When it comes to instant messaging services, the privacy of users while communicating is very critical.

Although the digital world tends to leave behind a trail that is sometimes hard to delete permanently, WhatsApp has a mission to ensure its over 2 billion customers “connect privately.”

On Monday, the company announced it would be enhancing its disappearing messages feature on the app. A user can now have the option to turn on disappearing messages by default for all new chats, including groups.

WhatsApp will also offer two new time frames; 24 hours and 90 days. At first, users could only set the duration to seven days.

The new update is especially suitable for people who frequently open new conversations as it saves you some time whenever you start a new chat. 

Being one of the leading consumers of WhatsApp globally, the updated innovation could change the lives of Kenyans online, especially those who have suffered from embarrassing moments like Bro Ochola and Baba Gloria.

According to data by Ajua, a software company that partnered with Facebook to help support businesses in Africa through WhatsApp, Kenya has the highest percentage (97 per cent) of monthly users compared to the rest of the world.

Announcing the change in a blog post, WhatsApp stated the decision of how long messages last in the chat should be in the user’s hands.

“There is a certain magic in just sitting down with someone in person, sharing your thoughts in confidence, knowing you are both connecting in private and in that moment,” read the WhatsApp blog post.

“The freedom to be honest and vulnerable, knowing that conversation is not being recorded and stored somewhere forever. Deciding how long a message lasts should be in your hands.”

This means that anytime you open a new chat with someone on the app, messages will be automatically deleted after a certain period of time you select.

The new feature will only apply to new conversations, where messages will disappear for both parties if either of the chat members turns on the feature.

To enable disappearing messages, open the WhatsApp chat, tap the contact’s name, scroll down and tap on the ‘Disappearing Messages’ option, then tap ‘continue’ and select the message timer.

Note that the messages sent or received before the disappearing messages feature is enabled won’t be affected.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and Chairman of WhatsApp’s parent, Meta, wrote on his Facebook page: “You will be able to make all new chats disappear by default after 24 hours, seven days, or 90 days. Not all messages need to stick around forever.”

However, the new feature does not stop people from completely getting rid of the conversations or storing them somewhere else. Users can still have the option of forwarding disappearing messages or taking a screenshot if they want a record of the conversation. This means it only limits what other people can access when they physically get a hold of your phone.

WhatsApp is gradually rolling out the changes to iOS and Android users. So in case you cannot see the new feature on your phone, be patient until it is available to you and make sure the app is up to date.

Despite its attempt to enhance privacy by rolling out the new feature, the move by WhatsApp has received a lot of criticism from users as most people are concerned that the innovation could lead to an increase in immoral behaviours.

A quick look at users’ reactions online shows that the disappearing messages feature could lead more people to cheat and easily cover their tracks. Others are concerned that it would be hard to identify perpetrators who lure children into child abuse through the app.  

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