How to Use WhatsApp Privacy Settings

The messaging app, which is owned by Facebook parent company Meta, may be sharing more information than you realize

WhatsApp logo on blue and green background Source: WhatsApp

If you’re a WhatsApp user, you have plenty of company. The app has 2 billion active participants a month who use it to communicate with friends and family here and abroad.

For privacy protection, the platform offers end-to-end encryption, which means no one can read the content of a message other than you and the person who receives it. Even so, when you use the app, you may be sharing more information than you realize with your contacts, anyone else with your phone number, and parent company Meta, which also owns Facebook and Instagram.

For example, if you don’t tighten your privacy settings, your boss might notice if you’re checking your messages instead of working on a presentation due in an hour.

More on privacy

Your friends can learn that you’ve seen a message but neglected to respond just yet.

A police officer with a warrant can gain access to the people you’ve communicated with via call or text.

And if you choose to archive your WhatsApp data on iCloud or Google Drive, your messages won’t be encrypted there unless you enable end-to-end encrypted backups. Anyone with access to your cloud account will be able to read every message you’ve sent through the app.

If you don’t like the sound of all that, you might consider switching to Signal, a messaging app with end-to-end encryption and much stronger privacy protections.

But you can shield some of your activities on WhatsApp from the company and other users by limiting access to location data, information about when you’re online and have read messages, and group chats that include you without your consent.

Stop People From Knowing If You’re Online

Anyone who scrolls through WhatsApp contacts and clicks on your name can see whether you’re on the app (that is, connected to the internet with WhatsApp open in the foreground on your device), and if not, when you were on it most recently. You can stop anyone from viewing this “Last Seen” status, but if you do that, you won’t be able to view other users’ last-seen status, either.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Privacy > Last Seen. Once there, you can choose to make the information available to “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “Nobody.”

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu (the three dots on the upper right corner) > Settings > Account > Privacy > Last Seen. Next, choose “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “Nobody.”

Hide Your Profile Photo

Don’t want anybody with your phone number to see your profile pic? You can do that, and making your photo private won’t stop you from seeing other profile pictures.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Privacy > Profile Photo and select “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “Nobody.”

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Privacy > Profile Photo and select “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “Nobody.”

Hide Your ‘About’ Information

When you click on a contact name in WhatsApp, you may see a short bio, a clever blurb, or just an “away” message. The app serves up a few options: “Battery about to die,” “Can’t talk, WhatsApp only,” “In a meeting,” “At the gym,” “Sleeping,” and “Urgent calls only.” You can also create your own. It’s up to you whether you want that info to be public, private, or available only to your contacts. Privatizing your “about” information will not stop you from seeing anybody else’s.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Privacy> About, and make your selection: “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “Nobody.”

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Privacy > About, and make your selection: “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “Nobody.”

Don't Get Added to Random Group Chats

WhatsApp lets people add you to group chats without your permission. But you can put limits on that capability, forcing group admins to invite you instead.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Privacy > Groups, and select “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “My Contacts Except ...” If you select the latter, check off anyone you don’t want to be able to add you to groups.

On an Android phone: WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Privacy > Groups, and select select “Everyone,” “My Contacts,” or “My Contacts Except ...” If you select the latter, check off anyone you don’t want to be able to add you to groups.

Turn Off Your Live Location in Chat

If you don’t want people to know where you are, turn off live locations in chats where it’s enabled.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Account > Privacy > Live Location to see a list of the chats where you’re sharing this information, and remove anywhere you’d like to restrict live location access.

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Account > Privacy > Live Location. From there, you can allow WhatsApp to access your device location while using the app or deny access.

Restrict Access to Your Status Updates

WhatsApp allows you to share photo, video, GIF, and text updates that disappear after 24 hours. They can be seen by mutual contacts—that is, people whose numbers you have saved in your address book and who have their numbers saved in yours. You can share the info with all of your contacts, a select few, or all but a select few. Changing the privacy setting won’t have an impact on any updates that have already been posted.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Privacy > Status and select “My Contacts,” “My Contacts Except,” or “Only Share With.” For “My Contacts Except,” check off anybody who shouldn’t see these status updates. For “Only Share With,” select the contacts you want to share these status updates with.

