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WhatsApp is about to introduce the privacy setting you’ve been asking for

Published Sep 8th, 2021 7:31AM EDT
WhatsApp Privacy
Image: Urupong/Adobe

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WhatsApp has been at the center of a massive privacy scandal earlier this year, as Facebook attempted to force users to agree to new terms of service. Facebook wanted WhatsApp users to consent to share e-commerce data regardless of whether they use the app to talk to businesses or not. Ultimately, Facebook changed its mind, allowing people to use WhatsApp without agreeing to the privacy policy update. During this time, Facebook insisted in its messaging that the core WhatsApp privacy features aren’t going away. The messaging app remains end-to-end encrypted, and the strong encryption applies to both chat and calls. In the future, Facebook plans additional privacy improvements for users, including an updated “Last Seen” functionality.

How Last Seen works now

As the name suggests, Last Seen is a feature that lets WhatsApp users see the last time someone has logged into the app. The feature is available from other chat apps, not just WhatsApp, and it’s something we’ve been taking for granted.

The Last Seen feature can come quite in handy. It can tell you if a loved one has logged in since you’ve sent the last message. Maybe your kids aren’t replying to your messages, but since they’ve just been on WhatsApp, it means they must be ok. Or you can use it to see whether someone is awake or asleep when calling/texting very early or late during the day.

As you might have realized by now, this Last Seen metadata in WhatsApp can also be abused. Stalkers might use it to keep track of their victims’ WhatsApp activity, which can then lead to unwanted disputes.

WhatsApp currently offers three options for managing your Last Seen status. You can choose between “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” and “Nobody.” The latter ensures that nobody knows when you’re on WhatsApp. But if you turn it on, then you will not be able to see anyone else’s Last Seen information.

WhatsApp privacy changes coming to Last Seen

Say you want your exes not to know when you’re online on WhatsApp. But you want to passively check on your parents via their WhatsApp Last Seen status. If you set Last Seen to “Nobody,” your exes will not learn when you’re online, but you won’t see when your parents are online either. The same WhatsApp privacy settings also apply to Profile Photo and About.

WhatsApp Privacy Last Seen
WhatsApp privacy update will bring a new option to Last Seen information. Image source: WhatsApp via WaBetaInfo

Well-known leaker WaBetaInfo discovered that Facebook plans to introduce a fourth option for Last Seen. That’s “My Contacts Except…,” as seen in the screenshot above taken from an iPhone running WhatsApp.

Once this option rolls out to iPhone and Android, you’ll have more granular control over Last Seen data. The privacy feature will come in handy in the exes and parents example above. You can exclude your exes from seeing your Last Seen information with the help of the My Contacts Except option. But you’d leave Last Seen enabled for everyone else. In turn, this lets you check on your parents.

There’s always the nuclear option of blocking contacts on WhatsApp and other chat apps. But you might want to be able to talk to people online without sharing Last Seen and other activity data with them.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.