If you’ve ever used a messaging app, you know how convenient it can be. Instead of sending an old-school email and waiting for your friend to check their inbox and get back to you sometime today — or in the next three weeks — you can send a chat and get an instant reply.
You can even set up group chats between friends or colleagues. But be careful, we recently learned criminals have figured out a way to rip people off through messaging apps by posing as family and friends. Tap or click here for the details.
Now, there’s a new privacy issue to worry about. It turns out some of those chats you thought were private aren’t as secure as you’d like to believe.
What’s up with WhatsApp?
A German multimedia journalist got on social media this weekend to point out certain group chats on WhatsApp are not secure. That’s because a simple Google search could give anyone access to your group chats. They can join and read everything everyone in the group has said.
Here’s what’s going on: WhatsApp has an “Invite to Group via Link” feature that, when enabled, allows Google to index groups. That means WhatsApp groups you think are private can be found by anyone who does a Google search and happens to come across the link.
You may also like: Personal info of 10 million hotel guests leaked online
Your WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are.— Jordan Wildon (@JordanWildon) February 21, 2020
The “Invite to Group via Link” feature allows groups to be indexed by Google and they are generally available across the internet. With some wildcard search terms you can easily find some… interesting… groups. pic.twitter.com/hbDlyN6g3q
Why is this happening?
Google rep Danny Sullivan saw the number of tweets and retweets of the original message. In response, he provided the following comment:
Search engines like Google & others list pages from the open web. That’s what’s happening here. It’s no different than any case where a site allows URLs to be publicly listed. We do offer tools allowing sites to block content being listed in our results: https://t.co/D1YIt228E3— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) February 21, 2020
Though it should be private by default, at least Google offers tools to keep chats private. But how do you access and set them?
How to keep your WhatsApp chats private
So what we learned from this is if you post a link online inviting people to your group chat, it’s searchable and any random person has a chance of finding it through a Google search and they can even join your chat.
This could lead to all kinds of problems if you’re sharing sensitive information. The best way to protect your privacy is by not posting those links online.
You may also like: Google bans hundreds of apps – here are 8 you should delete ASAP
Instead, admins in WhatsApp groups can decide who gets to join. They can do this by sending the invite link directly to those who should be joining the group and not posting the link online.
You can also adjust your privacy settings by opening the app > Settings > Account > Privacy > Groups > adjust who can add you to groups. This way, only your contacts can add you to groups and if admins you don’t have as a contact want to add you to groups, they can send you a private invite.
Remember, keeping the invite link private will keep your chats private. Posting the invite link on publicly accessible websites puts your group at risk of being infiltrated by snoops and cybercriminals.