WhatsApp introduces disappearing photo and video messages

4 Aug 2021

Image: © natanaelginting/Stock.adobe.com

View Once will allow WhatsApp users to send media content that is erased after being opened, but does not provide a notification if a screenshot is taken of the content.

WhatsApp has introduced a feature allowing users to send photos and videos that disappear after being viewed.

The new type of media message, which is called View Once and is rolling out immediately, was announced on the blog of Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company.

The post said the feature might be useful for sending “some new clothes you’re trying on at a store, a quick reaction to a moment in time, or something sensitive like a Wi-Fi password”.

The introduction of the feature was confirmed by Mark Zuckerberg in June, but was not available to all users until now.

To send a View Once photo or video, users can tap the new ‘1’ icon to the left of the send button when they’ve composed their media message. The option has to be reselected each time a new photo or video is sent.

The app already has a disappearing messages feature, which erases specified content from a chat history after seven days. But the new, media-specific messaging format is more akin to Snapchat’s core disappearing photo functionality.

WhatsApp says that View Once photos are, like all its messages, “protected by end-to-end encryption so WhatsApp cannot see them”.

A series of screenshots demonstrating use of WhatsApp's View Once feature.

Image: WhatsApp

However unlike Snapchat, View Once does not notify users if the recipient screenshots their message. The feature’s FAQ page advises that people only send media to “trusted individuals”, though it will not allow recipients to directly save media they are sent. The specifications also note that the message may be stored for several weeks on WhatsApp’s servers, albeit in encrypted format.

If View Once messages are not opened for 14 days after being sent, they will automatically disappear. It will also only be possible to see if someone has opened your disappearing media message if they have ‘read receipts’ enabled in general settings.

WhatsApp’s new feature comes just one day after Twitter finally removed its disappearing, stories-style functionality, Fleets.

View Once is also being marketed as a useful privacy tool at a time when WhatsApp is facing investigation by data protection authorities at national and European level, and consumer watchdog complaints across the EU.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin