WhatsApp, the popular messaging app owned by Facebook, has faced a lot of controversy over the role that Groups plays on the platform — both for Groups’ role in spreading spam, misinformation or worse, and for the fact that it can be very hard (actually impossible) to control when you are added, except by blocking a specific contact altogether.
Now, it seems that the company is finally starting to make some moves to change this. This morning, the company announced that it would start to roll out an update globally so that individuals can either block some or all people to keep them from adding them to Groups.
As per an update that should be making its way to you soon, you can now navigate to the privacy settings in the app to select who (if anyone) can add you to a Group, automatically. If you select anything other than “everyone” enabled to add you to groups, you will get notifications asking if you want to join first. (Picture here from WhatsApp’s blog post as it has not rolled out to me yet in London.)
Note: The feature still requires users to proactively navigate to their settings to turn it on. It doesn’t get turned on by default. You also still can’t block a group wholesale.
Some background and clarification here. You might recall that WhatsApp actually announced a version of this feature back in April that was more rudimentary: you could select Nobody, Everybody or Contacts (but not specific contacts) to add you to Groups. At the time, WhatsApp noted that the control would be rolled out worldwide. It turns out it never did: India was as far as it got.
(Indeed, the feature was launched just after it was revealed that Groups were being manipulated in India to influence political opinion, with hundreds of hoaxes being spread on the platform daily using Groups as the medium. That was giving WhatsApp bad press, and so the feature felt like an immediate response to that.)
Instead, WhatsApp quietly stopped talking about it, and people seemed to forget (Twitter and other social media has turned us into goldfish, slaves to the scroll).
Fast-forward to today, and now it seems that WhatsApp is renewing but also committing to getting this out. A spokesperson confirmed to me today that, this time, Groups control really will be coming to all users on both iOS and Android, worldwide.
“Based on feedback from users during our initial rollout, instead of the ‘Nobody’ option we are now providing a ‘My Contacts Except’ option,” WhatsApp notes in its blog post update today. “This allows you to choose to exclude specific contacts or ‘select all’. This update is rolling out to users around the world on the latest version of WhatsApp.”
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