WhatsApp is moving from encryption to expiration with a new test — disappearing messages. The messaging app is developing an option to make messages disappear after a set time, as spotted by WABetaInfo in a new beta version of the app.
If the test makes its into the official version of the app, WhatsApp users would be able to create disappearing messages in group chats. The app’s code currently suggests that users could set messages to disappear after five seconds or an hour. After that time, the message disappears from the group chat thread.
While the code is set up for group messages only, the WABetaInfo blog expects the tool to roll out to private messages following the testing of the feature in groups. For groups, the disappearing option can be toggled on and off in the group settings to enable or disable the feature — if the tool makes it out of early testing. WABetaInfo notes that the feature isn’t yet available, even for beta users.
The idea of ephemeral social media, first popularized by Snapchat’s disappearing Stories, has spread across multiple platforms and features. The added layer of protection by setting a message to disappear could turn into a major feature for a platform built on the idea of encrypted messaging.
Parent company Facebook has pledged a move toward more private social networks. Giving a message an expiration date in group chats would likely decrease the number of views and forwards, if users choose to enable the feature once launched.
Disappearing messages won’t fix WhatsApp bigger problems, however, as the app has struggled with the spread of fake news on the messaging platform. In India, the app is blamed for spreading misinformation that sparked mob lynchings. The problem isn’t limited to India, either, with the spread of fake news after recent mass shootings in the U.S. The platform has so far responded by labeling frequently forwarded messages and using machine learning to detect and ban abusive accounts.
WhatsApp has not yet confirmed the test for the disappearing messages or indicated when the feature may launch. Like with all tests, there is a chance the test doesn’t go well and the feature never makes its way to the full version of the app.
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