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Stalkers are using a status flaw on WhatsApp to track women and there's nothing you can do to stop it

WhatsApp Online status trackers allow users to cross-reference the times that other people appear online on WhatsApp, encouraging inference that two people are messaging one another.
WhatsApp Online status trackers allow users to cross-reference the times that other people appear online on WhatsApp, encouraging inference that two people are messaging one another. (Traced )

There is a status flaw on WhatsApp that stalkers are using via automated apps to track women on the app and it’s scary.

WhatsApp reportedly has a status flaw and stalkers are exploiting that to track women on the app. According to Traced, a mobile security app, stalkers and cyber attackers are using WhatsApp Online Status Tracker websites to stalk users and get access to their personal information. Traced’s report also states that these trackers can find out who is texting whom. “Cyberstalkers typically like to collect as much information about their target as possible. They want to know where they are at any given moment; who they’re meeting; who they’re talking to; what their texts say; who they’re emailing; what they’re browsing for online. Knowledge is power, and having this level of power over someone is intoxicating, dangerous and profoundly unethical,” Traced explained in the report.

When someone comes online on WhatsApp, their profile displays that they are “online” and this can be viewed by anyone, even if they do not have that particular number saved. While this is a normal feature in the app, WhatsApp status trackers, on the other hand, can continuously monitor user status’ even when the user is not online.

UPDATE: Responding to the development, WhatsApp said that provides a setting to users that enables them to pick who can view ‘last seen' within the app.

“We provide a setting to allow people to choose who can view the time a user was ‘last seen' within WhatsApp. To help prevent abuse, we regularly work with app stores to seek the removal of apps that attempt to violate our terms of service. We have banned the WhatsApp accounts associated with such websites, requested Google remove such apps from the Play Store, and also take legal action, as appropriate. Automating WhatsApp's features to scrape information is a violation of our terms of service and we will continue to take action to protect the privacy of our users and help prevent abuse,” WhatsApp spokesperson told HT Tech.

Traced CTO Matt Brody used a few of these WhatsApp status trackers and they displayed the exact time and date a person came online. These apps function very simply, you just need to enter a person’s WhatsApp number on the status tracker app or website and you get to know when the person came online on WhatsApp and for how long. The Traced report has listed how these apps work but has specifically not shared names to avoid promoting them and giving stalkers an easy list of apps to get their hands on.

According to the Traced report, one of these status tracking apps also promises to help unmask your partner if he/she is cheating on you. The app states - “If you suspect a cheating spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, for example [WhatsApp last seen tracker online can help you to confirm whether your suspicions are really true”. Another tracker promises to provide children’s status updates to parents.

While some legitimate apps do help parents keep a tab on their children, they are also often misused to spy on people, particularly spouses and partners. Google has banned the advertising of these stalkerware on the Play Store but countless tracking and monitoring apps have managed to get around this by claiming to help parents track their children. “Acceptable forms of these apps can be used by parents to track their children. However, these apps cannot be used to track a person (a spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission unless a persistent notification is displayed while the data is being transmitted,” Google said.

“There is, however, nothing to stop someone who wants to track an ex, a girl- or boyfriend, a spouse, from using one of these apps. Although the installation of software without the phone user’s consent or knowledge is actually against the law, it’s hardly enforceable, and if the app presents itself as a family tracker, there is no need for it to alert the user about the data it is transmitting,” the report points out. Also, since most of these apps are downloaded on the stalker’s device instead of the victim’s, there is really no way for the victim to control this.

Also read: Online spying, stalking apps went up by 20% during the lockdown in India

And besides apps, there are also websites that can track people and these don’t require any permissions or approvals from app stores. The Traced app discovered a website that tracks online statuses of WhatsApp and states - “Our service allows you to track the online status of a WhatsApp user, as well as with whom he is texting and at what time”.

What is interesting is that WhatsApp cannot do anything to prevent these apps and websites from tracking its users, and as explained, users also cannot find out if thety are being tracked by anyone. While WhatsApp has an option for you to hide the “Last Seen” on the app, you cannot do anything about the “Online” status feature.

“This is just sloppy work on the part of WhatsApp and a typical example of what happens when companies don’t think about abusive relationships when they’re making their design decisions. WhatsApp should have given users the power to turn off their online status from the very beginning, and they need to fix this ASAP,” Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said.

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