When your WhatsApp chats suddenly land on someone else’s cell phone

Imagine changing your mobile operator, getting a new number and suddenly WhatsApp is full of strange chat histories with sometimes explosive messages. This is exactly what happened to Franziska B., who tells her story. TECHNOLOGY BUTTON reveals what you can do to prevent your chats from ending up with other people.

Franziska quickly notices how explosive the personal messages of others can be when looking at someone else’s chat history. In a WhatsApp group The acquaintances of the old phone number owner exchange tasteless, inflammatory jokes in which the alleged squeamish treatment of the German police with refugees is mocked and the use of weapons by the US authorities is glorified. Thereupon, great emoji laughter breaks out among the other participants, who are apparently not aware that an outsider is reading along. In another joke, the WhatsApp mob calls for butchers and strip clubs to be built next to mosques. In between there is also a harmless voice message in which one group member congratulates another on their birthday and wishes them all the best for the upcoming driving test.

Can you open the foreign chats?

Franziska herself struggled for a long time whether she should open the chat. Is she even allowed to do that? The specialist lawyer for media law and certified data protection officer Kai Jüdemann affirmed this to TECHBOOK: “Ms. B. is allowed to read the messages on her cell phone. It would be different with someone else’s cell phone. Besides, she has no way of knowing whether the messages weren’t meant for her. As a private person, you are also not subject to the new General Data Protection Regulation. Pictures and messages should still not be passed on, as this can have legal consequences ”. Incidentally, Franziska cannot see the entire chat history, but at least all messages that come in after activating the number. How can that be?

Everything starts with a change of number

WhatsApp must always be linked to a cell phone number to use it. When Franziska switched to the mobile operator Vodafone, she was assigned a new number. Since the woman from Nuremberg wants to use WhatsApp from this number as usual, she carries out the relocation service in the messenger app. This decouples the old number from your WhatsApp account and stores the new one. The problem: some providers recycle their numbers as early as 30 days after the end of the contract if they are not taken with them. This is also the case with Franziska B., who received a number from Vodafone that the previous owner has not yet decoupled from the Messenger. For WhatsApp, both Franziska and the old owner now have the same number – accordingly, she now has access to some chats and is regularly contacted by strangers,

WhatsApp’s protective mechanism does not work

WhatsApp is well aware of this problem. In the help section of its website, the company writes: “To avoid confusion with recycled numbers, we are monitoring activity. If an account is inactive for 30 days and then reactivated on another device, we see this as a sign that the number has been recycled. “

Until some time ago, this grace period was 45 days, but was then adjusted to the period in which the number was passed on. A well-intentioned reaction to the problem, which, as the current case of Franziska shows, is not fruitful. Lawyer Jüdemann sees the situation as critical: “WhatsApp comes into conflict with the GDPR when the data is passed on. Basically everyone should consider making their data available to a company that stores all information on servers overseas. We generally advise against using WhatsApp for business data, also because the app compares the numbers saved on the mobile phone. This forwarding takes place without the consent of the customer and therefore without a legal basis. “

This is how you protect yourself from strangers reading your chats

The good news is that it is up to you to protect your WhatsApp chats. If you change your number, you should definitely decouple it from the account beforehand. It works very easily: Simply go to “Settings” on WhatsApp, then to “Account” and then to “Change number”.

Here you can now enter your new telephone number and uncouple the old one.

If you no longer want to use WhatsApp after changing the number, you can also delete the account in the account settings. Then not only is the number decoupled, but all chats are also permanently deleted.

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