New WhatsApp privacy tools hide 'online' status and group exit notifications

The security changes are some of the most requested by users and will be rolled out later this month

Mark Zuckerberg says he wants the app to be as 'secure as face-to-face conversations'. PA
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WhatsApp is adding more features to boost user privacy.

Later this month, users will be able to leave group chats without other members being notified. People can set controls to limit who can see their “online” status.

The updates will also prevent people from being able to screenshot any messages set to “view once”.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Meta, which owns WhatsApp, announced the changes in a Facebook post. “New privacy features coming to WhatsApp: exit group chats without notifying everyone, control who can see when you're online, and prevent screenshots on view once messages,” he wrote.

“We'll keep building new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversations.”

Currently, users are unable to hide their online status. There are options to turn off "read" notifications and the “last seen” status, but the app always shows when a user is online.

Similarly, all members of a group can see when someone exits.

Both changes are among the most-requested updates from WhatsApp users.

Ami Vora, WhatsApp’s head of product, said the app’s ongoing aim is to “empower people to have more control and privacy".

"Over the years, we’ve added interlocking layers of protection to help keep conversations secure and the new features deliver on our commitment to keep messages private,” she said.

Vora said the company is also running a series of global campaigns to educate people about the app's privacy features — beginning in India and the UK.

WhatsApp's ever-growing changes

Concerns over WhatsApp’s security were raised at the beginning of this year, when it announced an update to its privacy policy. The new policy went into effect on February 8, after which those who did not accept the updated terms were no longer be able to use the app.

However, the app was quick to reassure its users the updated policy would not affect the privacy of conversations.

The company says the app still protects and secures users’ private messages. Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook will be able to see messages or listen in on phone calls or voice messages.

“WhatsApp does not share your contacts with Facebook. WhatsApp groups remain private,” the company wrote.

“Personal messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. We will never weaken this security and we clearly label each chat so you know our commitment.”

WhatsApp said it does not keep logs of who users are messaging or calling. While many mobile carriers and operators do store this information, WhatsApp said “keeping these records for two billion users would be both a privacy and security risk and we don’t do it".

The company also noted that it can’t see what location you share with someone through WhatsApp. Shared locations, like private messages, are protected by the app’s end-to-end encryption service.

As an added layer of privacy, WhatsApp said it allows users to set their messages to disappear from chats after they are sent. Users will also be able to download the data that WhatsApp saves.

Updated: August 10, 2022, 2:42 PM
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