WhatsApp has finally introduced disappearing messages which, when enabled for a contact, will automatically delete the message from both devices after seven days of being sent, the end-to-end encrypted platform said in an emailed statement. If a user does not open WhatsApp in that seven-day period, the message will disappear. This is unlike disappearing/self-destructing messages available in Signal and Telegram where the timer, at least for the recipient, starts after the recipient has seen the message. In one-to-one chats, either user can enable disappearing messages while in a group chat, only the group admins can control the feature, similar to the controls in Signal and Telegram.

The feature will be rolled out to all WhatsApp users in the world this month, the statement said. This feature is not activated by default; users have to actively enable it. We could not test the disappearing messages at MediaNama.

Screenshot showing disappearing messages on WhatsApp

How disappearing messages would work on WhatsApp. Courtesy: WhatsApp

Key features and how they differ from Signal, Telegram

  • While in WhatsApp and Signal, disappearing messages are available for all one-to-one conversations, in Telegram users have to first enable “Secret Chat” which enables end-to-end encryption to make use of the “self-destructing” messages feature. WhatsApp and Signal are end-to-end encrypted by default.
  • In WhatsApp, when disappearing messages are enabled, they will disappear after 7 days. Users cannot change this time. However, in Signal, users can set the time between 5 seconds to 1 week, and in Telegram, from 1 second to 1 week.
  • In WhatsApp, the timer for both the sender and the recipient begins as soon as the message is sent whereas in Signal and Telegram, the timer for sender begins after the message is sent and for the recipient, as soon as the recipient views the message in the app. If users don’t open a disappearing message on WhatsApp within the 7-day period the message will disappear, though the platform warns that a preview may be visible in notifications until WhatsApp is opened.
  • In WhatsApp, if you reply to a particular disappearing message, or “quote” a message, the quoted text may remain even after 7 days. In Signal, as long as the message in which the user “quotes” text is also a disappearing message, the original message will also disappear. If the message that quotes a disappearing message is not a disappearing message itself, the quote will remain.
  • In WhatsApp, if a backup is created before the disappearing message disappears, it will be included in the backup. If a user restores the messages from a backup, the disappearing messages will be deleted.
  • If disappearing messages are turned on in WhatsApp, media will also disappear as long as auto-download is turned off.

The company has warned that disappearing messages alone are not enough to ensure that message will be deleted. For instance, the recipient could forward, screenshot, copy the message, take a photo with another device before it disappears, it said.