Some companies have used the popular online status indication of the WhatsApp to offer improper people monitoring applications. When purchasing the service offered, it is possible to have a complete report on the accesses of the person being tracked within the messaging platform.
The risk is that these services may facilitate the activity of stalkers, according to the security company Traced. Many of the programs involved present themselves as family trackers. That is, they sell themselves as a solution to help parents monitor their children.
How does it work
WhatsApp works with the indication “online” of all accounts that use the messaging service, without any restrictions. As soon as someone opens or brings the app for the foreground, the status is activated. There is no way for people to change any setting so that it does not appear, unlike the “last seen”, which can be disabled.
In the case of “online” status, even contacts that are not saved in the user’s calendar can see when a person is using the platform.
What the companies – which Traced chose not to quote – did was to take advantage of this dynamic to create systems that collect and organize this flow of data from the people to be tracked. From the purchase of the service and the registration of the number of interest of those who will be monitored, the respective systems begin to record all times when the person entered and left WhatsApp.
The gravity of the practice is that apps like these open up possibilities, for example, for companies to control employees and for couples to spy on their spouses. The argument used is “confirm or not suspect”. The surveillance system can also be used by criminals.
Betrayals and cross-monitoring
According to the technology company, some monitoring systems have evolved and allow stalkers to add a second contact for data crossing.
In cases where there are suspicions of betrayal, for example, the person could check whether the “online” schedules match, which would increase the suspicion about exchanging messages between the two people tracked.
Also according to Traced, several users of these services publicly celebrate the success of their missions as “spies”. One person discovered his partner’s betrayal.
Another explained in a Reddit forum how she used the solution to understand the partner’s psyche and to know when he is really focused on the conversation or waiting for a contact to return.
Challenge of fighting surveillance
As already mentioned, many programs hide in the app stores claiming that they are meant for parents to have greater control over what their children do online. For this reason, they do not go so far as to officially harm security policies.
The fact that nothing needs to be installed on the victims’ phones is also another difficulty, as the victims do not even know that they are being monitored. This makes it more difficult to prove the action of the stalkers.
“Apps that use WhatsApp data to help abusers know when victims are offline or online, put the victim in dire situations of abuse or violence. These apps are literally allowing abusers to continue to harass and control people,” said Chloé Messdagh, a master of social science and digital security activist.
“They’re not even hiding it. It’s even in marketing messages. It’s promoting violence,” he added.
WhatsApp even has settings for increase people’s privacy, highlighted Traced. However, she criticizes the fact that there is no tool in the messaging service that prevents this type of surveillance, nor that it informs that a certain device is being monitored.
The company argues that the feature should be changed to prevent people outside the users’ contact list from having access to their status or from being offered any better form of privacy control.
Traced said on its website that it called WhatsApp to obtain information about the reasons for the “online” status to be open to the public, but has not received a return. Tilt also tried a positioning, but did not receive it until the text was closed.
Increase WhatsApp privacy
Some ways to do this are:
- Hide the profile photo or let only the people you choose have access to it;
- Disable those blue ticks that appear to show that you have received and read a message;
- Show your WhatsApp status to only a few people
- Open WhatsApp and go to the three dots in the upper right corner;
- Select the “Settings” item;
- Go to “Account” and then “Privacy”;
- Several options will appear. Choose the one you want, change and confirm.
- Open WhatsApp and go to “Settings”;
- Select the item “Account”;
- Go to “Privacy”. Here will appear options such as “Last seen”, “Profile picture”, “Status”, among others;
- Choose the one you want, change and confirm.
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