A UAE-based non-profit organisation working towards keeping children safe on the internet has called upon popular messenger app WhatsApp to introduce safety mechanisms to prevent the misuse of its web service.
The group said there are serious vulnerabilities that they discovered following a survey and several WhatsApp users were unaware that their devices had ever connected to a web service.
Emirates Safer Internet Society (E-Safe) is a UAE-based non-profit organisation trying to raise awareness about internet safety among children.
Mohammed Mustafa, the head of E-Safe, claimed that WhatsApp Web is vulnerable to hacking and the company has not introduced any notification mechanism to prevent it from being misused.
"Anyone can borrow your smartphone and simply link the web browser to the messenger app. You will not even be aware if someone else is going through your messages," says Mustafa.
A recent survey conducted by the organisation, in which majority of the participants were UAE residents, revealed that most of them were unaware of WhatsApp Web.
"However, we found that at least 30 per cent of the respondents' WhatsApp messenger had at some point connected to a computer or been accessed via WhatsApp Web.
"That has really intrigued us. When someone is not even aware of the existence of such a feature, there is no way they could have connected it or accessed it using the browser," he said.
The company has now publicly called upon WhatsApp to introduce a 'live' notification on the messenger when it is connected to a browser.
It has even produced an awareness video to educate users about the potential threat.
WhatsApp safety compromised in 30 seconds
The video shows a boy borrowing a girl's phone to make a call and connecting the messenger to the browser using the QR Code, instantly providing access to all her messages - audio and video - as well as images sent and received through the messenger.
WhatsApp introduced the desktop application in January last year allowing users on Chrome to access the messenger using the browser.
In May this year, it extended the facility to all Windows and Mac users.
To connect or disconnect the web browser to the WhatsApp client, users will have to simply open web.whatsapp.com and follow instructions.
However, the connected mobile phone needs to be in the vicinity for the desktop app to work.