WhatsApp is crashing — and it's completely wiping chat histories

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WhatsApp isn't a stranger to crashes caused by weird messages, but the latest variety is causing unstoppable crashes that in a worst-case scenario could leave you without your chat history.

WABetaInfo posted a long message detailing what it calls "scary messages," but you might also describe them as "text bombs," an older term for the same thing. Either way, these are messages sent on the popular third-party messaging app that are designed to crash it when it's received by another unwitting user.

Why is WhatsApp crashing?

The common thread between these messages is their use of unusual characters, often from multiple non-Latin alphabets. When opening a message containing these strings, the app can't figure out how to process them, which is when the problems start.

If you're unwise enough to interact with one of these messages, then WhatsApp can enter an infinite loop of crashes that can only be fixed by reinstalling the app. This means you'll lose your chat history on the device, leaving you with either your most recent backup or nothing at all if you don't have backup enabled.

There are different versions of these messages that work on the Android version of the app, as well as those which affect the iOS version. Don't take that as an invitation to tap on funny-looking messages.

You might also encounter a crash-causing vcard, what WhatsApp calls its virtual contact cards. These contain multiple contacts with weird names that then cause crashes in a similar way to the messages.

What to do if you get these messages

If you do receive one of these suspicious-looking messages, there's a potential way to get rid of it safely. If you log into WhatsApp Web on a desktop or laptop computer, block the user who sent the message, then set your privacy to “My Contacts” or “My Contacts except..” and finally delete the message, you will have escaped a potential issue.

However, this only works if you already have a WhatsApp Web session open, so it's not a solution if your app's already crashing and can't access the menu that lets you set one up.

The sad thing is that there have been several messages such as these over the years, but WhatsApp seems unable to make any overarching fixes. The only thing users can do is be vigilant, keep their apps up to date when updates are available and hope that the developers eventually figure out a way to remove these vulnerabilities for good.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.