Facebook Rolls Out Disappearing WhatsApp Photos, Videos

Facebook has deployed its Snapchat challenge with the rolling out of disappearing photos and videos for WhatsApp’s user base.

Facebook announced the deployment of the ‘View Once’ feature in a blog post, and it justified the new option as “not everything we share needs to become a permanent digital record.”

Facebook had last month deployed disappearing photos and videos as a beta for its Android and iOS apps. Facebook’s Instagram and Messenger already offered this ability.

View Once

The thinking behind the move is that disappearing photos and videos will give users greater control, and greater privacy protection (although this feature can be bypassed by a humble screenshot).

Law enforcement agencies are sure to be deeply unhappy at the move however.

“While taking photos or videos on our phones has become such a big part of our lives, not everything we share needs to become a permanent digital record,” said Facebook in the blog post. “On many phones, simply taking a photo means it will take up space in your camera roll forever.”

“That’s why today we’re rolling out new View Once photos and videos that disappear from the chat after they’ve been opened, giving users even more control over their privacy,” it said.

It said users for example might opt to send a View Once photo of some new clothes they are trying on at a store, or a quick reaction to a moment in time, or something sensitive like a Wi-Fi password.

“As with all the personal messages you send on WhatsApp, View Once media is protected by end-to-end encryption so WhatsApp cannot see them,” said the firm. “They will also be clearly marked with a new ‘one-time’ icon.”

“After the media has been viewed, the message will appear as ‘opened’ to avoid any confusion about what was happening in the chat at the time,” it concluded. “We’re rolling out the feature to everyone starting this week and are looking forward to feedback on this new way to send private and disappearing media.”

Law enforcement

The development will be watched closely in law enforcement circles, who are already unhappy that WhatsApp switched on end-to-end encryption back in 2016.

Of course, this View Once privacy feature can be easily overcome by a user taking a simple screenshot of the phone screen when they are viewing the View Once photo or video – so best not use it to send naked selfies.

WhatsApp for its part has previously been at centre of sophisticated hacking attempts previously, and in May 2019, the messaging app urged all of its 1.5 billion users to update their software to fix a vulnerability that it said was being actively exploited to implant advanced surveillance tools on users’ devices.

WhatsApp felt it had enough evidence to sue Israeli surveillance specialist NSO over the matter.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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