San Francisco - In a victory for users, WhatsApp has fixed a long-standing privacy problem in group messaging, where users could be added to a group without their permission. The issue was one of the targets of “Fix It Already!,” a campaign from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) demanding repair of privacy and security holes that disrespect user control and put us all at risk.
“Without this kind of control, an unwanted group invite would expose your phone number to all the members of a group and even have the potential to make you part of someone else’s disinformation campaign,” said EFF Associate Director of Research Gennie Gebhart.
Users of WhatApp could always leave a messaging group or block a messaging group after being added to them. But there was no way to control being added to the group in the first place. 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, but will be available to everyone using the latest version of WhatsApp over the next several weeks.
EFF launched “Fix It Already!” on February 28, targeting nine big privacy and security issues with major consumer technology products. The list takes Facebook to task for reusing customers’ phone numbers to advertising—even if the user only provided the number for security purposes. Google was called out for not letting Android phone users to deny and revoke network permissions for apps. Apple, Twitter, Verizon, Microsoft, Slack, and Venmo are also on EFF’s list.
“We’re happy to see WhatsApp addressing this problem, and would like to see other messaging apps follow suit,” said Gebhart. “Now it’s time for the eight other products and platforms we called out in Fix It Already! to catch up.”
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