Why WhatsApp Won't Let You Appear Offline

The app is steadfast about not letting you shield your online status from other users.
April 23, 2021, 1:00pm
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Image: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

WhatsApp, one of (if not) the most popular messaging apps in the entire world, refuses to change one simple feature for its users: The ability to hide whether or not you’re shown as offline or online to your list of contacts. Bizarrely, on Instagram, another app owned by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook empire, users are in fact allowed to shield their status from other users on the app’s chat function. But WhatsApp has been steadfast about keeping the feature, which can be abused. According to the company, users love it.

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“We listen closely to feedback from users and we’ve heard that knowing when someone in their contacts is 'online' provides a sense of closeness when friends and family are chatting with one another,” said a WhatsApp spokesperson to Motherboard reporter Lorenzo Francheschi-Bicchierai, who investigated why exactly the app refuses to change the function. 

What he found was that WhatsApp has come under serious scrutiny from what privacy expert Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation that has sounded the alarm on the widespread use of stalkerware, says is an extremely problematic and exploitable attribute to a messaging app. 

Lorenzo is on this week’s episode of CYBER to talk about WhatsApp’s continued refusal to give users the choice to control their status and more broadly about the privacy problems with the app.