Your private WhatsApp group could be found on Google - here's how to protect it

Many people use the WhatsApp messaging app every day, for both social and business reasons.

Maybe you have a group chat for work - or maybe there's a secret work group chat that you might not want your boss to find.

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Well, if you add people to that group via the app's 'invite to group link' feature, then Google (and potentially your boss) can access your private conversation.

This latest privacy violation was discovered by tech journalist and WhatsApp user, Jordan Wildon, who tweeted about the "interesting groups" he could access.

Your WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are.The "Invite to Group via Link" feature allows groups to be indexed by Google and they are generally available across the internet. With some wildcard search terms you can easily find some… interesting… groups. pic.twitter.com/hbDlyN6g3q

— Jordan Wildon (@JordanWildon) February 21, 2020

Don't share invite links on social media

Whenever you publish a link for others to join a WhatsApp group, the link is indexed by Google, meaning it can be searched for, like a website, and accessed by strangers.

Several tech publications have experimented with the searches. Motherboard managed to access WhastApp groups for the United Nations, as well as sourcing many links to private porn-sharing groups.

Facebook, who own WhatsApp, told tech magazine The Verge, "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.”

How can I protect myself?

Hong-Kong based leaker, Jane Manchun-Wong, has explained that the issue is due to a so-called "misconfiguration" by WhatsApp, leaving 470,000 groups vulnerable.

A misconfiguration by WhatsApp enabled ~470k Group Invite links to be indexed by search enginesIt should’ve been `Disallow`ed with robots.txt or with the `noindex` meta tagthanks @JordanWildon for the tip https://t.co/CJxjJ5qyfh pic.twitter.com/FrW1I9Y8vs

— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) February 21, 2020

With so many groups searchable online, users need to know that posting a link to a private WhatsApp group will allow others to access that link by Google.

To keep yourself safe and you group private, send links directly to those you want to join.

Google's public search liaison, Danny Sullivan tweeted, "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."