Telegram’s ‘People Nearby’ feature raises concerns about its security

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Following WhatsApp’s sudden ultimatum about user data collection last week, users across the world have flocked to other messaging platforms that they may not know very well. One of these is Telegram, a Stuff favourite messaging platform that just surpassed 500 million active users globally

Now people in South Africa have started misusing one of Telegram’s features for some dodgy business opportunities, setting up groups dedicated to illegal trade. This includes the sale of sex, drugs and, thanks to level 3 lockdown regulations, alcohol. These groups can easily be accessed through the ‘Groups nearby’ feature that uses your location to display community groups in your area. 

A paper Telegram is safer

Some of the groups are innocent enough, like actual community groups for suburbs or religious groups. Thing is, illicit groups can fairly easily be accessed by anyone using the app, including children. All you have to do is tap the ‘People Nearby’ option and you’ll be greeted by a variety of people and groups in your area. Once you click on a group, you can immediately view whatever content has been posted. This is where the issue comes in. 

Users have to give the app permission to use their location before it’ll display these groups, so if you’re at all concerned about location tracking, best practise is to keep this setting off anyway. 

Two weeks ago, hackers also found a vulnerability in the ‘People Nearby’ feature that allows anyone the capability to triangulate a user’s exact location. It looks like the feature is causing more problems than not, bringing up questions about personal safety and the possibility of stalkers accessing your chats. 

According to the official announcement page for the feature on Telegram’s blog, it looks like developers aimed this feature like a match-making offering. Almost like a Tinder with no limits. Users can quite easily go into People Nearby, tap on any person listed and start messaging them. 

Of course, you would need to have the feature enabled for someone to find you, by tapping ‘Make myself visible’. But the negatives far outweigh opportunities here.

 

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Digital Editor at Stuff. Nevermind the fancy title, I like writing about things that are cool. Like games, gadgets and sometimes even software. Depending on how cool it is.

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