There have been concerns that WhatsApp is attempting to access the microphones within people’s phones when users are asleep.
The privacy menus within Google’s Android operating system have been showing concerning messages on people’s phones which has led to fears that they are being listened to. However, WhatsApp believes the issue is a bug within Android and denies claims that it constantly uses the microphone on smartphones even when the app is not in use.
The issue was first raised on 6 May by Foad Dabiri, a Twitter engineer, who tweeted a screenshot of his microphone access page available for Android users. He wrote: “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?”
The fire was further fuelled by Elon Musk, who shared the tweet saying: “WhatsApp cannot be trusted”. The claim also follows similar reports of the same problem on Twitter and Reddit, with questions such as “Why is my WhatsApp using my microphones all the time?” being asked.
In response, WhatsApp issued a statement saying: “Over the last 24 hours, we’ve been in touch with a Twitter engineer who posted an issue with his Pixel phone and WhatsApp. We believe this is a bug on Android that mis-attributes information in their privacy dashboard and have asked Google to investigate and remediate.”
Some posters claim that WhatsApp is accessing their camera, or their microphone appears to be getting accessed every few minutes. WhatsApp said the access screen was showing the wrong information - and that it had been in touch with Google to fix it.
In response to Mr Dabiri’s tweet, WhatsApp posted: “Users have full control over their mic 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.”
How to check your microphone settings
You can view your microphone settings in four steps. First, go to your phone’s settings and select ‘Privacy’. Once you’ve tapped on that, there should be an option to select ‘Privacy Dashboard’. In that subsection, there will be a list of what permissions your apps have used and how many have accessed them. Selecting ‘Microphone’ from this list will reveal when WhatsApp last accessed your microphone.
At the bottom of the page, there should be a pink button which will allow you to view all the apps that have permission to use your microphone - scroll until you find ‘WhatsApp’. There, tap the option, and then you can select and manage the app’s ability to access your microphone.
However, do be aware that WhatsApp does need microphone access for a few of the app’s features, such as voice notes, making calls or recording videos.