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Privacy > Status, and select “My Contacts” “My Contacts Except” or “Only Share With.” For “My Contacts Except,” check off anybody who shouldn’t see these status updates. For “Only Share With,” select the contacts you want to share these status updates with.

Block People You Don’t Want to Hear From

Blocking contacts on WhatsApp will stop them from being able to call or send you messages on the app.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Privacy > Blocked, to see whom you’ve blocked, and hit “Add New” to block a new contact. You can also click on the individual you want to block, scroll down, and then click on “Block Contact” near the bottom of the page.

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Privacy > Blocked Contacts to see whom you’ve blocked. To add a new contact, click on the icon on the top right (a person with a plus sign next to it) and select the contact you want to block. You can also click on an individual contact you want to block, select the “I” icon, and scroll down to click on “Block” near the bottom of the page. Or you can click on the contact’s name and then go to Menu > More > Block contact.

Turn Off Read Receipts for Personal Chats

Don’t want people to know when you’re ignoring a message or have read it and just haven’t had a chance to respond? Turn off “Read Receipts.” Just be aware that doing so means you won’t be able to see “Read Receipts” on messages from other people. There’s no way to turn off “Read Receipts” in group chats.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Privacy > Read Receipts, to switch them on or off.

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Privacy > Read Receipts, to switch them on or off.

Make Your Messages Disappear

WhatsApp recently improved its disappearing message feature, allowing you to set messages to disappear after one, seven, or 90 days. It’s not foolproof, because even one day is plenty of time for someone to take a screenshot. And it doesn’t stop a recipient from auto-downloading or forwarding WhatsApp messages.

If the person you’re texting doesn’t open WhatsApp in the selected time period, the message will disappear but the preview may still be displayed in notifications. And if someone responds to a disappearing message by quoting it, the quoted text may remain in the chat beyond the selected window.

On an iPhone: Within WhatsApp, click on the contact page for the person you want to use the feature with, scroll down to “Disappearing Messages,” and select 24 hours, 7 days, or 90 days.

On an Android phone: Within WhatsApp, click on the contact page for the person you want to use the feature with, scroll down to “Disappearing Messages,” and select 24 hours, 7 days, or 90 days.

Set Up Disappearing Messages by Default

WhatsApp also allows users to set a default time period for disappearing messages. If you enable this feature, all new chats will disappear after the time limit you choose. WhatsApp will display a message in your chats letting others know the default setting you picked. You can also switch back to non-disappearing messages or change the time duration.

On an iPhone or an Android phone: Go to Settings > Account > Privacy > Default Message Timer. Choose 24 hours, 7 days, or 90 days.

Turn on Disappearing Messages in a Group Chat

You can enable disappearing messages in a group chat as well. After that, all those messages will disappear after a day, a week, or three months.

On an iPhone or Android phone: Click on the name of the group chat, scroll down and select Disappearing Messages. You may need to hit Continue, too. Then select 24 hours, 7 days, or 90 days.

Change Group Message Settings

If you’re an administrator in a group chat and you’d like to restrict who can send messages in a group or who can edit the group information, you can set it to “Admin Only.” 

On an iPhone or Android phone: Click on the name of the group chat, scroll down to Group settings, and click on “Send Messages” or “Edit Group Info” and select “Only Admins.”

If you’d like to add or remove an administrator, click on “Edit Admins.” There you can select or unselect a group member as an admin.

End-to-End Encrypt Your Chat Backups

Backing up your chat history on iCloud or Google Drive means you can recover old conversations if you lose your phone, but make sure the information is protected by WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption. Otherwise, the chats could be read by Apple or Google or turned over to law enforcement.

On an iPhone or an Android phone: Go to Settings > Chats > Chat Backup > End-to-end Encrypted Backup. Switch End-to-end Encrypted Backup to “On.”

