Mobile numbers and WhatsApp chats of people using WhatsApp web were indexed on Google search results yet again, a security researcher claimed. This came just days after the same security researcher, Rajshekhar Rajaharia, had found that links to private WhatsApp group chats were indexed on Google search results.
However, this time, Rajaharia claims, WhatsApp was actually using settings that should have technically prevented these chats from being indexed on Google. “This time, @WhatsApp is actually using a “Robots.txt” file and a “disallow all” setting, so they are instructing @Google not to index anything. Google is still Indexing,” he wrote on Twitter.
15 Jan 2021, If you are using @WhatsApp Web, your Mobile Number and Messages are being index by @Google again. Don't know why WhatsApp is still not monitoring their website and google. This is 3rd time.#Infosec #Privacy #infosecurity #GDPR #Whatsapp #Privacy #Policy #Google pic.twitter.com/D6o1emxDgv
— Rajshekhar Rajaharia (@rajaharia) January 15, 2021
In the previous instance, when WhatsApp group links were available on Google search results, WhatsApp had essentially passed the buck to Google, claiming that it follows all protocols to prevent chats or groups being indexed. At the time, the company said:
“Since March 2020, WhatsApp has included the “noindex” tag on all deep link pages which, according to Google, will exclude them from indexing. We have given our feedback to Google to not index these chats. As a reminder, whenever someone joins a group, everyone in that group receives a notice and the admin can revoke or change the group invite link at any time. 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.” — WhatsApp spokesperson
We have reached out to WhatsApp for more details about why chats were indexed for the third time, and will update the story when they respond.
Rajaharia also claimed that mobile numbers could potentially be getting indexed as marketers might be using the WhatsApp API to send bulk messages. “Similarly some marketers might using web version to send bulk messages via @WhatsApp API. And Hyperlinks are being generated. Now there is a chance that @Google is indexing them and Whatsapp is not monitoring,” he added.