Why has WhatsApp accessed my contacts 23,709 times in the last 7 days?

Why has WhatsApp accessed my contacts 23,709 times in the last 7 days?
Credit: Ben Woods /TNW

Each time you install an app, you’re asked to accept the permissions it’s requesting to access the features on your phone. It’s a standard cost of entry for downloading pretty much any app, and particularly free ones.

If you’re not paying with money, you’re paying with your data.

But despite knowing that an app can access a particular feature, you probably mentally write it off as an infrequent occurrence, or perhaps, only when the app needs certain information.

That sort of thinking, however, doesn’t explain why WhatsApp has accessed my contacts nearly 23,709 times (and counting) in the last seven days.

I tried to ask the company multiple times, for more than a week, but got zero response.

Perhaps there’s a perfectly good reason why it’s accessing my contacts roughly twice each minute. Perhaps it polls my entire contact list, or specific ones, every single time the app is opened, or I receive a message, or send one. Or perhaps it updates every time a contact comes online?

If the company had responded, I’d be able to tell you why, but it hasn’t.

For comparison, Facebook Messenger, which I have also used in the same time period hasn’t accessed any of the permissions granted a single time.

Apps accessing these permissions huge numbers of times aren’t all that surprising to me – Uber and Waze needing to know where I am, for example. It’s also how they monetize the sale of that location data.

I’ve also used both these apps in the same time period: Uber accessed my location 111 times, while Waze, which I used for about 3-4 hours of driving, accessed my location 13,859 times (and my contacts 1,127).

It’s no surprise if badly coded apps lead to appalling battery life in your smartphone if a single app is polling it every 30 seconds for contacts. And that’s just one app, the overall effect on battery life must be incredible. Presumably there’s a knock-on effect on your data usage too.

With the introduction of Android M and more granular app permission controls (and the ability to revoke individual ones whenever you like) user management of when and how Android apps access user data gets a little easier, but most people aren’t on Android M yet.

Checking which apps access which permissions on older handsets is a little trickier, and in this case I used BlackBerry’s DTEK application that ships as standard on the Priv.

Battery technology is often lamented on smartphones – but perhaps a bit more focus should go on app developers, rather than device makers if you’re polling my phone every 30 seconds.

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