WhatsApp adds new privacy tools, including online activity controls and the ability to silently leave group chats

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Amid ongoing concerns about how it can be used to organize criminal activity, due to its default encryption process, WhatsApp has announced additional privacy features, giving users even more reassurance and control. , in various respects.

First, WhatsApp gives users more control over how others see them in the app, with the ability to disable online activity markers or restrict such signals to certain users.

As shown here, you’ll soon be able to decide who can see when you’re online in the app – “Everyone”, “Contacts”, “My contacts except” or “Nobody”.

This will provide more ability to avoid unwanted interactions by hiding your active status, which could be of significant value for users who want to conduct their interactions in their own time and space.

WhatsApp is also adding a new option to leave groups silently, so you can ignore a group chat without alerting everyone in the group.

WhatsApp updates

As you can see, group admins will still know that you’ve left the chat, but there won’t be a “John Doe left chat” notification for everyone in the thread.

In addition to this, WhatsApp also extends the time window to delete your messages from your chats.

And finally, WhatsApp also blocks screenshots for “View Once” messages:

see once is already an incredibly popular way to share photos or media that doesn’t need to have a permanent digital record. We are now enabling screenshot blocking for View Once messages for an extra layer of protection. We are currently testing this feature and are excited to roll it out to users soon. »

WhatsApp updates

This could facilitate even more private sharing on WhatsApp, which could lead to more questionable material being shared. If that’s what people want – although this specific aspect has also been the subject of various authorities, in various regions, who have called upon Meta to allow a level of messaging access to authorities, in order to to prevent its applications from being used for illegal activities, which is currently protected by its privacy measures.

Recently, the The UK’s National Cyber ​​Security Center has published a research paper which proposed a new automated scanning process for WhatsApp and other messaging tools, which would make it easier to detect illegal exchanges, while preserving user privacy. The European Union has also offered new legislation that would require Meta itself to detect and report any such activity within its platforms.

So far, Meta has resisted all calls to add “backdoor” access, or something like that, arguing that the trade-off between all users’ privacy and detecting the small percentage of criminal activity is simply too important to consider. .

As WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart explained in response to the UK proposal:

“What’s being offered is that we read – directly or indirectly through software – everyone’s messages. I don’t think people want that.”

Indeed, Meta is still rolling out end-to-end encryption across all of its messaging tools, with Messenger and Instagram Direct both benefiting from enhanced security features, to bring them in line with WhatsApp.

The next step, therefore, will be to integrate all of its messaging platforms into a single back-end, facilitating cross-platform chat – although Meta has delayed full implementation of this due to ongoing regulatory issues and concerns.

And there is a valid concern here. An indisputable side effect of social media’s connecting capacity is that while social platforms and messaging apps allow everyone to “find their tribe”, those tribes are not always healthy communities of knitting enthusiasts and knitting fans. ‘TV shows.

Sometimes these tribes are dangerous, even criminal. And with encryption hiding such exchanges, it’s unclear to everyone how important that might be, and what kinds of WhatsApp activity might be facilitated by its circuitry.

But as Cathcart notes, the alternative is that all of WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users lose their privacy, due to the actions of a few.

This is a difficult argument, which should go on for some time yet.

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