New WhatsApp feature

WhatsApp has announced a new feature, “Status”. With Status, WhatsApp users will now be able to use GIFs, photographs and videos to update their status. The feature will make provision for multiple updates which a user’s contacts will be able to view in a reel and which will disappear after 24 hours – just like Instagram Stories and mimicking Snapchat.

The Zuckerberg/Snapchat wars

Facebook had been going through a slump for some time due to the decline in engagement on the platform. The decline was at the point where in 2013, Mark Zuckerberg made a USD 3 Billion offer to acquire Snapchat which was fast gaining popularity with its photograph and video disappearing stories and lenses (selfie filters).  Snapchat rejected Zuckerberg’s offer but he is hitting back. In the final quarter of 2016, Instagram launched a new feature “Instagram Stories” which has disappearing story reel characteristics, just like Snapchat. Zuckerberg has not stopped there, it was announced on 20 February through a blog post by WhatsApp’s CEO, Jan Koum, that the same “Snapchatty” disappearing story reel feature will now also be available on WhatsApp. This comes a few weeks after Snapchat filed for an initial public offering (“IPO”). Snap Inc is expected to go live on the NYSE on 2 March 2017. One cannot help but think back to the catastrophic Facebook IPO but it is reported that Snap Inc’s advisors are taking precautionary measures to prevent a similar disaster.

Current WhatsApp privacy and security measures

When it comes to data security, the latest version of WhatsApp Messenger has end-to-end encryption so only the parties to messages can read the messages in their conversation and the same applies for WhatsApp Calling. This means that when sending and receiving messages on WhatsApp Messenger and when placing and receiving a call on WhatsApp Calling, no third parties (and WhatsApp itself) will be privy to such conversations.  WhatsApp also does not store any messages once they have been delivered.

Previously, a user could choose a number of privacy settings regarding their WhatsApp. A user could choose privacy specific settings with regard to their “Last Seen”, “Profile Photo” and “Status”. These privacy settings included: i) “Everyone” (offering the least protection); ii) “My Contacts”; and iii) “Nobody” (offering the most protection).

Privacy and security measures with WhatsApp Status

Once the WhatsApp version containing the Status feature is available for download, a Status icon will be inserted in the navigation bar, alongside “Chats” and “Calls”. End-to-end encryption will also apply to WhatsApp Status.  In addition, users will be able to select who can and cannot view the updates and there will also be the option to make the updates visible to everyone. Privacy and security should therefore not be compromised with the addition of the new feature.

WhatsApp has begun rolling out Status in Europe and will continue the roll-out in phases, globally. It will be interesting to see whether privacy will be maintained and whether it will affect Snapchat’s IPO.