WhatsApp numbers of random users are showing up on Google because of the company’s “Click to Chat” feature that helps generate dedicated links of user profiles. A researcher, who claims to have discovered the development, calls it a privacy issue and says that it leaks nearly three lakh phone numbers of WhatsApp users in plaintext. However, the issue isn’t as serious as it is being portrayed in the media as it only makes the phone numbers of those users searchable on Google who have chosen to make them public by generating their links. Also, no names or other private details are popping in Google Search.
The Click to Chat feature of WhatsApp allows you to create a link through which someone can connect with your WhatsApp profile directly. This omits the need of adding a phone number to your contact list to chat and gives a way to connect with individuals on the messaging app directly by using a link that includes the phone number of the WhatsApp contact.
WhatsApp has the Click to Chat feature for quite some time, and it’s been used by several businesses to connect with their customers without requiring them to store their numbers.
The issue was first reported by WhatsApp features tracker WaBetaInfo in February this year —around the same time when people found WhatsApp group chat invite links being indexed by Google Search. The group invite issue was fixed shortly after it came in the headlines as it could have allowed random people join private groups.
The phone number indexing is now back in news because researcher Athul Jayaram claims to “have discovered this privacy issue,” even though it has been known for a while in the wild, as we mentioned earlier.
Jayaram noted in a post on Medium that the mobile numbers associated with the links created through the Click to Chat feature are visible on Google Search as WhatsApp hasn’t restricted search engines to index the domain wa.me that is used for those links. He also mentioned that various marketing executives, cybercriminals, and fraudsters could target the users whose numbers are visible on Google through the indexing of the wa.me links.
Having said that, it is important to note that apart from phone numbers, Google doesn’t have a record of any other personal data of users who’ve used the Click to Chat feature of WhatsApp. Jayaram in some cases found that he was able to notice profile pictures and profile statuses of the users whose numbers are visible on search results. However, those details are only available if the users have set their visibility for everyone and one has to open each contact inside the WhatsApp to see their profile picture, an arduous task.
Jayaram reached WhatsApp parent Facebook last month to report his discovery under a bug-bounty programme. However, he said that the social networking giant rejected his report by saying that its Data Abuse Bounty programme doesn’t cover WhatsApp.
In a statement to Threatpost, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that while the messaging app is a part of the bounty programme, the researcher’s report didn’t qualify for a bounty since it “merely contained a search engine index of URLs that WhatsApp users chose to make public.”
That said, Jayaram noted in his post that WhatsApp should care about the issue and avoid it by disallowing the bots from crawling user links and encrypting the mobile numbers of its users who have created links using the Click to Chat feature.
Android 11 lets you not automatically connect to specific Wi-Fi networks
There are plenty of cases where you might want a Wi-Fi network saved on your phone, but don’t want your phone to always connect to it. Maybe your cell service is sometimes faster than your home internet, or maybe you have a public network that you don’t want to use all the time. Whatever the reason might be, Android 11 will let you disable automatically connecting to specific networks.
Android 11 has a new toggle in the settings panel for Wi-Fi networks called ‘Auto-connect,’ and when it is switched off, your device won’t automatically connect to the given network as soon as it is discovered. This is a separate option from the ‘Connect to public networks’ setting that has been in Android for years. Also, this isn’t exclusive to the recent Android 11 Beta 2 release — it was present in Beta 1, and possibly DP4 (or earlier) as well.
Left: Android 10; Right: Android 11 Beta 2
There’s a running gag at this point that new features in Android often show up on Samsung phones first, and sure enough, an identical toggle is already present in Samsung’s flavor of Android 10. Below is a screenshot from my Tab S6.
Regardless, it’s nice to see this feature make its way into stock Android, so it will be available on more devices. Turning Wi-Fi off entirely when you only want to avoid one network is definitely annoying.
Vint Cerf: COVID-19 highlights how we need better internet access everywhere
Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and chief internet evangelist for Google. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Mr. Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the internet. Mr. Cerf shares his views on the future of the internet, the importance of trust and empathy, and the impact of new technologies like IoT and AI on the future of communications.
To help us better understand the future of the internet, data usage, and privacy, and the impact of new technologies like internet-of-Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) on social networks and the future of communication, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research, and I invited Vint Cerf and other distinguished guests to join our weekly show DisrupTV.
Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and chief internet evangelist for Google. He contributes to global policy development and the continued spread of the internet. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the internet,” Mr. Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the internet. Mr. Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from 2000 to 2007 and has been a visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1998.
Mr. Cerf served as founding president of the Internet Society (ISOC) from 1992 to 1995. Mr. Cerf is a recipient of numerous awards and commendations in connection with his work on the internet, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, and the ACM Turing Award (some refer to this award as the Nobel prize for computing). Mr. Cerf is an officer of the Legion d’Honneur and holds 29 honorary degrees.
Dr. Melissa Flagg is a senior fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University. Previously Dr. Flagg served as the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Research, responsible for policy and oversight Defense Department science and technology programs including basic research through advanced technology development and the DoD laboratory enterprise. Dr. Flagg has worked at the State Department, the Office of Naval Research, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Army Research Laboratory. Dr. Flagg also ran her own consulting business and was the Chief Technology Officer of a consumer start-up. Dr. Flagg has served on numerous boards including the National Academy of Sciences Air Force Studies Board and the Department of Commerce Emerging Technology Research Advisory Committee.
Dr. David Bray is the inaugural director of GeoTech Center and GeoTech Commission at the Atlantic Council. Dr. Bray accepted a leadership role in December 2019 to incubate a new global Center with the Atlantic Council. Business Insider named him one of the top “24 Americans Who Are Changing the World” under 40. Dr. Bray was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum for 2016-2021. From 2017 to the start of 2020, Dr. Bray served as executive director for the People-Centered Internet coalition. Dr. Bray is a Marshall Memorial Fellow, Eisenhower Fellow, and the recipient of the National Intelligence Exceptional Achievement Medal, Arthur S. Fleming Award, and Roger W. Jones Award for Executive Leadership. Dr. Bray is a former CIO for Federal Communication Commission, where he received the global CIO 100 Award twice.
Here are the key takeaways of our conversation with Vint Cerf, Dr. Flagg, and Dr. Bray:
- The COVID-19 pandemic has identified the need for expanded internet access. Should connectivity be a public utility? Dr. Flagg started our conversation with respect to providing affordable and accessible connectivity to everyone. Today, only 50% of the worldwide population has internet access — a milestone that was celebrated by the UN in late 2019. According to Cerf, the pandemic has highlighted that we need better internet access everywhere. In some places around the world, school buses are being used to provide wireless internet access to student populations. Libraries are also providing hot spots for broadband access. The recognition that we need to provide remote internet access has been highlighted by the pandemic.
- Duplicating of in-person classroom experience to a purely digital format may not be the optimal approach. The ability to engage in digital is based on your environment — space and connectivity. The digital format may reduce the need for travel, leading to higher attendance. Investments in online environments should focus on more individualized learning, according to Cerf. In order to do a good job of personalized learning, you need to develop a curriculum that you are supposed to learn, you also need to know what is not understood and to test for comprehension and learning. I believe that the distributed digital educational model will lead to a higher-education framework and operating system that is open (Android-like) versus closed (iOS-like), meaning students will have the option to take courses from multiple institutions of learning and receive accreditation based on a mutually agreed upon multi-university ecosystem framework.
- The future of education is a hybrid model — in-person and virtual. Dr. Flagg shared her thoughts on how the classroom experience may be limited to a couple of days a week, during and post-pandemic, and the rest of the time the learning process is digital. A mixture of both in-person classroom and virtual collaboration and teaching is an area of research.
- We are alone, together. Cerf referenced the book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turke, that spoke about children using mobile and texting have learned a different social behavior pattern. The children learned that it is OK not to respond to a text. If you do not know what to say, do not say anything at all. This means the children cannot cope with responding to the immediacy of having to respond — this means they do not use the phone or meet in person. Today, the system we are using can turn the microphone off. There is control over who can be seen or heard. Cerf spoke about the need for socialists and psychologists to research and better understand how technology influences and effects the social environment that we experience.
- The ability to connect immediately reduces our ability to plan and prepare. Dr. Bray talked about the art of planning and preparation which is often overlooked with today’s mindset and ability to instantly connect and collaborate.
- In the near future, escape from the internet may be impossible. Cerf talked about Elon Musk and SpaceX distributing 200 satellites in space (project Starlink) to scale high-speed internet connectivity around the globe. Starlink is targeting service in the Northern U.S. and Canada in 2020, rapidly expanding to near-global coverage of the populated world by 2021. Cerf said that the impact will be dramatic where every square inch of the planet will have internet access. On the whole, the project is ambitious and worthwhile. Cerf is an observer but optimistic and supportive of Musk’s vision and project.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides opportunities for positive and educational use cases. Dr. Flagg talked about specific proactive and preventative use cases to educate stakeholders regarding personal health and well-being. Dr. Flagg said that the best use of AI will be less about control and more about opt-in learning opportunities. AI is not very close to being able to throw it out into the wild — AI is brittle, not resilient and breakable. Wang talked about using AI to improve decision making speed and velocity. Allowing algorithms to dictate engagement tactics is a choice. Dr. Flagg talked about being more creative and strategic about the use of AI.
- Poorly designed software can negatively impact our society. Cerf reminded us that the Internet of Things (IoT) is already automated and autonomous. There are already billions of connected devices in operation in an autonomous decision-making mode, making decisions based on software algorithms. Poorly crafted software can be damaging, even simple logic that is used today outside of machine learning and advanced AI logic. Dr. Bray warned us about how we can ensure we are not a surveillance state based on tens of billions of smart connected devices in use today.
