Do you use WhatsApp Group Chat because it is secure? And Google will not index it? Think again. WhatsApp has a feature known as “The Invite to Group via a Link” that enables Google to index the links making them available all over the Internet.
To search for those links, though, you will just need to use certain keywords. If you hit those keywords, then you can discover and join a great number of group chats on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp Group Chats are Private … Used to Be
Private WhatsApp group chats could only be accessed by an invite code. Moderators of the chat will disseminate the code to some members. The codes are just URLs with particular strings of text.
But, it turned out that Google has been indexing some of the invites allowing anyone to find those private group chats. However, this is not a Google problem. Rather, it is a WhatsApp issue.
WhatsApp Did Not Stop Crawlers
Keep in mind that Google utilizes crawlers in indexing URLs. Websites and apps can tell Google crawlers not to index certain pages using a line of code. Unfortunately, WhatsApp failed to include a certain code that stops crawlers from indexing the URL.
To know whether or not your private WhatsApp group has been indexed, you just need to type in chat.whatsapp.com string on Google. After that, include some details about the particular chat.
Some of the group chats include sensitive information. You may even find group chats from accredited United Nations NGOs. Apart from that, the chats include the names of the members and their contact information.
WhatsApp group links have warnings attached. That is, you must only give or share the link to people you trust.
In other words, the link shared in a searchable publish channels can be searched by other users on WhatsApp. In that case, if you do not want others to see the link or group chats, you must not post the link on a publicly accessible website.
In a tweet by Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for search:
“Search engines like Google & others list pages from the open web. That’s what’s happening here. It’s no different from any case where a site allows URLs to be publicly listed.”
A researcher last year pointed out this bug to Facebook through its bug bounty program. However, the company stated that Facebook does not offer a bounty because the links were an intentional product decision.
WhatsApp Security issues
WhatsApp has encountered security-related issues in previous months. In 2018, when Jeff Bezos and a Saudi Prince were having a friendly chat through WhatsApp, the crown prince sent Jeff a mysterious video file allowing Bezo’s device to be compromised.
A huge amount of data was transferred off his phone. The video file took advantage of the vulnerability of WhatsApp. That is, it injected Pegasus spyware.
Then, last year, a bug was discovered in the app that could be used to introduce spyware on Android and iOS phones through a phone call.
With all the vulnerabilities and privacy concerns about WhatsApp, do you still want to continue using it? If not, there are other alternatives to WhatsApp private group chats. However, do not be overly confident about them as they are still prone to hacking and indexing. If you wish to have a private group conversation, just opt to meet in person.