On Tuesday, Twitter CEO Elon Musk amplified concerns from a Twitter user who claimed that WhatsApp, a free instant messaging app owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, had been activating his phone’s microphone by itself while he was sleeping — enabling the app to listen to everything going on in the room.
“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?” Twitter user Foad Dabiri wrote, sharing an image that showed WhatsApp’s microphone turning on every two minutes while he was asleep between 4:20 a.m. and 6:53 a.m.
Musk shared the tweet from the account, which only has a little over 4,000 followers, amplifying the claim to his 139 million followers.
“WhatsApp cannot be trusted,” the Twitter CEO wrote.
WhatsApp cannot be trusted https://t.co/3gdNxZOLLy
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 9, 2023
In response to the growing outrage and concern, WhatsApp has blamed Google — claiming that the microphone usage was due to a “bug on Android.”
“Over the last 24 hours we’ve been in touch with a Twitter engineer who posted an issue with his Pixel phone and WhatsApp,” the statement from WhatsApp began.
“We believe this is a bug on Android that mis-attributes information in their Privacy Dashboard and have asked Google to investigate and remediate,” the statement continued.
The company went on to claim that users “have full control over their mic settings,” adding that the app “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.”
However, Dabiri wasn’t the only WhatsApp user that reported the microphone problem — and many users have since deleted the app after discovering that it had activated their microphone in the background. Many of these users have posted about the problem on the popular app Reddit.
“The green dot in the status bar is turned on nonstop all day. When I click on it says WhatsApp accessing microphone every 3-4 minutes,” one Reddit user posted, adding: “Anyone else facing this? The only fix I found is turning off permission in WhatsApp settings, but it’s not feasible for someone who takes a lot of WhatsApp calls.”
Musk went on to reply to another tweet that pointed out how many people were completely unaware that WhatsApp was owned by Meta.
“Yeah,” he wrote, agreeing with the user he was responding to. “Or that WhatsApp founders left Meta/Facebook in disgust, started #deletefacebook campaign & made major contributions to building Signal. What they learned about Facebook & changes to WhatsApp obviously disturbed them greatly.”
It is unclear how widespread the problem is, as WhatsApp has roughly two million users across the world.