Was WhatsApp spying on you? Or did it just accidentally tell your phone that it was spying on you?
Google is now claiming that a WhatsApp-related bug from May simply “produced erroneous privacy indicators and notifications” for Android users on their Privacy Dashboard tool.
Any concern that WhatsApp would be secretly accessing Android phones’ microphones for a bit of sneaky surveillance, the company said via their Twitter account for Android Developers, was all just a misunderstanding based on these “erroneous” reports.
While certain users are still skeptical, Google reports that updates to the latest version of WhatsApp have fixed the problem.
Through their Android Developers Twitter account, Google is now claiming that a WhatsApp-related bug simply “produced incorrect privacy indicators and notifications” for Android users. No actual unauthorized access to telephone microphones has occurred, at least according to the company
WhatsApp, for their part, took to Twitter on May 9, 2023, claiming like Android now that the problem was a “bug on Android” sending false information to users’ privacy dashboards
The Android Developers version echoes statements made in early May amid outrage from Android users over the worrying privacy notices.
The furor even led to billionaire Tesla chief and Twitter owner Elon Musk questioning the security of WhatsApp and voicing his opinion that “WhatsApp cannot be trusted.”
WhatsApp, for their part, took to Twitter on May 9, 2023, claiming like Android now that the issue was a “bug on Android” sending false information to certain users’ privacy dashboard.
The dashboard is a Google feature that monitors how and when third-party apps access the camera and microphone.
Launched with Android 12, it serves as a way for users to know which of their apps may be snooping, with unwanted access or permissions to their microphone or camera.
Located in Android’s “Privacy” settings, Privacy Dashboard shows which apps are accessing the user’s data, what permissions apps are using, and when that access occurs, giving users a snapshot.
The feature displays a green light in the top-right corner of the screen when an app has access to the device’s microphone or camera.
User suggests to revoke the sensitive permissions for the WhatsApp app (microphone and camera), reboot the device and then re-enable the permissions.
Should You Be Worried?
WhatsApp states that it collects user account registration information, transaction data, service-related information, information about how you interact with businesses, mobile device information, and IP address.
The company claims not to store messages and recordings permanently.
Musk shared a screenshot of Twitter engineer Foad Dabiri, who posted an image of his Privacy Dashboard.
That said, reports of the mysterious microphone access go back years.
Android users can see on the Privacy Dashboard when an app has access to their camera or microphone. Posts concerned about WhatsApp getting mysterious microphone access go back years
Some users have noticed that WhatsApp can access their microphone even if they haven’t used the app for a day
iPhone users have also noticed that WhatsApp shows excessive background activity compared to other apps
A Redditor posted five years ago that they didn’t use WhatsApp during the day, but the Privacy Dashboard history shows that “the app used the microphone in the background for 11 minutes today.”
There are also reports of problems from the past few months, and people have suggested that a bug caused this.
But if the problem is a bug, users wonder why it hasn’t been fixed since it first surfaced at least five years ago or why the bug didn’t affect other apps.
And iPhone users have also noticed that WhatsApp shows excessive background activity compared to other apps.
How can you protect yourself?
Some Redditors have shared ways to fix the situation, mainly by restarting the smartphone and making sure it has the latest Android update.
Another user suggests revoking the sensitive permissions for the WhatsApp app (microphone and camera), rebooting the device, and then re-enable the permissions.
For Android users: Open Settings, Apps and select WhatsApp.
Then select Permissions and choose Don’t Allow. Users can also choose Always, Allow only when using the app, or Ask every time.
iOS users need to open Settings from their iPhone’s home screen, select WhatsApp, and turn off the Microphone option.