WhatsApp accused of rethinking plans for life-saving ‘delete messages’ feature

The upcoming Snapchat-style self-destructing missives function might not offer as much protection as previously believed (Source: NurPhoto/ PA)

WhatsApp has reportedly reconsidered plans for a ‘delete messages’ feature which destroys messages after a set space of time.

We’re all now wearyingly familiar with the concept that messages sent in private can be published publicly and used to ruin our lives.

So we were very glad to see that WhatsApp was working on a vital survival tool to help us through this age of cancel culture and social media mob justice.

However, the world’s leading WhatsApp analyst has claimed this feature might not be quite as vital as expected.

WABetaInfo, a website which uncovers new feature buried in the software’s beta code, said the function might only be applied to group chats, rather than for individual conversations.

This is great for clearing out dodgy texts from old conversations but means you’ll have to remember to prune private chats of compromising material if you want to be totally safe from bullies and zealots who seek to punish people for the words they use.

WABetaInfo wrote: ‘We have discovered that the WhatsApp team has changed its plans about how the feature should work, becoming a sort of “cleaning tool” for groups.

‘Groups have usually a lot of messages and this feature could help to save your phone storage, deleting old messages automatically (only administrators will be able to enable/disable it).

‘This change implies that the feature will have totally another sense. Probably, if you like this feature and you want to use it with a specific contact, you will be forced to create a group with him, seen that the feature will be only available in groups.’

There are many reasons why you might want to ensure a group chat is deleted.

Student activists, for instance, are known to call for the public shaming and extra-judicial punishment of men caught writing ugly, awful things in private groups.

Last year, in just one such incident, a group of boys studying at Warwick University shared posts filled with appalling jokes about raping women.

They were named in a number of newspaper reports, whilst women who felt the boys were not punished harshly enough led physical protests in support of the ‘victims’ whose names were mentioned in offensive texts.

WhatsApp’s new system will offer you a small amount of protection against similar activists, although people who enjoy edgy humour are better off making ‘jokes’ in person rather than writing them down.

Until, of course, we enter an era where it’s impossible to speak freely in public either due to the sophistication of recording technology.

For a grim prediction about how this might play out, we’d point you to an article from the respected economist Tyler Cowen published earlier this year on Bloomberg. 

‘Advances in recording technologies will make most conversations in public, and many in private, remarkably bland,’ he wrote.

‘Artificial intelligence and facial and gait surveillance will lead to unprecedented invasions of privacy.

‘Public crimes will plummet, but public spaces in major cities will have a depressing sameness, due to the near-total absence of spontaneous behaviour.’

WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption to make sure messages are safe from prying eyes. But group members or private chat participants can easily screenshot content which upsets them and then weaponise it against their enemies.


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