The news is out: soon, both Twitter and WhatsApp will be getting an upgrade. It will involve giving their users the option of sending out self-destructing messages.
Not too long ago, Gmail started offering the same to its user-base, and other services picked up the practice.
But how will these changes work out? And what does it mean for the security of their users?
WhatsApp’s take on the matter
WhatsApp always prioritizes the privacy of its users. So implementing disappearing messages comes as no surprise.
As part of the new functionality, the users will have the option of setting the self-destruct timer to one hour, one day, one week, one month, or one year. Simple and effective. Next to each of these messages, a clock-like icon will appear, indicating the time left before it self-destructs.
At the time being, little is known whether WhatsApp will also take measures to prevent copying the text and taking screenshots of said messages. It’s being tested in a Beta version currently.
Twitter is now in the phase of testing disappearing tweets – cleverly referred to as “fleets” (short for “fleeting thoughts”). Not all have access to it yet since the tests are happening in Brazil.
Those that choose to post fleets will enjoy the benefits of them vanishing within 24 hours.
Twitter has decided to feature disappearing tweets to encourage sharing the thoughts one might not be comfortable posting otherwise. After all, in usual circumstances, they remained archived forever.
For those who are wondering – there’s no liking or replying to these messages.
Benefits of disappearing messages
It pretty much boils down to the following:
- Confidentiality. For those who want to share information of sensitive nature, there will be less worry about it falling into the wrong hands.
- Increased freedom of speech. By using the new feature, the users will have less of a burden of staining their public persona. And, thus, they will be more likely to say what they truly feel about something.
- Lower risk of prosecution. Since some countries resort to censorship and monitor their citizens, there will now be a way to express your thoughts with less fear.
Downsides of disappearing messages
Despite the positives outweighing the negatives, there are a couple of disadvantages as well:
- The destruction of evidence. Some may have the audacity to distribute illegal or offensive content, threaten others, or try to sell illicit goods.
- The proliferation of inappropriate content. The rise of insults, racial slurs, or graphic obscenity may follow.
Disappearing messages on other platforms
Twitter and WhatsApp are not the only platforms to offer self-destructing messages. If you’re after this specific kind of functionality, be sure to check out the following platforms and providers:
- Snapchat. This popular chatting app has made its name for offering a self-deleting messaging feature. The messages and media files sent through Snapchat have a 24-hour timer. It deletes messages as soon as the recipient opens them. While nothing is stopping you from taking a screenshot, the sender will get a notification if you do.
- Confidential Mode on Gmail. If you want to send an email with sensitive content, you have the freedom of setting how long it will be available before self-destructing. When a recipient gets one of these, copying/pasting and forwarding options are not available. Again, be wary of people taking screenshots, as nothing is stopping them from doing so.
- Secret Conversation on Facebook. Click the timer icon in the conversation if you want to activate the functionality. You can set the messages to disappear after 5-30 seconds, 1-30 minutes, or an hour.
Tips on Sharing Confidential Information
Disappearing messages are an important aspect of protecting your confidential information. But don’t make the mistake of relying on them alone. In other words, you should also couple it with the following precautions:
- Mind what you are sharing. Do bear in mind that what you choose to upload or share online has a chance of staying online forever. So posting some pictures or spewing out company secrets may have long-lasting consequences in your life. And you may not have the option to erase them.
- Be careful who you are sending it to. Is the person who got in touch with you via Facebook or email is who they claim to be? Double-check to make sure.
- Make sure that no one is eavesdropping. Even if you follow every other security precaution, who’s to say that someone isn’t eavesdropping on your network? Routing your traffic through the UK-based VPN server (or the one best-optimized for your local region) can protect your online conversations. A VPN ensures only you and the recipient can see your messages while they remain encrypted for the rest.
- Log out of the account after you’re done. It is especially crucial if you use public computers to send messages or emails. Don’t let forgetfulness get the better of you while allowing a complete stranger to access the contents of your account!
The bottom line
All in all, disappearing messages are a welcome addition to people’s privacy. So, learn all about what they are, how to use them, and do use them. But don’t forget the other valuable privacy tools you can also take advantage of.