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WhatsApp isn’t deleting your chats when you delete them

by Bharath ChowdaryAugust 1, 2016

When WhatsApp announced the introduction of end to end encryption in April, many users welcomed the greater privacy protections. However that sense of security is being challenged by claims that deleted messages are not actually permanently removed.

According to the iOS researcher Jonathan Zdziarski, WhatsApp retains and stores chat logs even after those chats have been deleted. According to a post first reported on by The Verge, Zdziarski examined disk images taken from the most recent version of the app, and found that the software retains and stores a forensic trace of the chat logs even after a user has deleted them. This supposedly creates an aggregation of information for anyone with physical access to the device. According to Zdziarski’s research, the same data can also be recovered through a remote backup system.

WhatsApp-Encrypted-Messages

“I installed the app and started a few different threads,” Zdziarski wrote in a blog post. “I then archived some, cleared, some, and deleted some threads. I made a second backup after running the ‘Clear All Chats’ function in WhatsApp. None of these deletion or archival options made any difference in how deleted records were preserved. In all cases, the deleted SQLite records remained intact in the database.”

“The only way to get rid of them appears to be to delete the app entirely,” Zdziarski added.

The research is particularly relevant given the app’s current legal struggles over encryption policy. In Brazil, WhatsApp has weathered numerous blackout orders from local courts over its refusal to turn over court ordered chat logs in an ongoing case. The company has repeatedly claimed that it cannot turn over the logs as a result of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption systems, and the blackout orders have been routinely overturned by higher courts.

WhatsApp guidelines state that deleted messages are permanently wiped from your phone. The messaging giant has yet to comment on Zdziarski’s claims.

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