Despite several recent controversies questioning its integrity, WhatsApp remains surprisingly privacy-conscious with end-to-end encryption available by default on all chats. The messaging app went a step further in that direction when it introduced disappearing messages for everyone late last year. With this new temporary option, it’s even easier to protect your most private conversations and media. It seems that many people do not use disappearing messages on WhatsApp, perhaps because they do not know that they exist. Here we’ll tell you how to enable it and what precautions you should take to keep your chats private.
How to enable disappearing messages
Disappearing messages are not something you can enable for everyone at once; you have to do it separately for each person or group. This means that only new messages that are changed after turning the setting on will be affected, while your old conversations and other recipients will not be affected. This is how you enable it:
- Tap the name of the person at the top of the chat thread.
- Select Timed messages. If this is your first time visiting this section, WhatsApp will show a small introduction card before continuing.
- After rejecting it, select the On option.
And that’s it. When you return to the chat window, you and the recipient will see a short message notifying you of the change. Any messages sent after that will be automatically deleted from the chat after the seven-day timer expires.
You can easily identify people who have ephemeral chats enabled, as they will have a timer icon appearing above their profile photo. The same steps also work to turn off disappearing messages when your top secret chat is over.
Functionality is limited
WhatsAppis several years behind Signal in adding this feature, so it naturally comes with a few limitations. There is currently no way to change the default seven-day timer to a time limit of your choosing. While this is fully customizable in Signal, Telegram gives you three options: 24 hours, one week, and one month. Hopefully, WhatsApp adds more time options in a future update.
It’s also a slight inconvenience to go to the recipient’s profile every time you want to enable or disable the disappearing chats. I would have preferred it if WhatsApp had added a shortcut for those who only used those disappearing messages once in a while, like long-pressing the send button to bring up a context menu for specific messages only.
Be careful when using
It’s pretty obvious that you’ll use disappearing messages to have more sensitive conversations than others. However, there are ways your chats can be recorded on the recipient side, defeating the purpose of the feature, and WhatsApp warns about this on its settings page.
For example, if your ephemeral message is quoted in a reply or redirected to a different chat while disappearing messages are closed, these instances may persist even after the 7-day window. WhatsApp also notes that these messages are also backed up like a regular message and remain there until the user restores these chats on a new device. And considering that WhatsApp backups are not currently encrypted, that’s not very reassuring.
Also, WhatsApp only deletes these messages from the chat thread, which means any media downloaded to the recipient’s phone will still be accessible. And you cannot prevent people from taking screenshots or copying text. Telegram’s Secret Chat feature notifies you when someone takes a screenshot of your fleeting messages, but this has its own limitations – in any case, it’s not yet available on WhatsApp.
Despite the list of ifs and buts, it’s nice to at least have an option for when you should use them. The rule of thumb here is to only enable disappearing messages on WhatsApp for people you can trust, and avoid sending any sensitive information unless you’re doubly sure. Like every other piece of technology, WhatsApp isn’t foolproof, so be careful.