApp group chats not that private

Azlan Othman

If you thought your WhatsApp group chats were private, think again. Recent Google searches have shown that WhatsApp group chats are easily accessible – even private ones.

WhatsApp may be known as one of the more secure messaging services out there, but it is not without issues. According to new reports from online magazine Motherboard, WhatsApp’s ‘invite to group via link’ feature is being indexed by the Google search engine, essentially allowing anyone to find these group chats and join them.

Some of the group chats are not necessarily discussing sensitive issues, but other links lead to groups made for sharing obscene or sensitive materials. Reporters for Motherboard were able to enter WhatsApp group chats described as being for United Nations (UN)-accredited non-governmental organisations (NGOs), after which reporters could view all of the participants and their mobile phone numbers.

The issue seems to stem from users posting links to join the groups on open web pages, according to a statement from a WhatsApp spokesperson to Motherboard.

“Group admins in WhatsApp groups are able to invite any WhatsApp user to join that group by sharing a link that they have generated,” said the spokesperson.

“Like all content that is shared in searchable, public channels, invite links that are posted publicly on the Internet can be found by other WhatsApp users.

“Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website.”

It is important to be clear that while WhatsApp had its privacy and security issues in the past, there is no reason to assume that these links would not be indexed by Google — considering the fact that they are shared on the open web.

That is because of the mechanism that allows users to share group chat links in the first place — whereby a user could simply post a link anywhere to be seen by anyone.