Today, we’re happy to see WhatsApp fixing the long-standing group messaging problem that we called on them to address: allowing users to decide who can add them to groups without their express consent. This puts users in a better position to control their WhatsApp chats and personal phone number privacy, and we’d like to see other messengers that offer groups follow suit.
Last month, we launched Fix It Already, a new way to show companies we're serious about the attainable, high-impact privacy and security issues they need to fix. On social media, users are joining in to share why these issues are important to them with the hashtag “#FixItAlready”. WhatsApp is the first company to roll out a fix in response to our (and your!) demands.
In changes announced in a blog post today, WhatsApp announced that users can now go to their account settings and choose among three options for group messaging: “Nobody,” where no one can add you to a group automatically without your express consent; “My Contacts,” where only your contacts can add you without express consent; or “Everyone,” where no one needs your consent. These changes will be available to some users as soon as today, and will be available to everyone using the latest version of WhatsApp over the next several weeks.
To access these settings, use the three dots in the top right corner of WhatsApp to navigate to Settings > Account > Privacy > Groups. These changes will be available to some users as soon as today, and will be available to everyone using the latest version of WhatsApp over the next several weeks.
Users of WhatApp could always leave a messaging group or block a messaging group after being added. But there was no way to control being added to the group in the first place. Without a chance to decide whether or not you want to accept a group invitation, you could have your phone number exposed to all the members of a group, and you could even be linked to information and messages that you don’t support. At best, this takes the form of a well-meaning relative or friend adding you to a group that you then have to awkwardly leave or ignore. At worst, WhatsApp groups have been implicated in invasive political campaign tactics and even the spread of disinformation leading to violence.
The power to simply say “yes” or “no” when someone adds you to a group puts users back in control of their WhatsApp chats and personal phone number privacy from the start.
EFF applauds this change from WhatsApp. Now it’s time for the eight other products and platforms we called out in Fix It Already to catch up.