WhatsApp is rolling out a feature that allows users to have photos or videos vanish after they are seen. After the recipient opens the image for the first time, “view once” deletes it, without saving it to a phone.
WhatsApp said the feature was aimed at “giving users even more control over their privacy”. However, child protection advocates have expressed concern that auto-vanishing messages could help cover up evidence of child sexual abuse.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is already at odds with WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook over the use of encrypted messaging.
Such encryption means police cannot see the messages “in transit” – only the sender and receiver can. But auto-deleting messages could mean that devices seized in police raids would no longer contain evidence either.
WhatsApp is marketing view once as a privacy feature for regular consumers, saying it could be used for throwaway yet personal photos – when trying on clothes in a shop and asking a partner how they looked, for example, or sending someone a password.
WhatsApp introduced a disappearing-messages function in November. It erases text messages for both the sender and recipient after seven days – and is one of the areas of concern for a legal challenge to the UK government.
UK law says information relating to “substantive discussions or decisions” need to be kept on record for the historical archive.