by Anthony 

September 8, 2021

A number of my friends have recently switched to using Signal over growing concerns as to whether WhatsApp is secure. Recent updates to WhatsApp by its parent company – Facebook – lead many to believe WhatsApp is less secure than other messaging apps, which is and isn’t true.

Is WhatsApp Secure?

The content of your messages and calls you make using WhatsApp are encrypted and are only accessible by you and the person or group you’re speaking to. However, the metadata created by using the app, such as who you are friends with, where you’re based in the world, is collected and used by Facebook for advertising purposes.

The main issue many privacy advocates have with WhatsApp is that Facebook – who owns WhatsApp – make their money from selling advertising space. And to increase the likelihood of you clicking on those ads, it helps to know a bit about you. Such as, where in the world you live, your hobbies and interests, and who you’re friends with.

According to Forbes, WhatsApp collects much more of this metadata than Signal or Telegram.

But, to put this into perspective, the article goes on to say, WhatsApp doesn’t collect as much as Facebook, Messenger, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok, which is something worth bearing in mind.

Even though there is nothing we can do to stop WhatsApp from collecting some of our data, this is probably not the biggest risk we face every day. Falling victim to a malicious hacker like what happened to this English TV presenter, can wreak far more havoc than creepy ads from WhatsApp or Facebook.

Shows tweet of English TV presenter about his WhatsApp account getting hacked.

So here are 10 features you can take advantage of to secure WhatsApp and protect the privacy of your data.

Tip #1

Enable two-step verification

Shows settings to enable two factor authentication in WhatsApp

If you do nothing else, please turn on two-step verification.

In my last video, I demonstrated just how easy it is for hackers to take control of your WhatsApp account. And yet you can effectively prevent this from happening to you by going in to Settings, followed by Account, and enabling two-step verification.

Once enabled, this pin code will be required when you activate your account on a new device. So while many people have been duped into sending hackers their WhatsApp activation code, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever be duped into sending both the activation and the pin code.

Tip #2

View Once Images and Videos

Shows settings in WhatsApp to use view once images and videos

By default, when you send a photo or video, it automatically gets saved to the recipient’s photo library. And deleting the media from WhatsApp does not delete it from the recipient’s image gallery.

There’s nothing you can do about this copy. It’ll be stored on the recipient’s phone and potentially backed up to their computer or iCloud forevermore, until the time they decide to delete it.

You can prevent this by sending videos and images as “view once”. Having taken your photo or chosen it from your library, click on the little view once icon next to the send button, thus ensuring the image won’t be saved on the recipient’s phone after they’ve viewed it.

Tip #3

Disappearing Chat Messages

Shows settings in WhatsApp to enable disappearing chat messages

If you want to take this approach one step further, I would also recommend enabling disappearing messages. Annoyingly there isn’t an option to enable this feature across the board for all chat sessions, but you can enable it on individual chat sessions by clicking on the name of the person you’re chatting with and choosing Disappearing Messages.

Enabling this option ensures your messages will be deleted from the recipient’s phone after a week. Which, let’s be honest, is much better than leaving a complete history of your conversation scattered across people’s devices, potentially dating back years.

Tip #4

Disable Chat Backups

Shows settings in WhatsApp to disable chat backups

For the same reason as the previous tip, I choose to disable backups of my chat history. I mean, is it really necessary to keep a record of everything you’ve said, including things you may have regretted saying?

You can disable chat backups in Settings by clicking on Chats from the menu and setting Chat Backups to Off.

Tip #5

Check Linked Devices

Shows settings in WhatsApp to check linked devices

Whatsapp web is a really useful way of sending messages when you’re on a laptop or desktop; however, it also acts as an easy way for someone to access your WhatsApp account. If you tend to use this feature a lot on a variety of different computers and devices, it’s always worth checking which devices you’re still logged into and logging out of any you no longer or rarely use.

Tip #6

Verify Security Code

Shows settings in WhatsApp to verify security code

If at any time you want to be sure the conversation you’re having is 100% private, whether it be a call or a chat message, you can verify the security code that you share with the recipient.

Each chat session has its own unique 60 digit code. The code should always be the same for both you and the person you’re chatting to.

Next time you catch up in person you can verify this code by clicking on the chat session, clicking on the person’s name at the top of the window, and choosing Encryption. You can simply compare codes, or scan each other’s barcodes.

If you’re on the other side of the world to each other, you can always compare codes by clicking on the share icon and choosing a different app to send your code.

You’ll appreciate the benefit of these codes when you also enable security notifications next.

Tip #7

Enable Security Notifications

Shows settings in WhatsApp to enable security notifications

By enabling this feature in Settings followed by Privacy, you will be notified if a verification code ever changes.

There are legitimate reasons for a code changing, say – if the person you are chatting with reinstalls WhatsApp or upgrades their phone. However, by being notified when it does occur, it allows you to check that the reason is definitely legitimate and not the result of your friend’s account being hacked.

Tip #8

Turn off Preview Notifications

Shows settings in WhatsApp to turn off preview notifications

Concerns about privacy should also extend to those around you. Separate from iOS notification settings, WhatsApp has its own notification settings that allow you to disable previews, by going into Settings followed by Notifications.

Disabling previews eliminates the risk of anyone inadvertently reading your messages when you receive a notification on your lock screen. Once disabled, all they’ll ever see is who the message is from.

Tip #9

Require Face ID with Screen Lock

Shows settings in WhatsApp to require Face ID with screen lock

On the topic of being wary of your surroundings, if you usually have your phone set to only lock only after a few minutes of inactivity, rather than immediately, it’s a good idea to enable Screen lock.

This requires Face ID to separately unlock your WhatsApp app. With Screen lock enabled, even if someone where to access your phone, they won’t be able to access your WhatsApp account.

Tip #10

Turn off Read Receipts

Shows settings in WhatsApp to turn off read receipts

Let’s be honest, there are always occasions where we read a message and can’t be bothered to reply straight away. By turning off read receipts, it instantly eliminates a million questions, such as why you’ve read the message and not bothered to respond.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading a message and not replying immediately, so disable read receipts by going into Account, followed by Privacy.

So those are ten tips to better secure WhatsApp and protect your privacy. While there’s nothing we can do to prevent WhatsApp from harvesting some of our data, these tips help in areas that are well within our control. Which are also the areas that will likely have the most impact in our daily activities.

For more tips like this, please hit subscribe and I look forward to chatting with you in the next article.

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