WhatsApp’s long-awaited disappearing messages feature has finally rolled out for all users, but you should make sure you’re comfortable with how the feature works before using it.
Disappearing messages add an extra layer of privacy to your conversations. Let’s say you want to let someone know your home address, but don’t want that information forever accessible in your chat history. Send the address as a disappearing message and it will self-delete itself after a set amount of time.
The appeal of disappearing messages is obvious, but it seems like WhatsApp’s disappearing messages will be less secure than similar features found in other apps.
Based on the company’s explanation for how the feature will work on its platform, disappearing messages will stick around for seven days. You can’t edit that window, which may frustrate users hoping for customisable self-delete times — something many other messaging apps include.
Seven days is a long time for potentially sensitive information to be sitting in a message thread. Worse, these messages are potentially accessible even after those seven days are up if:
- The message preview is still displayed from a device’s notification screen
- The message is quoted/replied to.
- The message is forwarded to other chat threads or groups.
- The receiver takes a screenshot before it’s deleted.
Media sent through disappearing messages will also be saved permanently and needs to be manually deleted if you want to remove it.
Apps with better disappearing messages than WhatsApp
To be fair, disappearing messages can be compromised in other apps, including Signal, but it’s harder to do so, and few are impacted by WhatsApp loopholes listed above. As long as you know how WhatsApp’s disappearing messages work and use them appropriately, the feature is entirely fine. Still, WhatsApp’s disappearing messages are not as secure as similar features in other apps. You should seek out an alternative if you want better security or more control over disappearing messages.
Signal, Telegram, and Viber all let you customise auto-delete timers for your next message(s) with just a couple of taps. All three are end-to-end encrypted as well, and let you set media attachments as “view-once” so they auto-delete after they are opened and viewed. Signal even has a built-in blur tool for making saved images more private, too.
Importantly, chat threads cannot be screenshotted, nor can you forward disappearing messages to outside parties — unlike WhatsApp, which explicitly lists both possible scenarios in its FAQs.
If you dig the sound of Signal, Telegram, and Viber’s overall better security, you can read more about all three in our best WhatsApp alternatives guide.
This article was originally published in November 2020.