After a period of beta testing and an FAQ page popping up last week, WhatsApp has officially announced the coming of disappearing messages. Users should expect the feature to roll out later this month. And it is coming to all platforms: Android, iOS, and KaiOS. WhatsApp Web users will also have the feature.
Once available, the new feature will be such that users will need to enable it for each chat window – be it an individual conversation, or a group one. Once you send a message to a contact/group that’s selected for disappearing messages, the message will automatically self-destruct after seven days. However, quoted replies, forwarded messages, and once still in the notifications panel may still show the message.
The idea of ephemeral messages has become very important in recent times. First seen with Snapchat, it is now a feature either already implemented or even demanded by users on different platforms. Even Twitter considered either stories or disappearing tweets, and may still have something come later on.
Unlike many other platforms where the time frame is small before the message disappears, on WhatsApp the set period is 7 days. On Telegram for example, a user can set the time frame for which a sent message will self-destruct. On Snapchat, once the receiver reads the message it disappears. If not read, the message still disappears within 30 days. So it is particularly weird that WhatsApp chose 7 days as the fixed time for messages to disappear.
While the company has explained that this is the initial test run, it feels a bit off. Because 7 days is such a long time to remember a conversation. However, perhaps for the people who use the app religiously, this will be a good timeframe for messages to disappear. Personally, the Snapchat approach would have made more sense. Once a text is read, let it go. If that would be seen as copying, then the Telegram approach would be good. Let users set time frames for messages.
I think WhatsApp may do all these later on. For now, I believe the company just wants to see how to properly implement this feature without raising any issues. As it stands, it looks like with this implementation, WhatsApp is only adding an auto-clear chat feature rather than actual disappearing messages. So, after 7 days the chat you’ve had in a group, or with an individual auto-clears. Which means backups may still have the conversations if done before the 7-day period.
Remember, this shouldn’t be seen as a step in privacy because unlike Snapchat, there still won’t be notifications incase some takes a screenshot, or if they forward the message. Maybe all that will come later on.