The WhatsApp group’s chat links were available on Google last week, independent researcher Rajshekhar Rajaharia reported.
First reported by Gadgets360, an indexing issue led Google to index the WhatsApp group invite links through which anyone could discover and join a private WhatsApp group by simply performing a Google search.
According to Rajaharia, links that appeared on search engines such as Google as well as WhatsApp had not included the robots.txt file, especially for the chat.whatsapp.com subdomain. Developers use the robot.txt file to notify search engine robots about which pages or files they can or cannot crawl for indexing to show up in search results.
This had led search engines to index these links, according to the Gadgets360 report. More than 1,500 group invitation links were available in Google search results, according to the report. A few thousand links to WhatsApp user profiles were also visible for a few hours, according to the report.
The issues were then resolved with the removal of the search engine links.
A similar issue was first discovered in 2019 and then resolved by WhatsApp in 2020, according to reports. According to application engineer Jane Manchun Wong, a misconfiguration of WhatsApp had indexed nearly 470,000 Group Invite links by search engines such as Google. WhatsApp then fixed the issue by removing Google’s existing listing and adding the meta tag `noindex` on the chat invitation links.
In a statement to Gadgets360 regarding the resurfacing of the issue, WhatsApp said it has included a “noindex” tag on all deep link pages since March 2020. According to Google, this will exclude those pages from indexing.
“We have given our comments to Google not to index these chats. As a reminder, every time someone joins a group, everyone in that group gets a notice and the admin can revoke or change the group invite link at any time, ”WhatsApp said in a statement cited by The report.
He also advised users not to post links to private group chats on publicly accessible websites as other WhatsApp users may find publicly posted invitation links on the internet.