Using WhatsApp iOS app without granting it access to contacts

Disclaimer: I have only used the Android app, so this may be incorrect for iOS.

I was able to be initially messaged by someone, and thus have them perpetually avaiable in the WhatsApp-internal contact list, all without sharing my device contacts. This was done by getting a "first-class" user who has already forked over their contacts to message me first.

The user who first messages you must allow WhatsApp contact access on their personal device. I know of no way around this, but to be fair, if you're trying to use WhatsApp then you're probably trying to connect with someone who has already done this.

Here is how I managed it:

  1. Install WhatsApp and repeatedly deny any Contacts access.
  2. Have another party who has already forked over their contacts attempt to contact you on WhatsApp.
  3. When they are presented a list of their contacts, they should select "New Contact" or something of the sort.
  4. The other party should enter your phone number into this new contact. They should complete this step even if they already have you as a contact on their phone. This step forcibly exposes the phone number to WhatsApp, while it otherwise would not show that you are a WhatsApp user.
  5. The other party can now message you as normal, add you to groups, etc. You can message back.
  6. (Optional but recommended) Initially, WhatsApp will continually ask you whether the message you have received is spam. There seems to be no way to do this in the mobile app without actually adding the person to your WhatsApp-visible contacts (and thus forking over your contacts). However, WhatsApp for Desktop or Web makes it really easy to simply mark the conversation as "not spam", so for the best experience, sign in to one of those apps to do just that.

Source for this is the WhatsApp FAQs:

If you don't allow WhatsApp access to your contacts

Although we strongly recommend allowing WhatsApp access to your phone's contacts, you can continue to use WhatsApp in a limited capacity without allowing access.

If you deny WhatsApp access to your phone's contacts, you'll still be able to: - Receive messages from other WhatsApp users and groups - Change WhatsApp settings

You won't be able to:
- See any contact names and will only see phone numbers
- Start new Groups or Broadcast Lists

How to enable access to your contacts

If you initially denied WhatsApp access to your phone's contacts, you can enable access by going to your phone's settings:

  • Go to Settings > Privacy.
  • Tap Contacts.
  • Make sure WhatsApp is turned on.

Maybe not the right answer, but it could be useful. Definitely, the best option on iOS is

It’s a free app, without adds and you just dial the number and that is. I find it useful when I want to send a WhatsApp message to someone I don’t have store as a contact, but it could be definitely a good option for your use case.

I use to send messages to myself too when I want to remember something.

[2018-12-10 iOS v2.18.102]

If you can get contact with one person, then it is possible to gain access to everyone they know, and thus expand your connection tree through new contacts:

  1. Ask the one contact you have, to start a chat which includes other contacts of theirs that you don't have.
  2. Send a message directly to the group member you want to chat with.
  3. (opt) The chat admin can then shut down the group chat, whilst you continue to chat with your new contact person-to-person.

You cannot save the contacts, or attribute names to them, they appear only as phone numbers.

To get that first contact, I had whatsapps installed before access to contacts became mandatory. Which doesn't help you. So some ideas which may:

  • source and install an old version of whatsapp (from a backup or internet archive?), add your one contact(s), then upgrade, denying access to contacts.
  • can you install the desktop version of whatsapp and somehow transfer contacts from there? (I don't know, I've not installed the desktop version).

Obligatory mention of the inevitable solution: Introduce your contacts to more conscientious alternatives like Signal or Telegram.