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 with friends, family and anyone who has their number. That includes when you last used the app (known as ‘last seen’) and if you’re online at any given moment. Both can feel intrusive at times, but they 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 almost identical:
- Open WhatsApp like you normally would
- Tap the three dots in the top right corner and choose ‘Settings’. On iOS, Settings is a tab 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.
How to control WhatsApp ‘online’ status (coming soon)
In August 2022, WhatsApp’s parent company Meta announced that three more privacy-focused features are coming to the service.
Arguably the most significant of these is similar controls for your ‘online’ status. Contacts see this displayed next to your name if you’re using the app at that particular moment, but it’ll be possible to change this when the feature arrives “this month” – the process is almost identical to ‘last seen’:
- Open WhatsApp
- Tap the three dots in the top right corner and choose ‘Settings’ on Android, or select the ‘Settings’ tap from the bottom right corner on iOS
- Tap ‘Account’, then ‘Privacy’
- You’ll now see a renamed option of ‘Last seen and online’ – tap it
- Here, you can choose between ‘Everyone’ (the only available setting previously) and ‘Same as last seen’
WhatsApp has confirmed to us that the feature will work exactly as shown in the screenshot below. Unless you want everyone to see when you’re online, it’ll have to be set to the same as ‘Last seen’.
As you can see, there are two other privacy-focused features coming in the same update.
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.
WhatsApp will also 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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