What’s happening to WhatsApp, and how to stay safe

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters


A host of users have reported getting spam and scam calls and messages from unknown international numbers on WhatsApp

Once an innovative instant messaging service, WhatsApp today offers businesses one of the most effective ways to reach users. But, like text messages and calls, expansion has come with spam and scams. What’s happening to Whatsapp? How can we stay safe? Mint explains:

Now what’s up with WhatsApp?

A host of users have reported getting spam and scam calls and messages from unknown international numbers on WhatsApp. This prompted minister of state Rajeev Chandrasekhar to say the electronics ministry has taken note of the complaints and will send the platform a notice. WhatsApp issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to user-safety and security. It also claimed it had ramped up its artificial intelligence and machine learning systems to deal with such abuse, and that its new enforcement regime would bring them down by “at least 50%".

Why have such calls/texts grown?

It’s unclear if the application program interfaces for WhatsApp Business are being exploited for these scams. However, users have started receiving texts from a host of businesses since the platform introduced the feature, which could lead to them having to put up with even more spam. While WhatsApp doesn’t charge normal users for messaging, businesses offer the firm a revenue source. It has over 2 billion users worldwide, which could make it one of the most lucrative revenue sources for Meta, which owns WhatsApp. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg says business chats could drive revenue quicker than metaverse.

Is WhatsApp the only platform being misused?

No. Last year Google halted its rich communication services in India after it was used to spam users. Many scams on WhatsApp lead users to Telegram, another platform that offers encrypted messaging. Telegram groups have long been known to be a hub for scams, including those designed around cryptocurrencies and get-rich-quick schemes.

How are spammers doing this?

Application program interfaces or APIs allow third parties to build on top of powerful platforms. In 2018, data firm Cambridge Analytics misused Facebook APIs to profile individual users before the US elections. That said, in this case, scammers may be using free websites to create virtual phone numbers, which they then use to sign up on WhatsApp. This doesn’t necessarily need business APIs. Text and SMS scams, in fact, date back to pre-WhatsApp days.

What can we do about this problem?

Experts say WhatsApp should stop allowing sign-ups from virtual phone numbers and find a way to block websites that generate these numbers. Another way would be if the platform stopped allowing messages to be sent from unknown numbers, but this could lead to poorer user-experience: it would mean only people who have each other’s numbers can text or call. Users should block and report unknown callers and texts, and it is in WhatsApp’s interest to find a solution if it wants to retain users in the long run.

Catch all the Technology News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.



Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App