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Google kills dangerous WhatsApp feature that let strangers access your texts and photos

Google has halted indexing invite links to WhatsApp group chats. These unique URLs are designed to allow WhatsApp users to quickly share access to groups without having to individually add every new member with their mobile number.

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Tapping on the invite link adds them immediately to the group chat. However, when these URLs were shared on publicly-accessible websites, Google would crawl the link and make it instantly searchable to users worldwide. As such, randomers who searched for the correct combination of keywords could find themselves with one-click-access to your chat.

WhatsApp parent firm Facebook said the behaviour, which had users understandably panicked about their privacy, was not a bug – but a feature of the helpful invite link functionality.

Thankfully, Google has stepped-in and will no longer make these URLs searchable. As it stands, it is the only search engine to have made this move… so Bing, DuckDuckGo and others could feasibly still surface the link to the WhatsApp group chat that you share with your University friends, work colleagues, or family members.

If you have previously shared an invite link to a WhatsApp group on a public website or forum, you’ll be relieved to know that new members to an existing WhatsApp group chat will not be able to scroll back to older messages sent before they joined. So, you don’t need to worry about new additions to the conversation being able to scroll back and find a bad-taste joke you made back in 2011.

“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,” a spokesperson for WhatsApp said. Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website.”

WhatsApp sends a notification to everyone in the group chat when someone new is added – so you’ll be aware when your invite link has been shared and a random Google searcher appears in the fray.

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