Early this year, WhatsApp users were shocked when they found out that Google had indexed WhatsApp group invite links. The bug raised a privacy risk in the form of random people joining private WhatsApp groups which they were not invited to join. In one instance, the Motherboard team managed to join a WhatsApp group that was reportedly for a NGO.
After many complaints, WhatsApp made the group chat links de-indexed, making them unsearchable on Google. But now over 6 months down the line, Google has started to index WhatsApp group chat links again.
The links are still searchable on Google the same way they were searchable when the bug was reported in February this year. One only needs to type: site.chat.whatsapp.com in their search bar and the page will be filled with WhatsApp group chat links.
When we searched for the links, Google shows that at least 17 000 WhatsApp group links are discoverable on search which is significantly less than 470 000 links that were discoverable early this year.
You can even search for specific kinds of WhatsApp group invite links by adding a certain word like “Liverpool” at the end of the address – site:chat.whatsapp.com Liverpool showed WhatsApp group invites for groups whose subject has the word “Liverpool”.
When the bug was first publicised this year, a bounty hunter posted a screenshot of WhatsApp denying that it’s a fault but it “was an intentional product decision”.
A WhatsApp official quoted said “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.”
On Google’s part, the search engine giant said there’s nothing sinister about WhatsApp group links being discoverable on the search engine. A representative of Google said group links are indexed as a result of posted on the web.
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.
Despite, initially denying that it was a fault, WhatsApp fixed the issue by adding a “noindex” meta tag which de-indexed the WhatsApp group links, according to according to Jane Manchun Wong, a well-known reverse-engineer.
However, it seems like adding the meta tags was only a temporary solution as the group links have started to pop up again.
The last time it happened, WhatsApp said that group admins only have to revoke the group link if they fear anonymous people joining their groups. Group admins can still do that today, though WhatsApp need to come up with a fix who addresses this once and for all.
Until then, to avoid having your WhatsApp group’s link appearing in Google search, make sure you don’t post it on the web.
Featured image credit:Fossbytes.com