WhatsApp Beta Tests Disappearing Video, Photo Messages

WhatsApp is deploying a new feature to beta versions of its Android and iOS apps, that will allow users to send disappearing messages.

Snapchat of course has made this a core function of its app right from the start, but now Facebook is looking to give its encrypted messaging service a similar option. Facebook’s Instagram and Messenger already offer this ability.

The thinking is that disappearing photo and video messages 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.

View once messages

The WhatsApp development was first revealed by WABetaInfo, when it revealed that WhatsApp released the “View Once” feature for iOS beta users on Friday, shortly after it rolled it out for Android beta users in late June.

The way it works is that the feature allows a WhatsApp user to send photos and videos that will disappear from WhatsApp chats after they have been viewed once.

According to screenshots taken by WABetaInfo, the app will not prevent others from taking screenshots.

And the app will not notify the sender if recipients have taken screenshots of their disappearing content.

That said, the content will disappear in the sender’s chat and in the recipient’s chat if View Once is selected.

Senders will be able to see whether their content has been viewed in the chat by watching out for an “Opened” message. For Android users, the feature is also available for group chats.

“The feature is available today for a large part of beta testers,” reported WABetaInfo. “If you’re a beta tester but you don’t see the view once button, there is nothing to be worried about: WhatsApp is constantly rolling out the feature for more users, so it is only a matter of time before receiving it.”

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.

WhatsApp has previously been at centre of sophisticated hacking attempts, 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 and opted 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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