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WhatsApp Group Chat invite links were accessible on Google, issue resolved: Report

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on January 11, 2021

WhatsApp advises users to not post private group links on publicly accessible website

WhatsApp Group chat links were accessible on Google last week as flagged by independent researcher Rajshekhar Rajaharia.

First reported by Gadgets360 an indexing issue led to Google indexing WhatsApp group invite links through which anyone could discover and join a private WhatsApp group by merely searching on Google.

According to Rajaharia, the links surfaced on search engines such as Google as WhatsApp hadn't included the robots.txt file, particularly for chat.whatsapp.com subdomain. Developers use the robot.txt file to inform search engine crawlers on which pages or files they could or couldn’t crawl for indexing to appear on search results.

This had led to search engines indexing these links, as per the Gadgets360 report. Over 1,500 group invite links were available in search results on Google, as per the report. A few thousand links to WhatsApp user profiles were also visible for a few hours, as per the report.

The issues were then resolved with the links being removed from the search engine.

A similar issue was first discovered in 2019 was then fixed by WhatsApp in 2020 as per reports. According to app engineer Jane Manchun Wong, a misconfiguration by WhatsApp had enabled nearly 470k Group Invite links to be indexed by search engines such as Google. WhatsApp had then fixed the issue by removing the existing listing from Google and adding the `noindex` meta tag on the chat invitation links.

In a statement to Gadgets360 regarding the resurfacing of the issue, WhatsApp said it had included a "noindex" tag on all deep link pages since March 2020. As per Google, this will exclude these pages from indexing.

“We have given our feedback to Google to not index these chats. As a reminder, whenever someone joins a group, everyone in that group receives a notice and the admin can revoke or change the group invite link at any time,” WhatsApp said in a statement as quoted by the report.

It further advised users not to post links to private group chats on publicly accessible websites as invite links posted publicly on the internet can be found by other WhatsApp users.

Published on January 11, 2021

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