Was WhatsApp spying on you? Or was it just accidentally telling your phone it was spying on you?
Google now claims that a WhatsApp-related bug from May simply ‘produced erroneous privacy indicators and notifications’ for Android users on their Privacy Dashboard tool.
Any worry of WhatsApp secretly accessing Android phone’s microphones for a bit of sneaky surveillance, so the company said via their Android Developers twitter account, was all just a misunderstanding based on these ‘erroneous’ notifications.
While certain users are still skeptical, Google advises that updates to the latest version of WhatsApp have addressed the issue.
Via their Android Developers twitter account, Google now claims that a WhatsApp-related bug simply ‘produced erroneous privacy indicators and notifications’ for Android users. No actual unauthorized access of phone microphones occurred, at least according to the company
For their part, WhatsApp took to Twitter back on May 9th 2023, claiming as Android does now that the issue was a ‘bug on Android’ that sent false information to users’ Privacy Dashboards
The Android Developers version echoes statements made in early May, amid an outcry from Android users over the worrying privacy notifications.
The furor even led to billionaire Tesla chief and Twitter owner Elon Musk to weigh in on WhatsApp’s safety, stating his view that ‘WhatsApp cannot be trusted.’
For their part, WhatsApp took to Twitter on May 9th 2023, claiming as Android does now that the issue was a ‘bug on Android’ that sent false information to certain user’s Privacy Dashboard.
The dashboard is a Google feature that monitors how and when third-party apps access the camera and mic.
Launched with Android 12, it serves as a way for users to know which of their apps might be snooping, with unwanted access or permissions to their microphone or camera.
Privacy Dashboard is located in Android’s ‘Privacy’ settings and shows which apps are accessing the user’s data, which permissions apps are using, and when that access happens, providing a snapshot to users.
The feature displays a green light at the top right of the screen when an app access the device’s microphone or camera.
User suggests revoking the sensitive permissions to the WhatsApp app (microphone and camera), restarting the device and then re-enabling the permissions.
Should you be concerned?
WhatsApp states it collects users’ account registration information, transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with businesses, mobile device information and IP address.
The company claims it does not store messages and recordings permanently.
Musk shared a screenshot from Twitter engineer Foad Dabiri, who posted an image of his Privacy Dashboard.
That said, posts about the mysterious mic access go back years.
Android users can see when an app accesses their camera or microphone on Privacy Dashboard. Posts concerned about WhatsApp getting mysterious mic access go back years
Some users have noticed WhatsApp accessing their microphone even if they did not use the app for a day
iPhone users have also noticed WhatsApp has shown excessive background activity compared to other apps
One Redditor posted five years ago that they did not use WhatsApp during the day, but the Privacy Dashboard history shows ‘the app used the microphone today in the background for 11 min.’
There are also issue reports in the last few months old, and people have suggested a bug caused it.
But if the problem is a bug, users question why it has not been fixed since it first surfaced at least five years ago or why the flaw did not impact other apps.
And iPhone users have also noticed WhatsApp has shown excessive background activity compared to other apps.
How can you protect yourself?
Some Redditors have shared ways to fix the situation, mainly restarting the smartphone and ensuring it has the lasted Android update.
Another user suggests revoking the sensitive permissions to the WhatsApp app (microphone and camera), restarting the device and then re-enabling the permissions.
For Android users, open Settings, Apps and select WhatsApp.
Then select Permissions and choose Don’t Allow. Users can also select All the Time, Allow Only While Using the App or Ask Every Time.
iOS users must open Settings from their iPhone home screen, select WhatsApp and toggle the Microphone option off.