Disappearing messages, once Snapchat’s selling feature, is becoming more prevalent on almost all major messaging platforms that want to advertise their security and privacy features. Each platform naturally gives it its own spin, mostly in how long they allow messages to stay alive. WhatsApp, for example, is giving users more options to keep messages around as long as they want, even going as far as three months tops.
Disappearing messages are part privacy measure and part housekeeping tool. They lessen the risk of private messages and media being read by unauthorized people, especially after the phone has been stolen. It also reduces the amount of space that an app takes up on the device by automatically deleting old messages after a given period.
Unlike Snapchat’s default behavior, WhatsApp introduced its disappearing messages feature last year with a single interval of seven days. A few months ago, it finally added a 24-hour option for the fastest period. Now it’s extending the set of options by adding a 90-day option, at least in the beta version of the app for Android.
This, of course, makes the disappearing messages feature more of an automatic cleanup function rather than a privacy feature. WhatsApp’s own description says that recipients of those messages can save them through other means anyway. It’s not a foolproof privacy guard, especially if messages are deleted only after three months.
WhatsApp is definitely trying to step up its game in painting itself as a champion of security and privacy, despite its associations with Facebook. Earlier this month, it introduced a “View Once” feature for photos and videos that automatically delete the media after it has been seen, no timer necessary. This 90-day interval for disappearing messages, however, might not arrive immediately, as it takes WhatsApp a few months to take a beta feature and add it into a stable release.