Follow the prompts to create a password or key. Tap “Create.” WhatsApp will prepare your end-to-end encrypted backup. You may need to connect to a power source. Make sure to keep your password or key somewhere safe, like a password manager, because it can’t be reset and your backup can’t be restored without it.

Turn Off Chat Backups

If you’re really concerned about maintaining the privacy of your communications, another option is to turn off your backups. You can even delete any chats you’ve already backed up. And, of course, you’ll need to make sure that the people you’re texting aren’t backing up the messages, either.

On an iPhone: Turn off Cloud backups by going to WhatsApp > Settings > Chats > Chat Backup > Auto Backup, and set it to “Off.” Then go to your iPhone’s System Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage > WhatsApp > Backup and make sure it’s off there, too. Delete old chats by going to iOS settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage > WhatsApp Messenger > Edit > Delete All.

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Chats > Chat Backup > Back up to Google Drive > Never. Delete old chats by logging into https://drive.google.com, clicking on the gear icon, and going to Settings > Managing Apps > WhatsApp Messenger > Options > Delete data. Disconnect the app from Google Drive.

Turn Off Photo Backups, Too

Photos received through WhatsApp are stored in your phone’s camera roll. If you use iCloud or Google Drive to back up images on your phone but don’t want to do so for WhatsApp, you can turn that off.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Chats > Save to Camera Roll and toggle the switch to “Off” if you don’t want the photos and videos you receive saved to your phone’s camera roll.

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Chats > Media Visibility, and toggle the switch to “Off” if you don’t want to see newly downloaded media in your phone’s gallery.

Turn on Multifactor Authentication

WhatsApp offers multifactor authentication to make accounts more secure. Most services with MFA require you to log in by entering a short-lived numerical code generated from an app or sent to you via text message in addition to your password. That way, if a hacker or anyone else has your password, it’s much harder for them to access your account. WhatsApp doesn’t use a one-time code. Instead, it lets you set up a PIN to help secure your account. It’s a good idea to turn on this feature.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Two-Step Verification, select Enable, and enter a six-digit PIN. You can also add an email address to your account to enable you to reset your PIN if you think you might forget it, or you can skip this step.

On an Android Phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Two-Step Verification. Select “Enable,” and enter a six-digit PIN. You can also add an email address to your account to be able to reset your PIN if you think you might forget it, or you can skip this step.

Report Abuse to WhatsApp

If you get a message that’s threatening, intimidating, harassing, or otherwise in violation of WhatsApp’s terms of service, you can report the content to WhatsApp. (Outside of the app, you can also report it to local law enforcement.)

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Help > Contact Us. To report messages from an unknown number or group, tap on the contact or group name, scroll to the bottom and tap “Report Contact” or “Report Group.”

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Help > Contact Us. To report messages from an unknown number or a group, tap on the contact or group name, scroll to the bottom, and tap “Report Contact” or “Report Group.”

Request a Copy of Your Account Information

WhatsApp allows you to request a copy of account information and settings that it has access to. It takes about three days to get the report, a security measure WhatsApp has in place in case a phone has been stolen and not yet disabled. If you delete your account or change your phone number, your request will be canceled. The account download feature doesn’t contain messages. Be aware that it’s possible for the police to gain access to this kind of account information with a warrant. If approved by a judge, the police may also place a “pen register” and a “trap and trace device” on a WhatsApp account, which will capture ingoing and outgoing telephone numbers used for calls or text messages for that account.

On an iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Request Account Info.

On an Android phone: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Account > Request Account Info.


Headshot of Electronics freelance writer, Yael Grauer

Yael Grauer

I am an investigative tech reporter covering digital privacy and security. I'm the lead content creator of CR Security Planner, a free, easy-to-use guide to staying safer online. Prior to Consumer Reports, I covered surveillance, online privacy and security, data brokers, dark patterns, clandestine trackers, security vulnerabilities, VPNs, hacking, and digital freedom for Wired, Vice, The Intercept, Slate, Ars Technica, OneZero, Wirecutter, Business Insider, Popular Science, and other publications. Follow me on Twitter (@yaelwrites)