Google and WhatsApp have confirmed they are aware of a bug that makes it appear as if WhatsApp is accessing phones’ microphones unnecessarily on some Android devices. The issue first cropped up a month ago, but gained new attention after a Twitter engineer tweeted about it in a post that was boosted by Elon Musk.
An image shared by Twitter engineer Foad Dabiri appeared to show that the microphone had been repeatedly running in the background while he wasn’t using the app. He tweeted a screenshot from Android’s Privacy Dashboard, which tracks how often apps access a device’s microphone and camera.
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? pic.twitter.com/pNIfe4VlHV— Foad Dabiri (@foaddabiri) May 6, 2023
Musk retweeted Dabiri’s post, saying “WhatsApp cannot be trusted.” Incidentally, Musk is known to be a fan of Signal, and has said encrypted direct messages on Twitter could roll out as soon as this month. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In a statement shared on Twitter, WhatsApp suggested it was an Android-related issue, and not a result of inappropriate microphone access by the messaging app “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 company said.
Dabiri is not the first to notice the issue. WhatsApp blog wabetainfo highlighted the bug a month ago, describing it at the time as “a false positive” affecting owners of some Pixel and Samsung devices. They added that restarting the phone may be a possible fix.
Meanwhile, Google has confirmed that the bug is causing inaccurate details in Privacy Dashboard. “Based on our current investigation, this reported bug in Android affecting WhatsApp users produces incorrect privacy indicators and notifications in the Privacy Dashboard," a spokesperson said in a statement. "We are working to develop a fix for users.”
Update 5/10 6:55 PM ET: This story has been updated to add a new statement from Google confirming the bug is causing Privacy Dashboard to display incorrect information about WhatsApp.