WhatsApp finally unveils self-destructing media feature

WhatsApp unveiled on Wednesday a new media feature labelled “view once” allowing photos and videos to disappear automatically after being seen by their receiver.  

The Facebook-owned messaging app promoted the new feature as a privacy tool.  

“New feature alert! You can now send photos and videos that disappear after they’ve been opened via View Once on WhatsApp, giving you more control over your chats privacy!” said the company in a tweet.  

The “view once” feature is similar to that of Facebook’s sister app, Instagram. 

The company explained in a blog post that senders must select the “view once” option every time they aim to activate it.  

WhatsApp confirmed that any photo or video sent using this update will not be saved to the recipient’s gallery. 

The messaging app will not allow the receiver to forward, save, star, or share photos and videos that were sent or received with this feature. 

Senders will be able to see if a recipient has opened a “view once” photo or video if they have read receipts turned on. 

Moreover, if the self-destructing message is not opened within 14 days, then the media will expire completely from the chat. 

While this feature is being promoted as the “ultimate” privacy solution, “view once” messages be viewed again from the backup option, only if messages remained unopened. 

Additionally, the company failed to tackle the problem of screenshots as a possible means to save media before it disappears. 

However, WhatsApp warned that users might take a photo or video of the media with a camera or other device before it disappears. 

“Encrypted media may be stored for a few weeks on WhatsApp’s servers after you’ve sent it,” the company explained. 

On the other side of the aisle, child protection advocates have expressed concern that auto-disappearing messages could help cover up evidence of child sexual abuse. 

Despite WhatsApp’s’ efforts to create a “safe space” for its users, the company still has a mountain to climb in terms of regaining trust especially following a backlash it recently faced concerning its controversial privacy policy.  

The policy — which was announced earlier in January said to be effective by May — intended to collect users’ data such as their phone number, email address, contacts, location, IP Address and other personal information. 

WhatsApp even went further and threatened uncomplying users with losing their chats, contacts, and access to the app as a whole. 

The move led hit WhatsApp hard, as the platform lost a significant amount of its users to rivals Telegram and Signal, as new download of the app fell by 11 percent in the first week of 2021 compared with the previous week, according to Sensor Tower. 

In parallel, Signal recorded more than 100,000 new users across both Apple and Google app store; while Telegram saw a spike in downloads, marking a whopping 2.2 million new users during the same period. 

After strong user resistance, WhatsApp announced an explanation to its privacy policy, claiming that personal messages and calls can’t be seen or heard by the application, nor by its parent company Facebook.  

In its explanatory note, it stressed that shared locations, contact and groups won’t be shared with Facebook as well.