Have You Checked Your WhatsApp Privacy Settings?

Smartphone with whatsapp logo and encrypted chat bubbles

WhatsApp is the spiritual successor of the text messaging we used to spend so much money on in our monthly phone plan. While WhatsApp includes many useful features, it can also make private information readily available. You may not know Facebook owns WhatsApp. With growing concern over how Facebook uses your information, it may be a good time to do a checkup of your WhatsApp privacy settings.

Privacy Concerns about WhatsApp

Facebook purchased WhatsApp from co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton in 2014. Acton left the company in 2017 and has often criticized Facebook harshly over their approach to privacy issues. On April 30th of 2018, Jan Koum announced he too was leaving the company. While Koum’s announcement was not critical of the company, people behind the scenes report that he too is concerned over Facebook’s use of personal information from WhatsApp. It is quite telling that the creators of WhatApp have jumped the ship.

WhatsApp collects a great deal of user information by default in the app. Configuring your WhatsApp privacy settings can help you limit the data collected by the app to only the information you are comfortable providing. However, it is good to remember that you cannot use WhatApp without spilling some personal information. There are some alternatives to WhatsApp you might want to look at if you want to stay truely anonymous.

Update 2021: WhatsApp newest privacy policy includes more integrations between Facebook and WhatsApp, while also giving businesses more opportunities to use your data. While these new regulations won’t go into effect for all WhatsApp users (except those protected by the GDPR) until May of 2021, many users have already chosen to switch to different messaging apps for fear of losing control of their privacy. Apps such as Signal and Telegram have grown in popularity as a result.

Change Your WhatsApp Privacy Settings

If you wish to adjust your WhatsApp privacy settings you can take a look at the overview below. We explain where you can find the settings you need. Moreover, you can see what things you can change to heighten your privacy on WhatsApp.

Find Your WhatsApp Privacy Settings

In WhatsApp tap the menu button. From there click on “Settings” and look for “Account”. Under “Account”, you will find “Privacy”. Here is where the privacy settings you are looking for reside. By default, WhatsApp allows any user to see your profile photo, your “about” section, when you were last active in the app, and whether you have read a received message.

Managing Read Receipts

WhatsApp messageBy default, when you receive a message in WhatsApp, any user can see when you read the message. You can turn this feature off for individual messages. Sometimes, it can be a good idea to not automatically inform the sender that you have seen their message. This can give you time to think about a response before returning a message. However, read receipts are always on for group messages.

Understanding Last Seen

The “Last Seen” feature shows others when you were last active in WhatsApp. It can be useful to know if the person you are messaging checked in recently or hasn’t been active in a few days. You may not want that information available to others, though.

WhatsApp provide a couple of other options to choose from. Select “Nobody” to ensure your last seen information isn’t available to anyone. You should know if you select this option, you also will not be able to see others’ Last Seen information. Alternatively, you can choose to limit this information only to others in your contact list. For many, this is a reasonable compromise between usefulness and over-sharing.

WhatsApp online VPNOverview

You should also keep in mind that there are no options to hide when you are currently online. That information remains public no matter which options you select. WhatsApp also signals when you are typing. If you prefer to keep your activity online more private, WhatsApp doesn’t offer that security.

Managing Live Location

Your location settings are in a different section of the settings from your privacy settings. WhatsApp provides the ability to share your current location with others in an individual or group chat. When you share your location, you can set a time to continue sharing your location, or WhatsApp will continue to share until you tell it to stop. If you did choose to share your location previously without setting an expiration time, you may wish to stop sharing your location.

From the Settings menu, go to “Apps & Notifications” and tap on “App Permissions”. Find the Location option and tap on that. From here you can turn off all location permissions and stop sharing your location. If you just want to stop sharing your location with a chat, open that chat and tap “Stop Sharing”.

Managing Your Privacy Online

Facebook owns both WhatsApp and Instagram. Information on any of these platforms can flow to advertisers across any of these platforms, as well as reach you in Google searches and other websites online. In an interconnected online world, even if your privacy settings in WhatsApp are set the way you want, it can be difficult to secure your privacy across the board online.

A first step could be to go through the privacy settings in all the social media apps you use. We have written guides for many of them, including: Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Google.

Smartphone with a dark VPN Shield iconAnother, more secure option would be to get a a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This puts a middleman between you and the services you use online to protect your privacy. A quality VPN service will provide a greater level of anonymity without sacrificing speed or convenience. In addition, a VPN service can provide other benefits like being able to stream the US version of Netflix while traveling overseas or getting around firewalls that prevent access to certain websites at work. For more information about VPNs and how they can help enhance your privacy online, go to our main article about VPNs.

Whatever option you choose, online security is becoming more important every day. Know that not all your information is safe in the hands of large social media companies.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.