WhatsApp is allegedly accessing microphones on some Android devices in the background. The issue came to the spotlight after a Twitter engineer complained about this potential privacy in a tweet that was boosted by the company CEO Elon Musk. The engineer claimed that the Meta-owned instant messaging app has accessed his Google Pixel 7 Pro's microphone during the night even though the app was not actively in use. WhatsApp later denied the claims saying that this is an Android bug "that misattributes information in their Privacy Dashboard" and that the company had asked Google to look into the issue.
The director of engineering at Twitter, Foad Dabiri, posted a screenshot of his Pixel 7 Pro suggesting that WhatsApp repeatedly accessed the microphone of the phone even when the app wasn't being actively used. The screenshot from Android's Privacy Dashboard shows that WhatsApp had used his microphone at least nine times overnight between 4am and 7am local time, all without any interaction from the user. “WhatsApp has been using the microphone in the background, while I was asleep and since I woke up at 6AM (and that's just a part of the timeline!) What's going on?” he wrote.
Following Foad Dabiri's claim, multiple WhatsApp users on Pixel's support forums as well as Twitter, have said that the green dot with a microphone on their device is shown as active even after exiting or closing the app. Some have complained about this issue for more than a month. After checking the Permissions History from the Settings menu on Android devices, some users have claimed that WhatsApp has been accessing the microphone in the background. Microphone activity from WhatsApp has also been spotted in Android's Privacy Dashboard that shows and adjusts app permissions.
Dabiri's concern has also drawn a response from Twitter CEO, Elon Musk. Musk retweeted Dabiri's post, saying "Trust Nothing, Not even nothing.”
WhatsApp has responded to the issue and dismissed all claims saying it is a bug within Android. In a statement shared on Twitter, the instant messaging platform said this is an Android bug "that mis-attributes information in their Privacy Dashboard". The Meta-owned company said it had asked Google to investigate the issue.
Additionally, WhatsApp repeated that users have entire control over their microphone settings. "Once granted permission, WhatsApp only accesses the mic when a user is making a call or recording a voice note or video - and even then, these communications are protected by end-to-end encryption so WhatsApp cannot hear them," it added.
Separately, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Wednesday, May 10, that the government will investigate the accusations against WhatsApp. The IT Ministry “will act on any violation of privacy even as new Digital Personal Data protection bill (DPDP) is being readied,” he said.
Meta's Director and Head of India Public Policy, Shivnath Thukral, responded to the tweet by the minister. "We believe this is a bug on Android, Google has said they are looking into it. Your calls and voice notes are protected by end-to-end encryption so we cannot hear the microphone in any case. We're aligned on safeguarding privacy", Thukral stated in his reply on Twitter.
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