Why does a new account on Wire have people listed under Contacts?
November 21, 2019 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I created an account on the Wire messaging app using a burner email address that should be untraceable to my real identity. When I opened Wire, it showed me "Contacts" with a list of six people? Is it supposed to do that?

I believe what is happening is that Wire used the people that are saved in my phone, and identified profiles in Wire which were created using phone numbers that are already stored in my phone. (Wire tells me their username on Wire, as well as the name that I have them saved under on my phone.)

But I thought that Wire doesn't expose an individual's phone number publicly to others. If Wire is using my phone's address book to scan all Wire profiles to see which have numbers that are saved in my phone, that seems like it would undermine the anonymity of the platform.

When I create a new account on Wire using a burner account, should I see people listed in the Contacts the first time I open Wire?

If so, how is that list being populated?

[I'll be watching this, if there are additional questions that I can answer.]
posted by davidstandaford to Technology (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, it looks like you're right, Wire does use your contacts to match with people it knows.

You can take look at this FAQ: What are auto-connections?
Auto-connections apply for personal users ony and are Wire contacts whose phone number appears in your address book, or vice versa. To reject an auto-connection, simply block the user in your conversation list.

or see this FAQ about Android permissions
Important ones from that link:
Contacts  - “android.permission.READ_CONTACTS”
To upload hashed contacts from your address book to match you with your friends. Once uploaded and matched, they are deleted from our server.

Phone, Device ID & call information  - “android.permission.READ_PHONE_STATE”
Wire uses this to read your phone number for contact matching.
posted by brainmouse at 3:04 PM on November 21, 2019

There are ways to do this without exposing your contacts. Here's a writeup from Signal (a similar privacy-centric messaging app) on how they do it.

I found Wire's security whitepaper but they don't seem to mention contact discovery in it.

But I thought that Wire doesn't expose an individual's phone number publicly to others.

If you don't give them one, sure. Presumably your friends did, though.
posted by neckro23 at 3:05 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

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