The idea behind having a private group on WhatsApp is, naturally, so that not anyone can just get in. But, if you know your way around Google search, it may be possible to find links to just about any private WhatsApp group chat.
Vice reports that Jordan Wildon, a journalist for Deutsche Welle, shared his discovery on Twitter. With the tweet is a screenshot of WhatsApp group links found using Google search. He explains that this is possible because the the links to the private groups can be indexed by Google.
Prominent app reverse-engineer also chimed in with a screenshot of her on. In it, she showed that simply searching for “chat.whatsapp.com” on Google gets you over 470000 links to private group chats.
A misconfiguration by WhatsApp enabled ~470k Group Invite links to be indexed by search engines
It should’ve been `Disallow`ed with robots.txt or with the `noindex` meta tag
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) February 21, 2020
The Facebook subsidiary has since responded to the situation. A spokesperson said in a statement that “invite links that are posted publicly on the internet can be found by other WhatsApp users“. So if the admin of the private group you’re in didn’t post any invite links publicly, your private groups will most likely remain that way.
The nature of this scenario suggests that this is more a case of user negligence than a fault of WhatsApp. At least, it’s not as bad as previous episodes of security flaws. Then there are other issues that, while not exactly security related, are bad enough that they wipe out your chat history.
As an aside, just last week, the messaging app hit its 2 billion user milestone.