/ Technology

So I Downloaded my WhatsApp Archive

Due to my predisposition to dissecting archives I've decided to undertake a hero's journey in parsing through some of the most popular apps' archives, and publishing a neutral report on this blog. I pray that I find nothing too insidious but hey, where's the fun in just saying 'everything's cool guys'?

I downloaded my WhatsApp archive a few days ago, you can do this by going to Settings > Account > Request Account Info. They will send you a zipped file through WhatsApp within a 1-3 day estimate. Mine arrived in roughly eight hours, but don't leave an angry comment if it takes longer than that (I disabled comments ha ha).

After extracting the suspiciously small ZIP file that should definitely not take more than 5 seconds to process and send, you are rewarded with a delightfully minimalist archive.

Ah, so crystal clear, so access.html would be where I...access it? Portability.json is obviously a portable JSON file. And people say technology companies make things purposely obtuse so the layman can't understand it, what a load of balderdash.

The portability.json file is just where the access.html file draws its information from. So don't bother opening the JSON if you're looking at your archive, just go straight into access.html.

Now I will preface this by saying I have been using WhatsApp constantly for at least six years, communicating with not only my family and friends, but also colleagues and acquaintances alike. I have a gargantuan amount of messages, images, and videos clocked up that I was terrified would have been stored in the archive, despite what WhatsApp would have you know.

To my delight, they stored none of it.

On the first page, you can see pretty clearly nothing interesting.

  • They clearly store your phone number, that's to be expected
  • They appear to store a one-way online/offline state, to track when you're well...online or offline. This is to show people you are messaging your online status. They do not seem to be storing exactly when and where you open WhatsApp, just a binary on/off switch.
  • They track the IP address with which you last connected to WhatsApp with, again they don't seem to store a continuous log of your IP address connections.
  • Now, they store your basic device details, such as your OS, phone manufacturer and phone model. This is also to be expected, and isn't anything too sinister to be conscious of. They don't track device IDs.
  • They appear to track the above information for Desktop WhatsApp connections, although this information is pulled straight from the app on your phone, hence needing the same network and a constant connection.

Now for the fun stuff.

  • They store your current Status, as well as when you set it. Seems harmless enough. NEVER call me unless it's urgent.
  • They store your current profile picture, again, harmless enough. If you don't want them to store it, then don't set one. Most people don't anyway. They also store when you uploaded it.
  • Very, very important to note that they store your WhatsApp contacts, and there is no way around this unless you just don't use WhatsApp. The phone numbers in your phone are collected, and then they check which ones are using WhatsApp, and add them to the list. If you don't want WhatsApp to access your contacts, uninstall it or don't install it, as they require your contacts to function properly.
  • Then they keep a list of the WhatsApp group chats you are a part of, if you remove yourself from a group, they will delete it from the list (tested this).
  • They store a couple of menial bits such as your ToS acceptance, and acceptance time. The same for your data sharing opt-out, and opt-out time (highly recommend this).
  • WhatsApp then stores your platform version, and the network you're currently with.
  • They also store when you registered your current number with WhatsApp, I believe they give you an option to transfer information between new devices, which I did.
  • They then store your basic settings information, such as Last Seen and the privacy of your profile picture/status.
  • And they store your blocked numbers. This could be seen as non-menial, it's pretty much up to you.

So finishes an incredibly anti-climactic archive download. It's both a relief and a bit of a bummer, it's always exciting when you discover a company is silently screwing you.

WhatsApp stores almost all of your information locally, which includes chats, messages and videos. They also claim to have encryption on all of their messages, so that they can't actually read them, and storing them would be pointless. After downloading the archive, and they would be violating the law to not give forth that information, I can confirm this seems to be the case.

WhatsApp gets a thumbs up from me, but make sure to opt-out of data sharing and still be careful about what you send, and always double check the encryption standard before you message someone.

So I Downloaded my WhatsApp Archive
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