When it comes to messaging, WhatsApp is one of our favorite clients on the market today. Outside of iMessage, WhatsApp seems to be the best application for combining the simplicity of texting with the advancements in modern-day instant messaging. It includes features like read receipts, typing indicators, and more.
These enhancements make all the difference when you’re texting your friends and family, giving you the peace of mind of knowing whether your recipient has seen a specific message you’ve sent. At the same time, WhatsApp syncs up with the contacts on your phone, making it easy to add friends and colleagues automatically without having to become friends or add profile names. WhatsApp also includes social features that make the entire experience of using WhatsApp feel advanced in a way we don’t usually see outside of apps like Facebook.
All of this—plus so much more—combines to make one of the most cohesive messaging platforms on iOS and Android today.
One of these features is the ability to see the last time someone was seen on the platform. Inside of WhatsApp, you can view the Last Seen status of anyone stored in the contacts of your device, which makes it really easy to view whether or not the person you want to message is active and online.
Of course, for some users, this may be seen as a negative selling point. While it’s nice to let your friends know whether you’re active, we all have numbers in our phones that correspond to people we aren’t close to in real life. Whether that consists of work colleagues or fellow students whose numbers you needed for a class assignment three years ago, no one wants to have to deal with getting bothered by people they barely know.
So, with that said, is there a way for WhatsApp users to hide their “last seen” status from people on WhatsApp? Perhaps unsurprisingly for an app owned by Facebook, WhatsApp offers a wide variety of privacy options and settings, allowing for every WhatsApp user to customize their experience and to make the overall usage of the platform a bit more unique for every person on the platform. But where do you start? And what are your options for making things as private as possible? Let’s take a look inside of WhatsApp to find out.
Configuring Your Privacy Settings
For most users, this will cover your needs to prevent users from reading your “last seen” status. Like most social-based messaging apps, WhatsApp has a whole series of privacy settings to help users control what other people see from their account, and this includes the ability to control your current activity state. It’s absolutely possible to control your status by using these privacy settings, though they aren’t without their own flaws.
By default, WhatsApp comes included with the ability for every WhatsApp user to see the following information from your account:
- Your read receipts for messages
- The last time you were seen as active on the platform
- The about panel in your bio
- Your profile image
In addition, your contacts can see your status updates, though random strangers cannot see these until they’re saved in your own contacts. This might seem like a pretty big security hole for some users, but fret not—everything we just mentioned is customizable.
To dive into the settings inside of WhatsApp, start by opening up your app on your iPhone or Android device. Once you’re inside the application, either tap on the Settings icon for iOS or on the Menu button in the top-right corner of the display to select Settings for Android. Inside the Settings menu, you’ll find your profile settings, along with Account information, Chat options, Notification settings, Data and Storage Usage information, and a helpful link to the WhatsApp help menu. For this tutorial, you’re just going to tap on Account.
Under “Account,” there are several options, including the ability to add two-step verification to your account (which you should do) and options to change the number tied to your WhatsApp account. For now, though, we’re just looking for the Privacy settings, which should be listed at the top of the settings menu. Under Privacy, you’ll see a full list of all of the information we addressed above, including who can see your profile photo, your About section, your status, and whether your device uses read receipts. This is all really helpful, but the setting we’re looking for is at the top of the display. There, you’ll find options for your “last seen” display. As mentioned, it’s set to “everyone” by default, but tapping on the option gives you preferences for “My Contacts,” otherwise known as the people saved in your phone, and “Nobody,” which will hide your “last seen” information from everyone on the service.
Now, here’s where the catch comes in. As WhatsApp so helpfully points out at the bottom of its list, turning off your “last seen” settings from all users—as in, setting it to “Nobody” will also make it so you can’t see other people’s own “last seen” information. This is a security feature built into WhatsApp to stop people from being able to privately snoop on others’ information on the service. Basically, if you want to turn off the setting on your own device, you’ll have to accept that it isn’t going to allow you to see the information of other people. If that’s okay, you can set your display to “Nobody,” and your information will be hidden from the world.
Having to completely disable your WhatsApp settings so that no one can see your online activity on the platform can be a real drag. It’s unfortunate that WhatsApp doesn’t have more customizable settings for disallowing only certain users from seeing your activity on WhatsApp, but until that feature is added to WhatsApp’s client, there’s really only one option to customize the “last seen” view on the platform. For that, you’ll have to switch to using blocks within the service.
Blocking users on WhatsApp allows you to completely disable communication with another person on the platform, including turning off their ability to see your online status, while simultaneously allowing you to keep your activity on for other users to see—and for you to see others’ activities. Blocking users on WhatsApp obviously comes with other repercussions outside of just stopping the user from being able to see your last online status. They also won’t be able to message you—their messages will appear as sent but never read, and you’ll never see them—see your status updates, or notice any changes to your WhatsApp profile picture.
