Warning against exposing private “WhatsApp” chats
Thousands of private WhatsApp group conversations, including those used to commercialize child sexual abuse images, have been revealed in Google search results.
Internet experts warn that the messaging feature of the messaging app is “not safe”, as users might think, and users’ phone numbers and chats may also be revealed.
Usually joining groups is available only by direct invitation within the application, or by creating a digital invitation link that can be shared anywhere.
However, WhatsApp appears to be limiting links by requesting it not be indexed by search engines, such as Google. About 470,000 similar invitation links were added to Google’s index, allowing them to be pulled out using simple search terms.
After fixing the problem, WhatsApp has now modified the chat site to ask search engines, such as Google, not to index the invitation links.
However, these exposed links still appear on other search engines, which link Bing, Yandex and DuckDuckGo, and can be posted elsewhere on the Internet.
WhatsApp users, who fear that chat groups may be exposed, can reset their group invitation links via the in-app group settings.
The security issue was first reported on Twitter, by journalist Jordan Wildon, from Deutsche Welle. Wildon wrote: “WhatsApp private groups may not be as safe as you think.”
These groups included those apparently created to share “videos with nude scenes”, and pictures of child sexual abuse.
A spokesperson for “WhatsApp” said in a statement, “The group officials in the chat application groups are able to invite any WhatsApp user to join that group by sharing a link they created. Like all content shared in searchable public channels, links can be found The public posts it online, by other WhatsApp users. Links that users want to share privately with people they know and trust should not be published on a publicly available website.
Regarding the existence of group chats to share child pornography, “WhatsApp” said it follows a zero-tolerance policy on child sexual abuse and bans about 250,000 accounts every month.