WhatsApp adds new privacy options including blocking screenshots and a stealth mode – TechCrunch

WhatsApp is introducing a small series of privacy-conscious changes to the messaging app, the company announced on Tuesday. The globally ubiquitous messaging service owned by Meta says the changes aim to give users more control over their experience while introducing “additional layers” to protect their private communications.

WhatsApp will introduce an option for users to use the app privately without being visibly online, what it calls “online presence control”. The feature, which will be rolling out to everyone this month, will allow WhatsApp users to control which contacts can see their online status while hiding it from others. There is no cap on the list of contacts who can view your online status, and you can swap people at any time. The company says the update will affect both its desktop and mobile app offerings.

The company is also testing blocking screenshots for “viewed once” messages, which disappear after being opened just once. WhatsApp introduced a dying media option a year ago, reminding users at the time that they wouldn’t be able to tell if the recipient was saving shared photos and videos as screenshots. The feature is currently being tested, but the company hopes to release it widely to users “soon”. (It’s worth remembering that anyone can always take a picture of their screen with another device, which should make you think twice about getting too comfortable on apps with disappearing messages. )

The latest change is another small but quite noticeable quality of life update. This month, WhatsApp will allow users to leave groups privately without sending a mass notification that they’ve bailed. Group admins will still be notified, but generally this change should make moving around groups on the app smoother and less inconvenient. This change will also be rolled out to both the desktop and mobile version of the app.

WhatsApp product manager Ami Vora described the additions as a boost to the app’s “nested layers of protection”, which aim to bolster its status as a top-tier encrypted messaging option.

The company has made other efforts over the years. Last fall, it shut down a possible weak point in its encrypted messaging service, adding end-to-end encryption for backups stored in the cloud.

“We will continue to create new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversations,” Meta Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said of the new features.

However, the company’s own messaging isn’t always so strict: a confusing privacy policy update in early 2021 caused a backlash, sending users to rival apps. That same update still resonates more than a year later, and the European Commission launched a formal investigation into its concerns about the app’s consumer protections earlier this year.

Lance B. Holton