To block someone in WhatsApp, open their contact information or their message thread in the app, tap on the menu bar in the upper-right corner (on Android) or on the settings button (on iOS) and tap “Block.” You can unblock anyone at any time, so if you decide to unblock a contact, they’ll be able to reach you once more. Also, WhatsApp doesn’t notify the person you block that their account has been locked down from your device, so don’t worry about the person you block finding out that you shut them out of your account for a couple of days—they’ll never know.
Making a Secondary WhatsApp
So, as mentioned above, WhatsApp relies on your phone number to add and message contacts on the service. The app relies on your phone number despite it being built as a messaging tool, not an SMS client. But at the same time, WhatsApp also gets your contacts from your device’s contacts list, despite whether or not your device uses the same phone number as your account. So, with that said, by creating an alternate WhatsApp account, we can hide the activity of your main account while allowing an alternate WhatsApp number to be used to communicate with your friends. This helps keep your activity secret from family members, friends, and anyone else you don’t want to see your own activity on the service, while simultaneously not forcing you to completely turn off the “last seen” feature.
The first thing we need is an alternate phone number. Plenty of applications exist to give you new or temporary phone numbers, and our personal favorite is Google Voice. When you sign up with your Google account, you’ll be given a new number based on your location. Unfortunately, Google Voice can only be registered from the United States right now. There are guides online  to helping you gain access to Google Voice numbers outside the United States, as well as popular alternate number services that are based around your country of origin. If you’re outside the United States and do not have the ability to use VPN  and IP masking to sign up for Google Voice, feel free to select your favorite secondary number service from any reputable site online.
Alright, once you’re armed with your new number from Google Voice or any local-based service of your choosing, you’re ready to begin setting up a new WhatsApp account. We’ll be using the Android version of WhatsApp to test out this service, so keep in mind that your mileage may vary on iOS or any other operating system.
Start by logging out of your WhatsApp account completely. Alternatively, you can uninstall the application and reinstall it from the App Store or Play Store to guarantee a fresh install. Once you’ve reached the login screen for WhatsApp, WhatsApp will ask for your phone number to register your account and verify your device. Instead of entering your current phone number, enter the secondary number you created through Google Voice or your choice of secondary number service. Hit the “Next” icon, and WhatsApp will alert you to the number they’re going to verify. Make sure you entered your number correctly; once you’ve ensured the correct number has been entered into your device, hit “OK” to continue to the next step.
After this, WhatsApp will give you a prompt to automatically detect your verification code through viewing your SMS messages. While this is typically an easy method to skip manually entering a confirmation code, do not allow WhatsApp to do this. Because the text is going to your Google Voice number and not to your device’s SMS inbox, WhatsApp won’t be able to detect the code from within your phone. Instead, click “Not Now” to send the code. Once you’ve received your code inside your alternate inbox, enter the six digits into the field on your device. Once you type the sixth digit, your device will automatically verify the number. You’ll be asked to input a name for your WhatsApp account (this can always be changed later; it isn’t a username), and once this is done, you’ll be brought to your new inbox.
Despite using your alternate number, you can still view your contacts automatically from within the device, though take note that they won’t see your name in your account unless you give them your alternate number or you start messaging them through the service. This makes it easy to communicate with your friends in private while simultaneously keeping your activity on the account secret, which, for plenty of WhatsApp users, is the perfect way to get away from anyone who’s looking to keep an eye on when you’re active and online. It does come with a bit of hassle, especially since you can’t be logged into two WhatsApp accounts at once, but for many users, it’s one of the best ways to get around the limitations we’ve seen with the messaging platform.
In many ways, WhatsApp is one of the best messaging platforms on mobile right now. It makes it easy to see the read receipts for your messages, send images and videos to both individual and group messages, and of course, to see who is and isn’t active at any given time. Of course, you don’t always want to spread information to the world about whether or not you’re active, and that’s why WhatsApp has built settings into the app that allows you to disable the “last seen” option in your privacy settings. If that isn’t enough control for you—or if you’d rather block specific people—it’s easy to block users on WhatsApp to hide your personal information. And of course, there’s always the option to start a new WhatsApp account to mask your real identity, something that’s really easy to do when you have a free alternative number.
So, the next time someone won’t leave you alone because they know your online activity, just hide your “last seen” setting inside your privacy preferences. And if that’s not enough, block them or start a secondary account to keep your privacy on lock. Whether you want to use the WhatsApp options or you’re looking to create your own, it’s easy to keep your online presence secure through WhatsApp.