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.
Snap to pay video creators $1 million daily
The fast-growing public listed American social media company – Snap Inc., plans to release new functionality to its Snapchat app in order to enable popular videos that would be termed as Spotlight, and further disclosed it will pay $1 million per day to the creators of high performing videos.
According to Bloomberg, Snap revealed how content creators could earn such income with ease, as the level of entry was kept minimal, on the basis that video submitters to Spotlight do not need to have large followers or popular profiles.
What you should know
An algorithm from the app software will be the judge in realizing what videos Snapchat users will see based on how often Snap users view such videos.
If other snap chat users view the same content repeatedly, for example, that’s an alert it’s trending and this will trigger the algorithm to distribute it more widely.
What this means
The new feature will give Snapchat enough ammunition to fend off its rivals in an ever-changing competitive market for posting trendy videos online, which has been largely controlled by Google’s YouTube, Facebook Inc.’s Instagram, and China-based ByteDance Ltd.’s popularly known TikTok.
Tech Experts anticipate that such a new feature in its trendy app could generate more revenue for the company, as its recent earnings show it has 249 million daily active users in Q3 – such high numbers will attract global brands on advertising and enable more sponsored content.
The investors of the American social media company have earned high returns from its stock in 2020 alone, as its stock has almost tripled this year to a record $45.38million on the bias that an increasing number of young people spend more time on the app.
Google’s latest Chrome update delivers ‘largest performance gain in years’
Google is wrapping up 2020 with what it claims are major performance enhancements to the company’s Google Chrome browser. “This month’s update represents the largest gain in Chrome performance in years,” Matt Waddell, Chrome’s director of product, wrote in a blog post. Sounds pretty exciting on the surface, no? Waddell says a slew of under-the-hood changes and optimizations have led to boosts to Chrome on several fronts.
But even opening Chrome should feel faster. The browser now launches 25 percent faster — hopefully to where you’ll notice the difference. It loads pages up to 7 percent faster, “and does all of this using less power and RAM than before.”
Google is also adding tab search, which is exactly what it sounds like and could be a godsend for those of us buried under an avalanche of them. “You’ll now be able to see a list of your open tabs — regardless of the window they’re in — then quickly type to find the one you need.” This feature is debuting on Chromebooks first and then expanding to other desktop versions of Chrome.
The address bar is getting a bit more useful with something Google calls Chrome Actions, “a faster way to get things done with just a few keystrokes.”
For example: when you type “edit passwords,” or “delete history,” you can now take action directly from the bar. Our first set of actions — available initially on desktop — focuses on privacy and security, so you can increase your peace of mind in a few clicks.
And last, you might soon notice “cards” when you open a new tab in Chrome.
To help you jump back into activities like planning a meal, researching a holiday gift, or winding down with a video, we’ll soon add cards to your new tab page in Chrome. Clicking on them will take you to recently-visited and related content on the web, and save you time in the process.”
For now, cards will only appear “for some users” beneath the shortcuts area; Google says it’s planning to add entertainment-focused cards in 2021.
All these things together add up to a significant update for the world’s most popular web browser. And they come on the very day that Apple is being lauded for the speed and efficiency of its new M1 Mac computers. Speaking of which, Chrome for macOS also gets a new icon that’s a better fit for the latest Big Sur release. But if the optimizations actually meet Google’s claims, I’m way more excited about the improved efficiency. The update to Chrome 87 is rolling out beginning today.
Facebook and Instagram are getting Vanish Mode in chats
Ten days ago WhatsApp got Disappearing Messages and now the other two apps with messaging abilities in the Facebook family are adopting it. Both Messenger and Instagram will get Vanish Mode which will delete messages upon closing the conversation window.
Vanish Mode is activated with a swipe from the bottom of the chat. Once a message is sent, it will stay on the screen until it is turned off or the app is switched. Of course, you can always screenshot the message before it disappears.
The new feature will work both in group chats and personal conversations. While they are instantly disappearing, Facebook revealed conversations can be reported, meaning they will remain in the system for up to 14 days, so they are not instantly deleted.
Such features aren’t entirely new in the Facebook universe – there still is “Secret Conversation” for Messenger but it is rather tedious to set up and use and nobody has the time for that. Instagram also has something of a disappearing feature – currently, photos can be sent and set up to disappear once seen but nothing on messages unless you Unsend them.
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