WhatsApp Accessing User Contact Details And Tracking Users

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WhatsApp Accessing User Contact Details And Tracking Users
Short Title WhatsApp Messaging App Probes Users for Access to Contacts And Tracks User Behavior
Location Global
Date October 2020

Taxonomy Interrogation, Decisional Interference, Surveillance
Information Behavioral, Identifying, Contact, Computer Device, Social Network
Threat Actors WhatsApp, Facebook

Individuals
Affected WhatsApp users, WhatsApp users contacts
High Risk Groups
Secondary Consequences

Several privacy issues were identified with WhatsApp messing App. The app tracks user behavior, even though it doesnt have access to the content of the messages, and also forces users to give up information about their contacts.

Description

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has 2 billion monthly users, its app is the world's most popular messenger service. Since it implemented end-to-end encryption in 2016, people mostly trust that the content of their WhatsApp messages is secure. Nevertheless, there are several privacy issues that were identified.

WhatsApp accesses all of users contacts, and not just those who use the platform. According to their terms of service, users “provide the phone numbers of WhatsApp users and your other contacts in your mobile phone address book on a regular basis. You confirm you are authorised to provide us such numbers to allow us to provide our services.” This can be see as an example of Interrogation.

Breakdown

Threat: WhatsApp regularly probing users phone for information about their contacts
At-Risk group: WhatsApp users and their contacts
Harm: Interrogation
Secondary Consequences: not known

One can refuse access, but WhatsApp will reprimand them by not showing any of the names of message threads – pretty annoying for a messenger platform – and will prevent one from making calls or starting group messages or broadcasts. This is Decisional Interference.

Breakdown

Threat: WhatsApp manipulating users into giving access to contacts by cutting some of the app functionality if one doesnt allow access
At-Risk group: WhatsApp users and their contacts
Harm: Decisional Intereference
Secondary Consequences: not known

Another privacy issue that was identified with WhatsApp is even though the app doesnt have access to the content of the messages, it tracks user behavior. It monitors how users interact with each other using WhatsApp services, it tracks the time, frequency and duration of their activities and interactions. Depending on whether one changes the default security settings, WhatsApp can see ones profile picture, nickname, status and "last online time”.

Breakdown

Threat: WhatsApp tracking user online behavior
At-Risk group: WhatsApp users
Harm: Surveillance
Secondary Consequences: not known

WhatsApp sometimes serves its users the occasional pop-up message, asking whether one wants to save a back-up of chat history on Google Drive or iCloud. What comes across as a nice service offering is also a trap: these back-ups stockpile ones chat history on Apple and Google servers without end-to-end encryption. This is an example of Interrogation.

Breakdown

Threat: WhatsApp asking users to break end-to-end-encryption by offering them to save chats backup
At-Risk group: WhatsApp users
Harm: Interrogation
Secondary Consequences: not known

Risk Statistics

Laws and Regulations

Sources

https://www.vice.com/en/article/qj4qjd/whatsapp-data-security-issues