WhatsApp has announced it is rolling out a new “disappearing message” feature to its 2 billion users around the world.
Available from the end of the month, the company said the new feature is designed to make conversations “feel as close to in-person as possible”, with messages disappearing after seven days if the feature is enabled.
In a blog post, the company explained that the seven-day period was chosen to give users “peace of mind that conversations aren’t permanent, while remaining practical so you don’t forget what you were chatting about”.
For messages between two individuals, either one can turn the new setting on or off, and for group messages, the group admin has this ability. The setting won’t affect messages sent or received before disappearing messages was enabled.
Whatsapp, which has offered end-to-end encryption since 2016, highlighted that disappearing messages does not prevent individuals from forwarding, saving or taking a screenshot of a message.
Media received in the Facebook-owned app is automatically downloaded to your phone, unless auto-download is disabled. If disappearing messages are turned on, media sent in the chat will disappear, but will be saved on the phone unless auto-download is turned off.
Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET, said that the new disappearing message feature may be an attempt to compete with other messaging apps that place more of an emphasis on privacy, such as Telegram:
“WhatsApp are likely keen to stop users moving to other, more privacy-focused messaging platforms, such as Signal and Telegram, which already offer built-in disappearing messages along with additional security features.”
However, he believes that some individuals may still have reservations about the Facebook-owned app:
“Self-erasing chat functionality offers a good layer of protection if people decide to share sensitive information like bank details or passwords with their contacts. However, many people still have an issue with the fact that data giant Facebook owns WhatsApp – even though it continues to state that they do not have access to the content within the encrypted messages.”
Earlier this year, the company announced it was reducing the number of times a message could be forwarded to another chat, limiting it to one chat at a time in an attempt to reduce the spread of misinformation related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, WhatsApp reported a 40% usage increase as part of the surge in online communication triggered by the pandemic.