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WhatsApp ‘click to chat’ feature makes number public on Google search: How to protect your number

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By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |

Published: June 9, 2020 5:06:08 pm





whatsapp, click to chat WhatsApp “click to chat” users’ phone numbers are publicly accessible. (Image: WhatsApp)

A security researcher found thousands of phone numbers tied to WhatsApp accounts indexed publicly that are showing up on Google Search. The chat links generated via WhatsApp’s “click to chat” feature are available with just a simple Google search, which could potentially be a “privacy issue” for users.

The individual chat links are generated using WhatsApp’s “click to chat” feature, which allows users to start a chat with someone without having to save their number in their phone’s contacts list or phone book. The feature is often used by businesses to help their customers connect with them on WhatsApp just by clicking on a simple click.

The security researcher Athul Jayaram, who discovered the issue, is calling it a security bug that puts WhatsApp users’ privacy at risk, but WhatsApp owner Facebook has a different point of view. It says that it not a bug and the search results only reveal what the users have chosen to make public.

whatsapp, click to chat Whatsapp “click to chat” feature. (Image: screenshot api.whatsapp.com)

The research says that the publicly accessible WhatsApp mobile numbers could trigger identity theft. He also maintained that “click to chat” users are unaware that their phone numbers are being stored in plain text and could be found with a simple search query.

Also read | BEWARE! A simple Google search can reveal your WhatsApp Group details

Jayaram told ThreatPost that he contacted WhatsApp owner Facebook regarding the issue via its bug-bounty program but Facebook said that data abuse is only covered for the Facebook platform and not for WhatsApp. However, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that WhatsApp is part of the data-abuse bounty program but it did not qualify for a bounty since it “merely contained a search engine index of URLs that WhatsApp users chose to make public”.

While the debate on whether WhatsApp numbers showing up on Google Search is a bug or not in on, Jayaram recommends WhatsApp to add a “robot.txt” file to the “wa.me” domain and the related “api.whatsapp.com” domain to prevent them from being indexed by Google.

Jayaram also shared a screenshot on Twitter saying, “WhatsApp deployed a fix for “wa.me” domain and phone numbers are not searchable anymore.” He also said that he did not receive any official confirmation from Facebook Security Team.

Meanwhile, “api.whatsapp.com” is still showing WhatsApp “click to chat” links with user mobile numbers. Jayaram shared the screenshot and tweeted if a fix will be issued for “api.whatsapp.com” just like they did for “wa.me”.

If you do not want your mobile number to pop up in Google Search, do not use “click to chat” feature for now. If you were already using this feature, you should delete any such direct chat links from publicly accessible websites and social media platforms.

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Earlier this year, it was revealed that private WhatsApp group invite links can be found with a simple Google search over the internet, thus allowing anyone to infiltrate a WhatsApp group and extract details of group members. Facebook, the company that WhatsApp, reportedly initially denied the issue being a fault but acknowledged it later on and issued a fix as well.

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