WhatsApp may be known for being one of the more secure messaging services out there, but it’s not without its issues. According to new reports from Motherboard, invitations to WhatsApp group chats are being indexed by Google, essentially allowing anyone to find these group chats and join the chat.
Some of the group chats aren’t necessarily discussing sensitive issues, but other links lead to groups made for sharing pornography and other sensitive material. Reporters for Motherboard were able to enter WhatsApp group chats described as being for United Nations-accredited NGOs, after which reporters could see all of the participants and their phone numbers.
The issue here seems to stem from users posting links to join the groups on open web pages, according to a statement from a WhatsApp spokesperson to Motherboard.
“Group admins in WhatsApp groups are able to invite any WhatsApp user to join that group by sharing a link that they have generated,” said the spokesperson. “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. Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website.”
It’s pretty easy to search for group chats on Google, too. To do so, simply type “chats.whatsapp.com” along with any text that might identify the content of the group you’re searching for.
It’s important to be clear that while WhatsApp has had its privacy and security issues in the past, there is not really any reason to assume that these links wouldn’t be indexed by Google — considering the fact that they are shared on the open web. That’s because of the mechanism that allows users to share group chat links in the first place — whereby a user could simply post a link anywhere to be seen by anyone.
Because of that, instead of this being any search engine’s fault, it’s perhaps more on WhatsApp, and by extension Facebook, to tweak how invitations to group chats can be shared. For now, if you don’t want your phone number to be searchable on the internet, it’s best keeping links to group chats off the open web — and only sharing them privately.