Everyone and their uncle uses WhatsApp in South Africa. It’s like our common app, the piece of software that transcends languages and cultures because it’s just… well, it’s just a great means of messaging someone. Quick, efficient, simple to use and secure, WhatsApp is… wait, hang on. Oh no, just gimme a second…uh, okay. Well…that will require some tweaking.
Did I say WhatsApp was secure? I meant the other things but “secure” might have been a bridge too far as it was recently discovered that WhatsApp has been exposing users’ numbers through Google and I doubt you need to be told that’s a huge YIKES.
Now, it’s worth mentioning up front that the issue has been fixed by WhatsApp but that was only after a security consultant and researcher Athul Jayaram made the company aware that the WhatsApp web portal, “leaked around 29000–300000 WhatsApp user’s mobile numbers in plaintext accessible to any internet user”. You don’t even need to be super into technology to know that your WhatsApp number showing up on Google searches is a super not good thing so fortunately Facebook has been cracking down on the issue.
Facebook responded to the Jayaram’s discovery by saying that they’ve been working on fixing the problem for a while now, before the recent report, and the numbers found by Jayaram were old numbers cached by the search engine which should hopefully be re-indexed over time and removed from Google entirely.
Still, it’s not exactly fantastic that this happened at all in the first place. You can read Jayaram’s full report here and see how easy it was for people to just search Google for phone numbers. Even though the issue has been fixed, it’s a good reminder that the internet is a scary place, be as safe as you can out there, folks.