The messages, photos, voice messages and videos you send in WhatsApp are all protected by end-to-end encryption. That means they’re private and no-one can intercept those messages or see their content, and that includes WhatsApp and Facebook.

However, unless you make the changes we recommend here, others could still read your chats and potentially see personal and sensitive information. If they know your phone’s passcode, you leave your unlocked phone lying around or they simply see messages pop up on your phone’s lock screen, that end-to-end encryption is no help at all.

But you can fix all this by changing a few settings, and it’ll take but a minute.

1. Enable WhatApp’s ‘Screen Lock’ feature

Even if someone got hold of your phone when it was unlocked or guessed your passcode, Screen Lock stops them from seeing your WhatsApp chats. With it enabled, your fingerprint or face (with Face ID on an iPhone) is required to open WhatsApp.

To enable it:

  1. Tap the Settings cog (iPhone) or the three vertical dots (Android), then tap Account.
  2. Tap Privacy and then Screen Lock (iPhone) or Fingerprint lock (Android).
  3. Tap to enable it on the next screen and put your finger on your phone’s scanner if prompted.

How to lock down your WhatsApp chats

You can choose whether to require that every time WhatsApp is opened (the Immediately option) or every 1 minutes, 15 minutes or after 1 hour since the last time you authenticated yourself.

How to lock down your WhatsApp chats

When this is enabled, you can still reply to WhatsApp notifications and answer voice or video calls.

2. Stop messages being displayed on your lock screen

If you don’t want anyone to be able to see messages people are sending, you need to stop them from being shown on your phone’s lock screen.

The way to achieve this differs according to your phone.

If you have an iPhone:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Notifications then scroll down to WhatsApp in the long list.
  3. Tap Show Previews and choose either Never or When Unlocked.

How to lock down your WhatsApp chats

If you choose Never, then you will stop seeing message previews even when you’re using your phone. The middle-ground setting, which is now the default, is When Unlocked. This means messages will be hidden on the Lock Screen, but not when your phone is unlocked.

Another way to stop previews from being displayed in notifications that pop up when your iPhone is unlocked is to go to WhatsApp’s own Settings, tap Notifications and disable Show Preview.

On Android, the location of the setting will be different for each phone manufacturer. But, in general, you need to do the following:

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap on Apps (or Apps & Notifications)
  3. Tap on WhatsApp in the list
  4. Turn ‘Show preview’.

If that setting doesn’t exist on your phone, look for Notifications in the Settings app and look for an option to “Hide all sensitive data” or similar.

Android owners can also go to the Notification settings within WhatsApp’s own settings and disable ‘Use high priority notifications’ which will stop message previews being shown at the top of the screen when your phone is unlocked.

There are other privacy and security settings you can make so your use of WhatsApp is even safer. For example, you can enable two-factor authentication in the Security settings which helps keep your account safe from anyone who might try to steal it and take control of it.

Other privacy options include restricting who can add you to groups, and who can see when you were 'last seen'. In fact, a recent update changes the default setting so that only your contacts can see when you last used the app (or are currently online). Those who aren't in your contacts list - i.e. strangers - can't see that status.

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