WhatsApp’s Click to Chat feature lets users create URL links or QR codes that others can use to connect with them on WhatsApp without actually needing their phone numbers or having them on their contact list.
While this is a very convenient feature, especially for those people who use WhatsApp for a lot of business communications, the flipside is that it makes your number public and can be searched up by anyone on Google.
There has been some debate about whether this is something intentional WhatsApp has done or if it’s a bug. But what Google’s algorithm does is that it pulls the phone number from the Click to Chat link’s metadata, which then gets saved on the Google Search Index.
Security researchers have called this a leak while Facebook, WhatsApp and Google have all said, in statement to Threat Post, that this is “expected behaviour”.
“While we appreciate this researcher’s report and value the time that he took to share it with us, it did not qualify for a bounty since it merely contained a search engine index of URLs that WhatsApp users chose to make public. All WhatsApp users, including businesses, can block unwanted messages with the tap of a button,” said a WhatsApp spokesperson speaking about the Threat Post report.
We checked on the WhatsApp site and could not find the numbers anywhere.
While honestly it does not matter if it’s a leak or ‘expected behaviour’, what matters is that most WhatsApp users are not aware that using Click to Chat adds their phone numbers to Google’s search index – there is a reason why people don’t share their phone numbers widely, it’s both a security risk and it makes spam calls more likely.
Security researchers have suggested solutions that Facebook, WhatsApp and Google can take on to keep WhatsApp phone numbers safe and off Google’s search index, but none of them have been implemented yet. And possible never will.
So the only solution right now to keep your number off Google Search is to not use the Click to chat feature. If you have used that feature already, you will have to manually delete any Click to Chat links from publicly accessible websites.
Alternately, you can consider a service like Google Voice with WhatsApp if you want to keep using the Click to Chat feature without compromising your phone number.
“Our Click to Chat feature, which lets users create a URL with their phone number so that anyone can easily message them, is used widely by small and microbusinesses around the world to connect with their customers.