Recently, a report revealed that private WhatsApp group invite links are not so private and can be found easily via a simple Google search making it easy for anyone to infiltrate a WhatsApp group and get details of group members. Facebook, the company that owns WhatsApp, has been reportedly denying to register the issue as a fault since last year but has now finally acknowledged and resolved the problem.
According to Jane Manchun Wong, a well-known reverse-engineer, Facebook has removed the existing WhatsApp group links from Google and also added the “noindex” meta tag on the chat invitation links. The code with “noindex” meta tag forbids Google to index that specific content.
While the WhatsApp chat groups invite links are now off Google search results, Wong says that it’s only the first step for Facebook because “the search results are still listed on other search engines like Yandex, Bing, and DuckDuckGo”. She also tweeted pictures of the screengrab of search results still showing the WhatsApp group chat links.
It’s great to see WhatsApp taking steps to fix the oversight. It’s only the first steps though, because, as an open web,
the search results are still listed on other search engines like Yandex, Bing and DuckDuckGo pic.twitter.com/hTth6HciEe
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) February 22, 2020
The Deutsche Welle journalist Jordan Wildon had reported the issue on Twitter and said that the WhatsApp group invite links have been indexed by Google. Meanwhile, a Twitter user @hackrzvijay claimed that he found the WhatsApp private group chat link bug and reported it to Facebook in November 2019.
He also posted a response letter from Facebook that denied a bounty for reporting the bug. The company downplayed the issue, implied that it was on purpose, and also put the blame on search engines for indexing the invite URLs. Facebook said that “the links being accessible by anyone was an intentional product decision” and that they “cannot completely control what all search engines, Google, and others, index”.
I reported to facebook in early november pic.twitter.com/QB7pHsz5vu
— HackrzVijay 💻 (@hackrzvijay) February 21, 2020
Dozens of other users have also responded on the Twitter thread claiming that they have also found WhatsApp groups via a simple Google search in the past and some even acknowledged to have joined few groups in this manner.
Express Tech is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@expresstechie) and stay updated with the latest tech news
Commenting on the incident, a WhatsApp spokesperson told Vice, “Group admins in WhatsApp groups are able to invite any WhatsApp user to join that group by sharing a link that they have generated. 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 good to see that Facebook is backtracking on its stance and trying to solve the problem. There’s no doubt that the online presence of private WhatsApp group could end up with major complications.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines