WhatsApp with chat bubble on smartphone with magnifying glass

What Does WhatsApp Know About Me?

Last edited: October 19, 2020
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Summary: What Does WhatsApp Know About Me?

WhatsApp is a popular chat app used by billions of people worldwide. WhatsApp collects a lot of data about you, such as your phone number, information about your location, your user habits, and your contacts.

WhatsApp claims it only uses this information to improve the user experience. Even so, ever since Facebook bought the app in 2014, users have been concerned about their privacy. There are a number of measures you can take to protect your privacy:

  • Use a VPN for greater online security. ExpressVPN is an especially good service
  • Adjust WhatsApp’s privacy settings.
  • Choose a safe, alternative chat app.

Are you curious what WhatsApp knows about you? Then read the full article below.

WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide and is an incredibly popular chat app. It was created with the idea of providing a private, secure platform for messaging. How secure is this platform now? The app has been in the hands of Facebook since 2014. WhatsApp has indicated that it will continue to operate as an independent company and comply with all obligations regarding security and privacy. Nevertheless, users are worried. You might be surprised to learn that WhatsApp collects a great deal of information on its users.

So, what exactly does WhatsApp know about you? Does this app actively gather information about you? These are the questions we’ll be addressing in this article. We’ll also give you some tips on how to protect your privacy.

WhatsApp and Facebook: What About Your Privacy?

Whatsapp-LogoWhatsApp was created with privacy in mind and managed to serve its users well for many years. However, things changed when WhatsApp was sold to Facebook a couple of years ago. Many people have expressed growing concern over how Facebook collects and uses information. This affects all of its services, including WhatsApp.

In an interview published in 2014, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum said, “We don’t have to know a lot about our users. To target advertisements well, companies need to know where you are, what you might be doing, who you might be with, what you might like or not like. That’s an insane amount of data.” Hence Koum aimed to keep WhatsApp free of ads: it’s all about personal communication, after all. It shouldn’t be about marketing.

Under this philosophy, WhatsApp grew at a rapid pace. This drew the attention of the largest social media platform in the world. WhatsApp’s founders saw their app as a tool to help friends communicate. Facebook saw the possibility of obtaining a goldmine of advertising information.

In 2014, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. While Facebook brings in billions of dollars of revenue each quarter, this was still a significant amount of capital spent to buy out a competitor. Still, the data held by WhatsApp makes even this extravagant price a worthy investment.

For Facebook, it can be commercially interesting to access messages, videos, audio, and other content sent through WhatsApp. However, WhatsApp has often stressed that they don’t have access to this content. This is because the messaging service uses so-called end-to-end encryption. The messages are encrypted and can only be read by the sender and receiver. Nobody else, not even WhatsApp, is able to see this communication.

How to Request Your WhatsApp Account Information

If you ask, WhatsApp will give you access to all information the company has about you. Follow the step-by-step plan below to gain insight into what WhatsApp knows about you.

Step-by-step plan: requesting your WhatsApp information

  1. Open WhatsApp and go to your settings.
  2. Click on “Account” and then on “Request Account Info”.
  3. Request a report with all your WhatsApp account information and settings.
  4. Your report will be available within approximately three days.

Please make sure that you don’t make any important changes to your account during your request – such as changing your phone number – otherwise your request might be cancelled.

You’ll receive a notification from WhatsApp when your report is ready. Don’t wait too long to download your report, as it will be deleted automatically after a couple of weeks. The report is available as an HTML file or JSON file, which will be sent to you as a .zip file.

Which information will you find in the report?

Your personal WhatsApp report contains all kinds of information. Among other things, you’ll see:

  • Your phone number
  • The IP addresses you’ve used
  • The brand and type of your phone (or other device)
  • Your profile picture
  • The phone numbers of your contacts
  • All WhatsApp groups you’re a member of
  • Blocked contacts

This may not sound all that exciting, but this information can be very interesting for many companies. Parent company Facebook, for example, might be planning to share your phone number with third parties, who will then be able to communicate with you through WhatsApp.

Although WhatsApp is currently free from ads, there are rumors that WhatsApp may exchange information with Facebook for advertising purposes in the future. WhatsApp itself has contradicted this prediction, but it’s good to be aware of the fact that this could be a possibility.

Does WhatsApp Share My Chat History?

You won’t find your chat history in the report WhatsApp sends you. As mentioned earlier, WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, which means no one but you and the recipient(s) can see the messages, photos, videos, voice messages and attachments you send. Even WhatsApp itself can’t see this content. Messages leave your phone encrypted and only the recipient has the key to decrypt your message. This encryption and decryption happens automatically: as a sender or receiver, you don’t have to do anything at all.

WhatsApp stores a daily automatic backup of your chats in your phone’s memory. You’ll find these backup files in a number of subfolders in a folder that might be called something like /sdcard/WhatsApp/Databases/. If you wish, you can use your file manager to delete this database.

Basic Data Collected by WhatsApp

WhatsApp needs to collect some basic information to be able to provide its service. This is absolutely normal and to be expected. First of all, WhatsApp will save your phone number, as this is used to log into the service, provide you with your unique account and messages, and allows you to connect with others. The app also collects information about your mobile service provider. This data is used to make sure information is sent to and from your device in the right way.

Moreover, WhatsApp collects information about the type of phone you use and the operating system installed on it. The app also collects other relevant information about your connection and signal strength. This kind of data collection might be understandable, if collected and used in a responsible way.

Unusual Information Collected by WhatsApp

Now that we know a bit about the kind of information WhatsApp collects about you in order to be able to provide you with their basic service, it’s time to dive even deeper. Here’s a list of some additional things this popular chat app tracks.

Habits and preferences

WhatsApp collects information regarding your use of the app. This includes both data on when you use the app and how often you use it. Furthermore, the company keeps a record on how much time you spend in conversation with particular users, and how you choose interact with them.

The exact information the company is tracking, allows them to deduce whether you’re more likely to send a picture or a text message, and whether you prefer to spend time on friends that send pictures over texts. It might make sense that WhatsApp needs to know when you’re using their app. However, keeping a more specific record of usage definitely feels like an invasion of privacy, even if the exact content of communication between users can’t be read.

Location

Map with location arrowWhatsApp also tracks your location. This location is determined by analyzing which cell towers your phone uses to connect. WhatsApp also tracks you through nearby Wi-Fi access points and Bluetooth signals. Since communication with cell towers and internet access points is essential in order to use your device, it’s near impossible to stop WhatsApp from collecting this data.

Adjusting your privacy settings is possible, but any changes you make there will only make your location secret to contacts. Even then, the app can continue to pinpoint your location. This is no paranoid conspiracy theory, either. It’s all spelled out clearly in WhatsApp’s privacy policy.

Contacts

WhatsApp also collects information you might have about your friends and other contacts through the app. While you can choose to add contacts one at a time, most people allow WhatsApp to add their entire contact list to the app in one go. This means WhatsApp automatically has access to all this information: phone numbers, names, and whether or not they use WhatsApp themselves.

This has far-reaching consequences: even if you don’t use WhatsApp yourself, one of your friends probably does. WhatsApp may get your contact information through their contact list. In other words, WhatsApp could have your phone number, email, and other contact information in its database, even when you’ve never downloaded the app yourself. All thanks to one of your friends and their contact list.

Of course, this applies the other way around as well. WhatsApp might have access to all contacts in your phone, even if these people don’t use WhatsApp. As long as you have the app and allow it to look at your contact list, their data is no longer completely private.

What Does WhatsApp Do With This Information?

If WhatsApp uses the information they collect solely to enhance user experience, it would be justified. That isn’t exactly the case, though. While Facebook doesn’t break down its income by product, Forbes estimated WhatsApp would be generating $5 billion per year by 2020. As of now, WhatsApp doesn’t show advertisements in its app. Facebook does, however, enhance its ad targeting profiles using information gained through the app. In other words, with the gathered WhatsApp information, Facebook is able to better sell ads on its other products.

Generating ads based on your contact list

Facebook takes information about your WhatsApp contacts and compares it to contact information used in other Facebook products. This allows the company to learn a great deal about your social life. If the company discovers one of your WhatsApp contacts isn’t on Instagram yet, for example, they may start seeing Instagram ads online.

In their privacy policy, WhatsApp emphasizes that they don’t allow third-party banner ads within WhatsApp. They also state they have no plans to introduce this. Even so, this might change at any time and remains a risk.

Generating ads based on your location

Your location history might just be one of the most valuable pieces of information about your life. By tracking your location, WhatsApp can discover a wealth of information about you. This includes where you live, where you work, where you like to shop, and more. If you drop off your children at school on a regular basis, WhatsApp will know. By analyzing your location data, they could determine whether you have kids and what their approximate ages are.

If you visit a plastic surgeon on a regular basis, WhatsApp can share that information with advertisers as well. This way, you could become a target of companies with ads for cosmetic surgery or cosmetics. If you visit a reproductive specialist, it could be deduced that you may need pharmaceuticals for erectile dysfunction, birth control aids, or pregnancy tests. Even when WhatsApp doesn’t directly advertise to you, your data makes advertising more valuable in other services, and advertisers will pay good money for that data.

You Don’t Have to Be Paranoid to Guard Your Privacy

Some people think it’s ridiculous to be worried about your privacy when it comes to popular apps like WhatsApp. We don’t think so. Given the amount of data WhatsApp and other companies collect about you, it’s hard not to have some genuine concern for your online privacy. The data collected about you reveals much about who you are. This information should be used and collected in the right way, without damaging you.

Luckily, it’s possible to take reasonable precautions to safeguard your privacy without it taking up too much of your time. Below are a number of simple ways in which you can enhance your online privacy.

Use a VPN

VPN on mobileThe first and most important step towards guarding your online privacy, is to use a Virtual Private Network (or VPN). A VPN creates a barrier between you and the internet and allows you to keep many of your online activities anonymous and secure. Although a VPN won’t make you anonymous to WhatsApp, as the app will still collect your phone number, contacts, and other information, it can help in many other ways.

Besides online protection, a VPN can also give additional benefits such as getting around geographic restrictions. This is particularly useful when using WhatsApp, as access to WhatsApp is blocked in some countries. A VPN allows you to redirect your internet traffic via a VPN server in another country. This means that, by connecting to a VPN server in a country where WhatsApp is not blocked, you can still access WhatsApp even when the app should be blocked in your location.

A great VPN we like to recommend, is ExpressVPN. This VPN has consistently been at the top of our list of best VPN providers for years, because it offers excellent connection speeds and is very easy to use.

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Privacy settings WhatsApp

Customizing your privacy settings is an easy method to limit the data other WhatsApp users are able to see about you. By taking a few minutes to update your privacy settings, you can keep your information more secure. WhatsApp provides several tools to help you take charge of your privacy while using the service. Why not take advantage of them?

If you go to “Settings” > “Account” > “Privacy Settings”, you can access WhatsApp’s privacy settings. Here, you can adjust serveral settings, for example one that dictates who can see certain data, such as your profile picture and status. The three options you have are: anyone, just your contacts, or no one. Another option you can either enable or disable is “read receipts”, meaning other users will be able to see when you’ve read a message (the “blue ticks”). Aside from more options like this, you’ll also find a list of blocked contacts in this part of your settings.

Adjusting your privacy settings is very important for your privacy towards other users. However, it’s impossible to fully privatize your profile for WhatsApp, because they still need certain information to keep the app working.

The chat app has made a number of improvements after much criticism on the way they deal with online security and privacy. For example, all messages you send via WhatsApp are now encrypted. Only the sender and the recipient are able to see the content. However, it seems that, for now, we have to accept that using WhatsApp automatically means sacrificing significant parts of our online privacy.

Use a secure alternative to WhatsApp

If your privacy is more important to you than WhatsApp is, it might be a good idea to switch to one of the safer alternatives to Whatsapp. You could, for example, try one of these six secure alternatives to WhatsApp:

  • Surespot
  • Signal
  • Wire
  • Threema
  • Telegram
  • Riot.IM

Final Thoughts

WhatsApp is a convenient messaging service used by countless people all over the world. The chat app provides you with strong encryption of messages. However, it still comes with some possible threats to your privacy. WhatsApp collects a lot of information about you, such as your phone number, location, and contacts. Since Facebook bought the app in 2014, users have been considerably more concerned about their privacy. Who knows what the mass media company will do with your data?

There are a number of measures you can take to improve your privacy on WhatsApp. First of all, you can take a few minutes to adjust your privacy settings. A VPN can also increase online anonymity. Of course, it’s always possible to consider switching to a different secure chat service as well.

What Does WhatsApp Know About Me: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about this article? We might be able to help you out. Simply click one of the questions below to see the answer. Can’t find your question? Feel free to place a comment underneath this article, and we’ll answer it as soon as possible.

WhatsApp collects some basic information about you, which is needed to make the app function. For example, it knows your phone number, information about your mobile service provider, and the type of phone you use. The app also collects other, sometimes less relevant, information about your connection, signal strength, location, app usage, and contacts. Read more about WhatsApp and data collection right here.

No, WhatsApp doesn’t have access to your chat history. WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption. Messages are encrypted before they’re sent, so the only person able to read them, is the recipient. This goes for text messages as well as, photos, voice messages, videos, and other attachments you send.

There are a number of measures you can take to protect your privacy on WhatsApp:

  • Use a VPN for greater online security (and to be able to unblock the app in certain circumstances).
  • Adjust WhatsApp’s privacy settings.
  • Choose a safer, alternative chat app.

WhatsApp emphasizes that they only use your data to improve user experience. Still, there are some worrying rumors going around. Facebook, for example, might be planning to place ads in WhatsApp.

Many of the information gathered about you through WhatsApp, including your location history, could be used by advertisers to market their products or services in a more targeted, personalized way. In other words: WhatsApp data is a goldmine for many and could be used to your disadvantage.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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