You Can’t Hide Whether You Are Online on WhatsApp—And That’s a Problem

There is absolutely no way to hide whether you are online on WhatsApp, not just to your contacts, but literally anyone on the internet. This leaves the door open for stalkers to find out whether a user is online, and potentially even if that user is talking to someone else.

On Tuesday, cybersecurity company Traced published research showing how easy it is for anyone to figure out if WhatsApp users are online or not. The report details how there are several apps and websites that allow anyone to simply enter a number and see whether the number’s owner is online on WhatsApp. Some sites even let people enter two numbers and see when their online status overlaps.

WhatsApp offers a feature to control your “status,” which users may think refers to their contacts seeing if they are online or not. But you simply cannot hide whether you are online, not to your contacts, nor to anyone. That’s because on WhatsApp, “status” refers to status updates on the app. It works similarly to a Facebook post or an Instagram story: you can fine-tune which contacts see your message, but the feature does not let you appear offline. The options are also framed as choosing who can see your status updates; although you can select no contacts, effectively hiding them from everyone, there’s no dedicated option to simply hide your status updates either.

Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and one of the world’s foremost experts on stalkerware, warned that this can enable stalking behavior.

“To begin with, this setting does not make it easy to simply not share your online status with anyone. It is framed in such a way as to imply that of course there are people with whom you still want to share your status,” Galperin told Motherboard in an online chat. “And if even that doesn’t work correctly, then it is actively misleading and potentially endangering WhatsApp users.”

In a test, I set the status setting to “Only Share With…” and did not select any contacts. Despite that, a colleague was able to see me as “Online” both on their WhatsApp mobile app and on a site that offers anyone the ability to check if a number is online on WhatsApp. When I closed the app, my colleague did not see the “Online” status within their app, and my number was flagged as “Offline” on the website. My status, set to a picture of my cat, was not visible to my colleague…Read more>>