This will no doubt be controversial.
WABetaInfo has reported that WhatsApp is developing a new option that would enable users to set their WhatsApp messages to auto-delete after a set time limit.
As you can see in these screenshots, pulled from the beta version of WhatsApp on Android, the new option, if it is rolled out, will let people set their messages to auto-delete within each chat. When a user chooses to enable auto-delete, they’ll also be able to pick a time limit – from an hour, up to a year – before their messages are erased.
It makes sense – with more users now preferring the intimacy of direct messages and chats, and parent-company Facebook moving towards providing more privacy protection, like end-to-end encryption as standard across all of its messaging platforms, enabling disappearing messages seemingly fits with the broader plan. You can also already set a timer for auto-deletion of your messages in secret chats within Facebook Messenger – but given the popularity of WhatsApp, and the role the platform has played in various political, and potentially criminal, activities, you can bet that various government groups will be opposed to an auto-delete option being added into the app.
Already, several governments have called for more transparency in digital communications in order to better police potential terrorist activity, with the UK Government singling out WhatsApp for its part in previous events. Several middle eastern nations have banned WhatsApp at different times due to national security concerns, while the founder of WhatsApp, Jan Koum, had reportedly clashed with Facebook over his commitment to maintaining strict encryption and user privacy.
More recently, WhatsApp has become the focus of various COVID-19 misinformation campaigns.
Auto-erasing messages would likely add to those concerns – and again, while such functionality is available in other apps, none of them have the reach and presence of WhatsApp, which, in February, hit a new milestone of 2 billion active users.
According to WABetaInfo, WhatsApp has been developing its disappearing messages tool for some time, and the project has seemingly lost priority at different stages. As such, it’s difficult to know whether it will ever actually make it to the live environment, but based on these screenshots, it seems fairly well-developed.
It’ll be interesting to see the responses if it does get a full feature launch.