The messaging app’s latest feature comes at turbulent time as privacy experts, users and regulators continue to question the company’s privacy policies.
While the desktop version of WhatsApp has allowed users to send messages from a computer for several years, they have been unable to make voice or video calls, until now.
The messaging service has rolled out this new feature to all users on its desktop app. After a year that saw a sharp rise in video call activity, being able to make WhatsApp calls on a larger screen may allow the company to attract users from other platforms such as Zoom, which has seen business boom during the pandemic.
“Answering on a bigger screen makes it easier to work with colleagues, see your family more clearly on a bigger canvas, or free up your hands to move around a room while talking,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.
“To make desktop calling more useful, we made sure it works seamlessly for both portrait and landscape orientation, appears in a resizable standalone window on your computer screen, and is set to be always on top so you never lose your video chats in a browser tab or stack of open windows.”
While the new feature is only for one-to-one calls for now, WhatsApp said it intends to roll out a group voice and video calls feature in the future. The Facebook-owned company also emphasised that desktop calling would be “private and secure”.
“Voice and video calls on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, so WhatsApp can’t hear or see them, whether you call from your phone or your computer.”
Privacy and WhatsApp
The updated policy sparked concerns around the world among users, privacy experts and regulatory bodies regarding how WhatsApp user data would be shared with parent company Facebook.
The update was postponed from February until May to allow the company time to roll out clearer messaging around any terms and conditions that would change. Last month, WhatsApp said it plans to roll out an information campaign to “clear up any confusion” about its update and users may have seen notifications about this in the app this week.
“We’ve reflected on what we could have done better here,” WhatsApp said. “We’re now using our status feature to share our values and updates directly within WhatsApp. We’ll be doing much more to make our voice clear going forward.”
The confusion and concerns led many users to alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.
WhatsApp addressed this, saying: “Other apps say they’re better because they know even less information than WhatsApp. We believe people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe, even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data.”