We take our connectivity for granted these days, don’t we? WhatsApp’s “last seen” feature is all about letting you know when a particular contact was last online with the popular messaging service, and it only reinforces the habit of recognizing that we can get in touch and stay in touch with anyone, anywhere in the world, as often as we want to. The degree to which we’re able to communicate with our network of known folks is unprecedented in human history, but it hasn’t come without its fair share of troubles (even though the benefits almost always far outweigh them.) If you’d like the skinny on this WhatsApp feature and what it means for you as a smartphone user, read on!
Social media, instant messaging, and text messaging have by and large turned us into a bunch of snoops. Now, don’t take this as me casting ire upon a trend that doesn’t deserve it–our abilities to stay in touch with anyone at any time is literally shaping our future, and it’s almost all for the better. But that desire to know the who, what, where, when and why is the reason behind features like “last seen” in WhatsApp. It’s the same reason that we have read notifications for email and messaging platforms, and it’s very much tied to the existence of time stamps on our social media messages.
It’s less about knowing where our contacts are at every moment of every day and more about giving ourselves a way to organize the tangled mess that is digital communication in 2016. As we’ve gained more and more avenues of communication, keeping track of them all has become tantamount to chaos. Finding some kind of order amidst the mess is a priority, and that’s what “last seen” does.
In the following brief guide, we’ll nail down what purposes the “last seen” feature serves, and explain why it shows up next to some contacts, but not others. We’ll also show you how to control your own last seen information, in order to give you a greater amount of control over your digital privacy.
What is ‘Last Seen?’
Even though WhatsApp is at the forefront of online, mobile messaging services, that doesn’t mean that every nuance of the app is known to its users. Quite a few people don’t understand the purpose of “last seen,” as is evidenced by how often it’s searched for online.
Simply put, “last seen” allows you to know when a particular contact was last online and using WhatsApp. Depending on a person’s privacy settings, the app records and displays the last time that they were available to be directly messaged. If their last seen information is recorded, then the displayed time and date is the last time they had WhatsApp open. “Last seen” is not…
- A notice of when your contact was last on their phone
- Notification of when your contact was last online
- Record of when your contact last sent a message
- A notice of when your contact last looked at your messages to them
This is where quite a few people get thrown off or confused. They understand why the “last seen” information is there, but they don’t know the specific information that it reveals. As it turns out, that information is extremely simple. When you see that timestamp, it means that person was last on WhatsApp at that time. It tells you nothing about what they were doing, and it’s not meant to.
Like any other information that details the activities of another person, though, the “last seen” feature has ties to personal privacy and security features within WhatsApp. Because of this, you’re just not going to see the last time that every single person was using the app.
Why Can’t I See My Contacts ‘Last Seen’ Information?
Privacy is why. Think about it for a moment! How comfortable are you with everyone on your contacts list knowing the exact moment that you were last using WhatsApp? Do you have anyone in your life who acts like a blood hound whenever they see that you were last online?
Have you ever known the type of personality that views your time online as their own? After all, if you’re online, why aren’t you answering their messages? If your “last seen” information is set to an hour ago, why weren’t you in touch?
I like to think that we’ve all known people like this, and if you haven’t, then kudos to you. Regardless of the fact, we can all relate to how frustrating it can be when a contact (or more than one) hounds you about the last time that you were using WhatsApp, and failed to respond to their messages. It’s for this reason–and overall considerations of privacy–that you often won’t see every person’s “last seen” information. Whether or not they choose to display it is an option that can be changed in individual privacy settings.
It should be said that your inability to see a contact’s “last seen” does not necessarily mean that you’ve been blocked. We’ll touch on that more in a bit.
How Do I Change My Privacy Settings?
If you want to change your “last seen” settings, it’s actually quite easy. The process is going to change depending on the particular device that you’re using, but for the sake of being concise, we’ll cover the steps you’ll need to take on iPhone and Android, the most frequently used smartphone platforms. If you’re using a different type of device, check out WhatsApp’s full listing for privacy settings.
No matter which you’re using, the initial WhatsApp privacy settings will be relatively the same. Other users will be able to see your read receipts, profile photo, status, and last seen information. All of these can be modified to your preference in the privacy menus. Do know, however, that most of these options are two-way streets. By this, I mean that turning off your own read receipts will bar you from seeing other users’ read receipts. If you disable your “last seen” information, then you won’t be able to see other users’. This seems to be in place to discourage using privacy settings in any malicious way.
From within WhatsApp, tap the Menu icon, followed by Settings, Account, and then Privacy. From this menu, you’ll be able to change settings on each of the various options between Everyone, My Contacts, and Nobody. As mentioned above, each of these settings represents a two-way change. If you make it so only your contacts are able to see your “last seen,” for example, then you’re only going to be able to see the “last seen” information on your own contacts, as well.
Changing privacy settings in the iPhone version of WhatsApp is virtually identical to the Android version, but the menus will look slightly different. As before, tap the Menu icon, and move through the Settings, Account, and Privacy menus. You’ll be able to change your read receipts, last seen, profile photo and status to Everyone, My Contacts, and Nobody.
In addition to the changes available on Android, however, is the Block feature. You can manage it easily in the WhatsApp for iPhone privacy settings, and it will allow you to block or unblock any contacts that are also stored in your phone’s primary address book or contact list.
Can I Tell if I’ve Been Blocked?
One of the first things that many users wonder when they can’t see others’ “last seen” information is if they’ve been blocked by that user. Fortunately, there’s no easy way to tell. This is a good thing and an indication that the WhatsApp block system is working exactly like it should.
Users are almost never blocked by accident; there’s always a reason for it, and usually a pretty good one. When you block somebody else, that should go hand-in-hand with the assurance that they’re not going to be able to keep tabs on your activity through the app. For this reason, there’s no surefire way to know if you’ve been blocked by another user, but the best way to tell is simply by their activity, rather than whether or not you can see their “last seen” information on a regular basis.
Hopefully, our brief guide has not only shed some light on WhatsApp’s “last seen” feature but also revealed how you can use it to have a better experience overall with the messaging service. WhatsApp has proven time and again that users’ security is important, but so too is their freedom to display whatever information they want to. That said, it’s helpful to know what the “last seen” feature is meant for, and what it most certainly isn’t. You’ll be able to know when your contacts were last on the app, but you’ll have to rely on read receipts if you want to know whether or not they’re interacting with your messages. It’s also not a sure way to know if a person has blocked you or not. If you have any leftover questions about “last seen” or WhatsApp in general, let’s hear them in the comments below!