WhatsApp user ‘Online Status’ allows cyber-stalking: Unavailability of setting to turn off feature can be abused claim researchers

WhatsApp Online Status Cyberstalking
WhatsApp default feature offers cyberstalking opportunities? Pic credit: Alfredo Rivera/Pixabay

WhatsApp is in the midst of yet another controversy. This time, the Facebook-owned, instant messaging app, is allegedly guilty of easily offering the availability or “Online Status” of users to potential cyber-stalkers.

WhatsApp as a platform offers an easy way to cyberstalk someone, claims a new report. Although the research claims the internet-based chatting platform has a flaw, it is basically a feature that was always present.

WhatsApp ‘Online Status’ feature that users cannot turn off potentially opens up cyberstalking?

WhatsApp reportedly has a flaw that allows third parties to stalk users, claim security researchers. The report zeroes in on the online status feature of the instant messaging app.

At the core of the issue is the Online Status or Availability of any WhatsApp user. Needless to mention, this feature is on by default.

What is concerning, however, is the fact that there’s no way to turn off this feature. This means any third-party or unauthorized person can easily observe when a WhatsApp user comes online and stays on the chatting platform.

Cybersecurity firm Traced claims it has discovered several apps and services that cyber-stalkers can use to observe when a user becomes active on WhatsApp. “You can enter any mobile phone number, and if that person uses WhatsApp, the status tracker will provide the exact date and time that person opened WhatsApp,” the company explained in a blog post.

Incidentally, WhatsApp has offered the online status feature to let people know when users are online. This is not a new feature.

However, unlike features such as Last Seen and Status messages, users don’t have the option to disable or change their online status. Simply put, users cannot prevent any person or agency from knowing when or if they are using WhatsApp.

Cyberstalkers have access to cleverly disguised apps that facilitate spying on unsuspecting WhatsApp users?

Unauthorized or undesired users having access to the online status within WhatsApp can be a privacy concern. However, what makes matters worse is the automation and sophistication that cyber-stalkers have access to.

Apparently, there are many WhatsApp online status trackers available on App Stores. These services market themselves as a solution to help people know when their contacts come online on the app. Some WhatsApp online status trackers allow users to enter the phone numbers of two or more individuals.

App Stores, be it Google Play Store or Apple iOS App Store, do not allow developers to publish apps that facilitate cyberstalking.

However, the majority of the WhatsApp online tracking apps on Google Play masquerade as solutions to let parents and spouses know when their loved ones are online on WhatsApp. In other words, these apps pretend to offer safety and security solutions, but in reality, facilitate cyberstalking.

Incidentally, there are several web-based online trackers as well. And these services, being independent of the App Stores, do not even attempt to hide their true purpose.

It is important to note that such services merely indicate the online status. They are incapable of tapping into the messaging feed. Additionally, cyber-stalkers need their victim’s phone number that was used to create and use WhatsApp.

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