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WhatsApp rolls out a new “Ephemeral messaging” feature

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WhatsApp in its new phase of updates has introduced the feature of ‘Ephemeral messaging.’ WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has officially announced the launch of a new feature on the platform which will begin being accessible to users all across the world by this month. The “disappearing feature” will add a new touch to the user experience.

So what exactly is this feature? Why does WhatsApp want to introduce it? And How will the user experience change after this?

How will this concept be put into place? 

According to the information released by Facebook’s WhatsApp, the disappearing messages setting will be applicable in personal as well as group chats.

When any user will turn on this feature, all the messages that are sent or received by him in a personal or group chat will automatically be destroyed after a period of seven days. In other words, all the text, images, videos or any other file sent shall be self-erased from the app’s interface after a week. However, all the multimedia data would be available in the user’s phone storage if the auto-download option is turned on.

But one thing to note is that in the case of group chats, the admins will be in control of this feature. Users as per their will could turn off this feature when they change their mind.

 

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What are disappearing or ephemeral messages? 

As is evident by the name itself, disappearing messages are those messages which automatically get destroyed, deleted or disappeared from a conversation after a stipulated time.

However, this concept is not something unknown to the users and Whatsapp is clearly not the first social media application to offer it as other messaging apps such as Snapchat, Telegram and Wire already offer this feature.

So why is WhatsApp introducing this feature? 

This being done for the sole purpose of bringing more privacy and trust in the messaging app. However, the company had already introduced the end-to-end encryption feature which means that no third-party or even WhatsApp can access these messages and read them. 

In a blogpost, the company said, “When conversations aren’t permanent, people can speak more freely and feel more comfortable being their authentic selves, whether that be their wacky side or being more honest about their feelings and this is a huge step for WhatsApp as we introduce ephemerality to many people for the first time ever and help them experience a new level of privacy.”

How is WhatsApp’s disappearing message feature different from all other applications?  

One stark difference that Facebook has rolled out in Whatsapp’s working in comparison to the other messaging apps is that WhatsApp has a fixed term of deleting the messages and will not provide any kind of customization in this.

Let me explain.

So apps like Wire, Telegram, and Signal offer an option of customization to the user using which he can set a preferred time for his messages to disappear that can range from a week to a few seconds.

Telegram provides the user with an option to start a secret chat in which he can set a timer to destroy the messages. This timer could again range from one second to a span of seven days. Another app called Wire allowed users to choose the time from 10 seconds to four weeks for messages to disappear. Similarly, Signal gives the option to turn on disappearing messages for each chat individually with a time limit from five seconds to a week, as per the user’s convenience.

But WhatsApp is not giving any such facility to customize the tenure of deletion of the message and has decided the time limit of all users, which is fixed at seven days.

So, will the disappeared messages be erased forever or is there some way a disappearing chat could still get saved on WhatsApp?   

As per all that has been found until now, there are certain loopholes in this feature.

Let us consider a case when one person has activated this feature and has turned on the setting and he has sent a text to the other person but the receiver has not used the messaging application during the seven-day period, In such a case, the message might disappear but the received would still be able to see a preview of the same in their notifications tab.

Apart from this, a text will remain in the chat after the seven-day period when a user replies to a message where the initial text is quoted as well as when someone forwards a message to another user, who does not have the disappearing messages feature turned on.

Moreover, a message may persist in the backup if it gets backed up to the cloud before disappearing. However, when the backup is restored, the message will get deleted automatically. And not to forge, screenshots are the real deal to store chats as always!

How will this new feature change WhatsApp for users and for the company itself? 

The users will most probably feel more safe and private as they have craved long for this much-needed feature. With more control over the safety and storage of their messages a user is likely to feel more secure and in control even though, as quite known already, nothing on the internet actually gets deleted permanently ever.

For WhatsApp itself, a set of new challenges would surface. Since Facebook is already under global scrutiny regarding its data safety and security policies, this step is likely to raise some tricky new questions from authorities in several countries, including India, over tracing of messages. Moreover, with this new feature, authorities could face a new set of issues when it comes to recovering messages from WhatsApp, escalating the clash further.

 

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