Some companies have used the popular “online” status indication of WhatsApp to offer monitoring apps to inappropriate people. When purchasing the service offered, it is possible to have a complete report on the accesses of the person being tracked on the messaging platform.
The risk is that these services could facilitate the activity of the harassers, according to security company Traced. Many of the programs involved are presented as family followers. That is, they are sold as a solution to help parents control their children.
how it works
WhatsApp works with the “online” indication of all accounts that use the messaging service, without any restrictions. As soon as someone opens or brings the app to the forefront, the status is activated. There is no way to change any parameters so that they do not appear, unlike the “last view” function, which can be turned off.
In the case of the “online” status, even contacts that are not saved in the user’s calendar can see when a person uses the platform.
What the companies did, which Traced chose not to cite, was to take advantage of this dynamic to create systems that would collect and organize this data flow from the people to follow. From the purchase of the service and the registration of the number of interests from which they will be controlled, the respective systems begin to record all the moments in which the person entered and left WhatsApp.
The seriousness of the practice is that applications like these open up possibilities, for example, for companies to control employees and for spies to spy on their spouses. The argument used is “to confirm or not to suspect.” The surveillance system can also be used by criminals.
Betrayals and cross-surveillance
According to the technology company, some monitoring systems have evolved and allow stalkers to add a second contact for data passage.
In cases where there are suspicions of treason, for example, the person could check if the “online” schedules match, which would increase the suspicion about the exchange of 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 couple’s psyche and know when she is really focused on the conversation or waiting for a contact to return.
Challenge of surveillance of the struggle
As already mentioned, many programs hide in app stores claiming that they are meant for parents to have more control over what their children do online. As a result, they do not officially harm security policies.
The fact that nothing has to be installed on the victims ’phones is also another difficulty, as the victims don’t even know they are being watched. This makes it more difficult to demonstrate the action of the harassers.
“Apps that use WhatsApp data to help abusers know when victims are offline or online put the victim in serious situations of abuse or violence. These apps literally allow abusers to continue harassing and controlling people.” , said Chloé Messdagh, an activist master in social sciences and digital security.
“They don’t even hide it. Even in marketing messages. It promotes violence,” he added.
WhatsApp even has options to increase people’s privacy, Traced said. However, he criticizes the fact that there is no tool in the messaging service that prevents this type of surveillance, or that it reports that a certain device is controlled.
The company argues that the role should be changed to prevent people who do not belong to users’ contact list from accessing their status or being offered any better form of privacy control.
Traced said on its website that it triggered WhatsApp to get information on why the “online” status is open to the public, but has not received any refunds. Inclination he also tried a positioning, but did not receive it until the text was closed.
Increase WhatsApp privacy
Some ways to do this are:
- Hide your profile picture or let only the people you choose access it;
- Turn off the blue ticks that appear to show that you have received and read a message;
- Show your WhatsApp status to a few people
- Open WhatsApp and go to the three points in the upper right;
- Select the “Settings” item;
- Go to “Account” and then to “Privacy”;
- Several options will appear. Choose the one you want, change it and confirm.
- Open WhatsApp and go to “Settings”;
- Select the “Account” item;
- Go to “Privacy”. Options such as “Last viewed”, “Profile image”, “Status”, among others, will appear here;
- Choose the one you want, change it and confirm.
* Bruna Souza Cruz collaborated