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No, WhatsApp Doesn’t Have A ‘Secret Update’ to Group Settings

This update was rolled out by WhatsApp in 2019 and no such ‘secret update’ has been made by the company.

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WebQoof
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A viral message doing the rounds on social media talks about a “new secret update” in the privacy settings for WhatsApp groups. The viral message says that the group settings were changed to include “everyone” by default, which means people you don’t know can also add you to a group without your knowledge.

However, the message is misleading. The setting was introduced by WhatsApp in 2019 and not recently as claimed in the WhatsApp forward. It has been the default setting since then. Further, the claim that one can be member of a WhatsApp group without their knowledge is not true as WhatsApp notifies the user every time they are added to a group on the platform.

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CLAIM

The viral message starts with a very alarmist sentence that reads, “WhatsApp settings were updated last night without warning”.

The message goes on to talk about how the new update will expose users to scammers and loan sharks.

“This [the update] means this group and all other groups you are in are now open to everyone. So please change your settings. Here’s some background and how to change your settings. WhatsApp settings were updated last night without warning. Its group settings include “everyone” by default so people you don’t know can add you to a group without you ever knowing. These may include scammers, loan sharks etc,” the message reads.

This update was rolled out by WhatsApp in 2019 and no such ‘secret update’ has been made by the company.

An archive of the post can be found here.

(Source: Facebook/Screenshot)

The post was seen being shared on Facebook and Twitter widely, archives of which can be found here, here, here and here.

The message is also being circulated on WhatsApp.

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WHAT WE FOUND OUT

We checked on WhatsApp’s website for any updates in the group privacy settings but didn't find any update from May 2021.

We, however, found a blogpost from 2019, titled, “New Privacy Settings for Groups”, where WhatsApp introduced the setting mentioned in the viral post.

“As people turn to groups for important conversations, users have asked for more control over their experience. Today, we're introducing a new privacy setting and invite system to help you decide who can add you to groups,” the blog said. It then went on to explain the update, just like the viral message.

We also checked the group setting on Android and iOS devices with the latest versions of WhatsApp and didn’t notice any unilateral change in the settings. However it must be noted that it is undetermined if an update issued in May 2021 changed the user setting to default settings i.e. changing it from ‘my contacts’ [if selected by a user] to previously default ‘everyone’.

We reached out to WhatsApp for a clarification and spokesperson told The Quint, “This has been the default since 2011 and any comments otherwise are false. In 2019 we added new controls for those who wanted to set limits on who could add them to groups.”

Moreover, the claim that one can be added to a group and not be aware of it is also not true as WhatsApp sends notifications to the user when they are added on any group.

Therefore, the viral post claiming that WhatsApp was secretly updating its privacy setting for groups is misleading. It has been the default setting since 2019.

However, users who are concerned about their privacy and do not wish to be added on to groups by any one, can change the privacy setting on their apps from ‘everyone’ to ‘my contact’ or ‘my contacts except’.

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