WhatsApp to hide “last seen” from strangers by default

Popular messaging app WhatsApp has recently been making quality of life improvements on its app over the past few months. The latest change is a new privacy feature that hides your “last seen” status from people you do not know or have not chatted with within the app. This will include people who are texting you after getting your number from a common group that you share.

Before this update, WhatsApp had the feature set to “Everyone” by default, allowing anyone with your number to check your online status. This new update limits this visibility of your status to only the people you have added to your contacts and sets the feature to “My Contacts” by default.

“It’s a new security feature. Got this reply from support today. If the person has not got your number in their contacts, or you haven’t sent one message between you, last seen/online is no longer visible.” PsColette, the first user on Twitter whom Whatsapp replied to in relation to the changes made.

The last seen status was intended to let other contacts know when you were last online or whether you are currently using the app.

The official email from WhatsApp to PSColette included the message, “To improve the privacy and security of our users, we are making it harder for people you do not know and have not chatted with from seeing your last seen and online presence on WhatsApp. This will not change anything between you and your friends, family, and business who you know or have previously messaged.”

It is worth noting that the “My Contacts” option for the “last seen” status, that has now been made the default, already existed. There is also a “Nobody” option that does what the name hints, preventing all users from seeing your online status regardless of whether you have their number or not.

The last seen status was intended to let other contacts know when you were last online or whether you are currently using the app. This might seem like standard information that is harmless, aiding to keep track of your friends and family. However, there are reports that some third-party apps can exploit this feature.

One of the ways brought to light by WABetaInfo is a third party app aggregating the statuses of certain users, which gives a malicious person the ability to keep a close eye on any user that he wishes, which dangerously comes close to a breach of privacy.

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By WhatsApp switching the default to “My Contacts”, these third-party apps will be automatically locked out from keeping track of your online status, as the third party app is not considered to be part of your contacts.

This change is not being made in isolation, WABetaInfo has also reported a new option called “My Contacts Except”. The feature is still in testing, and therefore only available to a few users. But once rolled out to everyone, it will allow users to hide their status from certain contacts.

Another recent change is the introduction of disappearing messages. Users are given the ability to set when the messages sent will be permanently deleted. Once activated, the recipient of the message will also be notified that you have activated the feature and when the duration set elapses, the messages will disappear from both of your devices.

Naftaly is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for tech, video games and pop culture. When he is not writing articles for AndroidKenya, he is probably rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the hundredth time. Email at criskariuki@gmail.com Twitter @KarisNaftaly

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