WhatsApp users will be able to leave groups without everyone knowing under new privacy features.
The changes will also allow people to control who can see when they are online and to prevent screenshots of auto-deleting “View Once” messages.
The features are described as ways to keep users’ messages as “secure as face-to-face conversations” by Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of WhatsApp’s parent company Meta.
They are being launched alongside a global advertising campaign starting in the UK and India.
When people on WhatsApp leave group chats at present, the entire chat receives a notification that they have exited, potentially drawing unwanted attention. The company says now only administrators will receive a notification.
The app also broadcasts to all contacts of a user when they are online and have the app open, something that users will be able to choose to share.
WhatsApp had previously warned users to “only send photos or videos with ‘View Once’ media enabled to trusted individuals” as it was possible to take a screenshot or screen recording of the media before it disappeared.
Some saw the move as another feature that WhatsApp copied from Snapchat after the introduction of statuses in 2017.
In his post announcing the new WhatsApp updates, Mr Zuckerberg wrote: “We’ll keep building new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversations.”
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The advertising campaign, which will include a billboard on Wandsworth Roundabout in southwest London, comes as Meta has faced a growing number of criticisms about how its privacy features could be abused by people seeking to evade law enforcement.
Last month two senior technical directors at GCHQ, the UK’s cyber intelligence agency, published a paper analysing how social media platforms expose children to sexual abuse online.
Earlier this year a government-funded advertising campaign called No Place To Hide aimed to highlight the challenges that end-to-end encrypted messaging posed to police when investigating crimes involving child sexual abuse.
Meta has repeatedly stated that it believes end-to-end encryption is the only way to ensure that users are able to safely message each other without a third party eavesdropping on them.
Mr Zuckerberg announced his plans to transform privacy on the platform in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal back in 2019 by making it impossible for Meta itself to read the content of messages that users share, similar to how it cannot access the content of WhatsApp messages.
However, these changes have not yet been implemented across its other platforms amid concerns that they would blind law enforcement to incidents of child grooming and abuse over its platforms, and could provoke a secret government injunction.