If you regularly use WhatsApp to text and share files, and let’s face it many of us do, listen up.
Your private WhatsApp groups you use for a friendly gossip may not be as private as you think.
It has recently been revealed that WhatsApp group chats can be found on Google – and joined by others in a single click.
DW journalist Jordan Wildon shared how he was able to access private group chats through Google.
Worryingly, this means people you don’t know can pop up in your private chats and gain access to your texts, photos and phone numbers.
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Once someone joins the group chat they will be able to access the phone numbers of the members.
Luckily a new member who joins the chat is not able to scroll back to older messages sent before they joined.
WhatsApp initially said it was aware of the fact that group chats are available to search through Google, however, it said it isn’t a bug.
The Google-owned company said the feature was working as they planned.
Being able to access group chats through Google was made possible after the introduction of the “invite to Group via Link”.
This unique URL allowed users to share groups so others could join more easily.
It meant the link could be added to emails and sent out by mass instead of adding each new group member separately.
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Once a user has the link they can click it and automatically join the group, without needing the approval of an admin.
After the link has been shared Google can spot the link and index it in its search database.
In order for someone to stumble upon the link they need only put in the right combination of keywords into the Google search bar.
A spokesperson for WhatsApp said: “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.
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“Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicity accessible website.”
However, despite saying it was intentional, following public outrage WhatsApp has now changed its stance, and links were removed from Google.
Despite this, publicly-available internet archives are still storing the information, said security researcher Lav Kumar.
He gathered and organised over 60,000 links, which can still be found on multiple websites, reports DW.
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Although not technically a data breach, Jane Manchun Wong, an app reverse-engineer, called the security flaw “"leaky and bad, because people expected the invite links to be private [to] a certain extent."
Wong told DW: “It's great to see WhatsApp taking steps to fix the oversight.
“But it's only the first step," she warned, noting that information is still available on other search engines. It is also possible, though highly unlikely, that users could be able to enter any group by guessing the 22-character identifier in the URL.”
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