This is not the first time that the problem has cropped up. Private group chat links on WhatsApp were found to be searchable on Google back in 2019. It was because the messaging giant indexed group chat links. This means sharing a group invite on a public platform will see Google index the link and show it in search results. WhatsApp fixed it by including the ‘noindex’ tag on all deep link pages. Thus, your private group chat links shouldn’t appear in Google searches.
But, they did once again show up in search results along with user profiles (and their phone numbers). First spotted by cybersecurity researcher Rajshekhar Rajaharia, the group invite links seem to have started indexing fairly recently. He discovered over 1500 group invites were searchable on Google. Many of these links direct the user to groups sharing adult content or porn. Also, one could search for user profiles, thus, revealing phone numbers and profile pictures on Google.
Your @WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are. WhatsApp Group Chat Invite Links, User Profiles Made Public Again on @Google Again.
Story – https://t.co/GK2KrCtm8J#Infosec #Privacy #Whatsapp #infosecurity #CyberSecurity #GDPR #DataSecurity #dataprotection pic.twitter.com/7PvLYuM9xD
— Rajshekhar Rajaharia (@rajaharia) January 10, 2021
WhatsApp had fixed this issue in the past, then how were the group links still being indexed on Google? Rajaharia stated (via Gadgets 360) that the messaging giant did not include the robots.txt file for the “chat.whatsapp.com” domain. This file tells the search engine crawlers which links they should index or not.
The messaging giant has moved swiftly to fix the issue. The group chat links, as well as user profiles that were found to be indexed over the weekend, are no longer visible on Google. We have independently verified this claim. The Facebook-owned company has issued an official statement, advising users to not share private group chat links to any public platform on the Internet. Also, WhatsApp has again asked Google to not index a group invite link or user profiles in the future.
“Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website,” added the WhatsApp spokesperson. Also, if you are a group admin and see a random person join the conversation, you can always kick them out and revoke older group invite links at any time.