Google is indexing invitations-to-group chats at WhatsApp, making the invite links— including links to private group chats — discoverable and available to anyone who wants to join, Motherboard reports.
Journalist Jordan Wildon said on Twitter that he discovered that the “Invite to Group Connection” feature of WhatsApp enables Google index groups to be made available online as links are exchanged outside the secure private messaging service of WhatsApp.
Motherboard was able to use unique Google searches to find private groups (and the results included a number of porn-sharing groups). They had access to all of the participants and their phone numbers until they joined a group— which was intended for UN-approved NGOs.
Group administrators can invalidate a link to a chat if they wish, but Wildon says he found that WhatsApp only creates a new link in those situations; it doesn’t automatically delete the original link. WhatsApp group links come with attached warnings, reminding the person who generates the link to only share it with people they trust.
In an email to The Verge, Facebook / WhatsApp spokeswoman Alison Bonny said that “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,” adding that “links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website.” That is what’s going on here. It is no different from any situation where a platform allows for the public listing of URLs. “He included a link to instructions in Google’s Help Center to block content from being included in search results.
Of course, WhatsApp has had its share of headaches related to security in recent months. An alleged hack by Saudi Arabia into the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos back in 2018 was reportedly carried out via a message from WhatsApp that had been malware-infected. Last May, a flaw found in the software was used to spreading spyware over phone calls on Android and iOS phones.