WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messaging app, and its approach to privacy is one of the key reasons for this.
End-to-end encryption is turned on by default, meaning only the sender and receiver (or group members) can ever see what you’ve written. This was extended to include backups to iCloud or Google Drive in 2021.
But another big appeal of WhatsApp is the ability for individuals to control which information they share – including when they were ‘last seen’ on the app. This is a useful feature, but it can feel intrusive at time. Fortunately, it can be turned off completely or customised to your liking. Here’s how.
How to control WhatsApp ‘last seen’ status
WhatsApp makes it easy to choose who can see when you were last using the app. An Android phone is used for the purposes of this tutorial, but the process on iOS is identical:
- Open WhatsApp like you normally would
- Tap the three dots in the top right corner and choose ‘Settings’. On iOS, Settings is in the bottom right corner
- Tap ‘Account’, then ‘Privacy’
- Tap ‘Last seen’, the first option in the list
- From here, you can choose ‘Everyone’, ‘Nobody’, ‘My contacts’ or ‘My contacts except…’ – choosing the latter will take you to a separate screen where you select those exceptions
However, it’s worth noting that whichever option you choose will also apply to the people you’re messaging. You can’t stop people from viewing your ‘last seen’ status but still see it when messaging someone else, for example.
WhatsApp ‘online’ controls coming soon
In August 2022, WhatsApp’s parent company Meta announced that three more privacy-focused features are coming to the service “this month”.
The same controls as ‘last seen’ will be available for your ‘online’ status, which is displayed to contacts when you’re using the app at that moment. Currently, there’s no way to turn it off, although it looks like this will have to be set to the same as ‘last seen’.
Rather than everyone in a group knowing when you leave, this will be done ‘silently’. Only the admins will be notified, but this could still be problematic if these are the people you’re trying to avoid finding out.
Finally, WhatsApp will block you from screenshotting messages that the sender decided you could only ‘View Once’. This is something you may have already seen when using banking apps.
We’ll update this article once the new features are available.
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