- Empathy in a non-digital world means creating experiences where people can walk in other people’s shoes. Dr. Bray shared his experiences traveling to other states and countries, where he was able to witness different experiences. Dr. Bray spoke about giving people in rural and urban areas to share different experiences. Bridging the gap in understanding, diversity of thought and empathy requires trust, mutual respect, and humility. Dr. Flagg has traveled to all 50 states. She shared her amazing experience of traveling around the globe. Dr. Flagg loves to explore and discover new and local experiences. Cerf talked about virtual lunches and dinners online and the benefits of simply being curious and interested in learning about others. We had fun talking about virtual reality and personalized avatars to improve the virtual meeting experience.
- Better decisions are achieved through turn-taking (respect), active listening, and gender diversity. Dr. Bray talked about the importance of energy and empathy to improve collaboration. Cerf talked about respect for people’s intentions is what leads to healthy turn-taking. Successful collaborations can be very spirited but never personal, said Cerf. He mentioned the importance of being polite and respectful that can lead to healthy collaboration. Dr. Flagg talked about having a common mission and trust as key success factors for a healthy engagement. Dr. Flagg talked about improvisations that build on top of each other – never feeling that people are sharing prepared remarks for the purpose of only being heard.
- A shift in the reward system can minimize polarization and extreme points of view on social networks. Cerf believes that the reward system in social media leads to polarization and extreme behaviors that attract attention. At the moment, the fastest way to attract attention is to share extreme points of view and content. Cerf did not provide solutions but suggested that this is an area that needs research and better understanding. Dr. Bray noted that the fastest method of creating content is to share hateful content. Dr. Bray said that this is about citizen groups, not government or industry, being actively involved to identify a remedy. Dr. Bray also shared research from Pew that spoke to massive tribalism. We often see this type of behavior as it relates to sports and how fans behave against competitors. Dr. Flagg suggested checkmarks, provided by social media platforms, that identify users that have demonstrated a balanced approach to creating and sharing content.
- We must begin to tolerate differences and improve our critical thinking. Cerf talked about the ‘fear of the other’ and the harm that it caused to society. Tolerance for disagreements and differences is key to having a healthy relationship. Critical thinking, not cynicism, is key to better understanding and protecting yourself against misinformation. Cerf reminded us that the best-packaged misinformation usually contains some level of truth that you recognize, leading you to believe the misinformation part of the package because you recognize that little bit of truth that is included.
- To effectively teach and co-create value, we must first learn about others. Dr. Flagg said that we need to apply a bottom-up approach and exercise more humility as we volunteer our time to improve society. The mindset should shift from ‘I’m here to help and teach,’ to a mindset that is more about ‘I’m here to learn from you and together, we can make a difference.’
I highly encourage you to watch our video conversation with Vint Cerf, Dr. Flagg, and Dr. Bray — three brilliant thought leaders, inventors, and technology pioneers who are guiding us towards a better future, where leadership principles, policies, procedures, partnerships, and technologies can be used for the betterment of society.
ANIMATES STICKERS COMING TO WHATSAPP FINALLY
WhatsApp has reportedly started testing Animated stickers. Just like the earlier update, the new feature is limited to the beta version. It’s coming and might see the light of the day sooner than we expect.
First spotted by WABetainfo, the company has begun testing it on beta version for Android (v220.127.116.11) and iOS (v18.104.22.168). Users need to enrol in the beta program on their respective app stores and be on the versions mentioned above to get the feature.
ANIMATED STICKERS: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
As for the update, the feature reportedly has three parts that will activate the animated stickers. The latest beta, however, has enabled only the first part where users can view animated stickers.
Since the company is reported to roll out this feature to selected users, few users might not see the feature inside the app despite being on the latest beta. The other two parts include the ability to import third-party stickers and download a few from the WhatsApp store.
While the other two features might take time to trickle down to the beta, stable versions will have to wait for a while to get them. Further, the beta doesn’t have sticker looping. This means users who get it will have to tap on it every time to play the animation. Also, there is no info if WhatsApp will be looping the animations in future versions. Join GizChina on Telegram
MORE EMPHASIS ON FIRST AND THIRD-PARTY DEVELOPERS
Reports say that only a few users were able to send animated stickers. And if the receiver has the first part enabled on his beta, he might be able to read, save, and forward them on receiving it from a creator. Further, AndroidPolice has reported that the new beta version has five default animated sticker packs. Those are Playful Piyomaru, Rico’s Sweet Life, Moody Foodies, Chummy Chum Chums, and Bright Days.
That being said, sending animated stickers seems to be rare and limited to a few creators as of yet. Hence, if you are on the beta version and receive one, consider yourself lucky.Read Also: TSMC has started producing Qualcomm Snapdragon 875 flagship chipsets
Others can either download the APK externally and try their luck. Alternatively, you could just wait it out. The messenger is working to get third-party developers for a wider rollout and avoid bugs like the one that was recently found on its invitation codes.
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