WhatsApp: Indexed by Google

March 11, 2020

The Orissa Post reports, “Google Indexes Private WhatsApp Group Chat Links.” As a result of the search indexing, assorted private chat groups were summarily forced open for anyone to join. Writer Ians reports,

“According to a report in Motherboard, invitations to WhatsApp group chats were being indexed by Google. The team found private groups using specific Google searches and even joined a group intended for NGOs accredited by the UN and had access to all the participants and their phone numbers. Journalist Jordan Wildon said on Twitter that he discovered that WhatsApp’s ‘Invite to Group Link’ feature lets Google index groups, making them available across the internet since the links are being shared outside of WhatsApp’s secure private messaging service. ‘Your WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are,’ Wildon tweeted Friday, adding that using particular Google searches, people can discover links to the chats. According to app reverse-engineer Jane Wong, Google has around 470,000 results for a simple search of ‘chat.whatsapp.com’, part of the URL that makes up invites to WhatsApp groups.”

A spokesperson for WhatsApp confirmed that publicly posted invite links would be available to other WhatsApp users, and insists folks should not have to worry their private invites may be made public in this way. On the other hand, Google’s public search liaison seemed to place the blame squarely on WhatsApp. He tweets:

“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.”

Perhaps both companies could have handled this issue with more consideration. We wonder whether WhatsApp has since taken advantage of those content-blocking tools.

Cynthia Murrell, March 11, 2020


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