Imagine discussing important details with your office colleagues on the team’s WhatsApp group, when suddenly a random person joins in. This person now has immediate access to information like the details of group members and the group’s name and profile picture. This was a real issue where discovering your private group chat via Google Search was possible. The issue was fixed back in 2019 but now has surfaced again.
WhatsApp is making several private groups available across the web by indexing group chat invites, as their links can be accessed by anyone using a simple search on Google.
Cybersecurity researcher Rajshekhar Rajaharia informed Gadgets 360 about the indexing of WhatsApp group chat invites on Google. The indexing seems to have started again quite recently. At the time of writing, there were over 1,500 groups invite links available in search results.
WhatsApp spokesperson Alison Bonny said: “Like all content shared in searchable public channels, invite links that are posted publicly on the internet can be found by other WhatsApp users.”
“The links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website,” Bonny told The Verge earlier.
WhatsApp’s updated policy says that it may share your information with its family of companies to facilitate, support as well as integrate their activities and improve services.
Since March 2020, WhatsApp has included the “no index” tag on all deep link pages which, according to Google, will exclude them from indexing. We have given our feedback to Google to not index these chats,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told IANS.
“Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website,” the company spokesperson added.
The issue was first cropped up in February last year when app reverse-engineer Jane Wong found that 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.
Journalist Jordan Wildon also 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.
The WhatsApp spokesperson further said that as a reminder, “whenever someone joins a group, everyone in that group receives a notice and the admin can revoke or change the group invite link at any time”.
Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, had tweeted earlier: “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.”