How to Use WhatsApp in Stealth Mode

There was a time when messaging apps gave you full control on how you communicated with others. You could set your own status, including “offline”! Read receipts (the blue tick marks of today) were uncommon or absent. Also absent was the lovely “last seen” timestamp. This was a common theme across the gamut of 2000s messaging apps, be it MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, or others.

Then, someone somewhere decided that private messaging needed more “engagement”, and the above features slowly seeped into every messaging app. Today they are not just standard but often enabled by default. Engage more! Thankfully, the heavy hitters like WhatsApp, Telegram, iMessage, Signal, etc. allow you to disable some or all of them. For now.

We will focus on WhatsApp in this post. The biggest messaging service of all time takes “engagement” and “connectivity” to a whole new level, but it’s possible to switch to more sane options. Read on to find how.

The screenshots and instructions in this post are for the Android version of WhatsApp. If you have an iPhone, you may have to explore a little bit, though things should mostly be where they are on Android.

Disable “Read receipts” and “Last seen”

Go to Settings > Account > Privacy, and disable the options highlighted below. As WhatsApp will inform you, read receipts are always enabled for group texts.

On the same screen, you can scroll down a little and disable “live location” sharing, just in case you had shared it with one or more persons in the past and forgot to turn it off.

Read messages without going “online” with a widget (Android)

You can now hide your online status in WhatsApp. Open Settings > Privacy > Last seen and online. Set “Who can see my last seen” to “Nobody“, then set “Who can see when I’m online” to “Same as last seen“. Update the app from Play Store or App Store if you don’t see this option.

Updated – Sep 7, 2023

To anyone who’s looking, WhatsApp declares your presence as online the moment you open the app. For some reason, there’s no way to disable this. There’s a workaround, however – add the WhatsApp widget to your homescreen and scroll through unread messages without announcing your involuntary availability to chat.

The steps to add a widget will vary based on the customized version of Android and launcher that your phone is running. Long pressing an empty area on the homescreen usually works on most phones. See the below screenshot for reference.

Scroll down the widgets list, tap the WhatsApp 4×2 widget and drag it to an empty space on the homescreen. The widget will occupy the same space as 4 columns and 2 rows of app icons, so make sure your homescreen has enough space, or create a new homescreen for the widget.

The widget doesn’t show image or video previews, but is plenty good for scrolling through unread texts.

iPhones now have widget support with iOS 14 that was released last year, so let us know if something similar is possible there.

Switch off Wi-Fi and mobile data to open the app without going “online”

This is no longer necessary as you can now hide your online status in WhatsApp. See the above section for the steps.

If you must open the app without letting others know you’re online, you can just switch off Wi-Fi and mobile data on your phone before opening WhatsApp. WhatsApp automatically downloads text messages and images, so you can read those, close the app, and switch data back on.

Close the WhatsApp app on desktop

This is no longer necessary as you can now hide your online status in WhatsApp. See the above section for the steps.

WhatsApp has apps for PC and Mac, and also a website. If you use either of these, note that WhatsApp will again tell anyone who’s looking that you’re online. It’s a good idea to close the site and/or the desktop app once you’re done with it, instead of keeping them open all the time.

Logo credit: Wikipedia

What are your favourite ways to use WhatsApp in stealth mode? Share with us in the comments below!

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