WhatsApp groups are showing up on Google search yet again. As a result, anyone could discover and join a private WhatsApp group by simply searching on Google. This was first discovered in 2019, and was apparently fixed last year after becoming public. Another old issue, which also appeared to have been fixed but seems to be cropping up again, is user profiles showing up through search results.
A new report by Internet Security Researcher Rajshekhar Rajaharia (@rajaharia) suggests that WhatsApp groups that use links to allow users to enter, may once again be vulnerable to being found online. This would theoretically allow anyone to join the group.
People’s phone numbers and profile pictures could be surfaced through a simple a Google search, because of the issue.
Enabling WhatsApp Group Chats to be indexed, allows these links for private groups across the web to be searched for, and joined. This allows searchers to find phone numbers of users along with the profile pictures. Should nobody notice these unwelcome entries into the group, the stranger could then stay hidden for quite some time until someone realizes his/her presence. What’s worse is even after such strangers are kicked out of the group, their brief entry still leaves them with the list of phone numbers in the group.
WhatsApp replied to say, “Since March 2020, WhatsApp has included the ‘noindex’ tag on all deep link pages which, according to Google, will exclude them from indexing.” Gadgets 360 was able to confirm that the search results are no longer visible on Google anymore; however, WhatsApp’s statement did not mention this fix. The full statement is at the end of this story. Rajshekhar Rajaharia, who informed about the indexing issue, commented on the statement given by WhatsApp and said, “Adding the ‘noindex’ tag is not a proper solution as links surface again on search results in a a few months. Big tech companies like WhatsApp should look for a proper solution if they really care users’ privacy.”