Last Updated on 21st October 2021

With nearly two billion users worldwide, WhatsApp remains one of the most popular social media messaging services after ten years of being on the scene. Though they’ve clearly found a formula for success WhatsApp continue to develop and expand. Our online safety experts have examined the newest features to let you know what’s up with the changes.

Image of WhatsApp Icon

End-to-End Encryption

This latest feature is for your eyes only! The platform now offers users end-to-end encryption on all versions of their chats – even the backups. WhatsApp have been known for encrypting the messages on the App, but not the message history saved onto iCloud or Google Drive. This meant that if the government or law enforcement wanted access to your saved messages, Apple or Google could release them. Users can now protect their backups via password protection or a 64-digit encryption code that only they will have access to.

What are the risks?

  • While this change seems beneficial, it only makes WhatsApp a more desirable platform for abuse and grooming to take place as individual users gain more control over their privacy.

  • It will make it more difficult for investigators to access potential evidence if there is an incident.

View Once Images and Videos 

Now you see it, soon you won’t! WhatsApp now have a ‘View Once’ photos and videos function. If the “1” icon is chosen before you send a photo or video, it will vanish after being viewed once, much like Snapchat.

 

This feature has now been released to all WhatsApp users in the UK and is an expansion of the ‘disappearing messaging feature’.

Here’s the key information:

  • The image or video being sent will disappear in the chat if the ‘View Once’ option has been selected before it was sent. 
  • As with their disappearing messages feature, the image or video can still be saved by another user by taking a screenshot or screen recording before it disappears. Users are prompted about this, the first time they send an image/video using the feature.

  • By introducing this feature, WhatsApp are claiming to give users “more control” over images and videos they are sharing. 


What are the risks?

  • Users can still screenshot images and screen record videos. The sender won’t be alerted. Screenshots of images or videos can be used by a bully or an abuser to control, manipulate, or blackmail the original sender. 
  • Images can also be captured in other ways, such as through a second camera device.
  • Just because an image or video disappears doesn’t mean the effect of sharing does. This feature could be used to spread inappropriate or harmful content without a user’s consent. 
  • The ‘view it once’ justification is often used by offenders to convince vulnerable children to share images “because they will disappear.”
  • This feature can provide an illusion of safety for young people sharing images or videos that they believe will completely disappear, in group chats, friendship groups, or relationships. 

Phone-Free Messaging

WhatsApp is no longer confined to relying on a phone connection to work. Although WhatsApp is primarily used via a mobile phone app, it can now be used through desktop browsers and web apps, even if the phone belonging to the associated account is not nearby. This feature also allows users to access their account on another device if their phone battery is dead or out of data.

This feature has now been released to all WhatsApp users in the UK.
Image of girl on her laptop

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Up to four devices can be used together, including desktop browsers and tablets

  • Messages will still be sent through end-to-end encryption

  • Users will not need to have their primary mobile device with them to access their WhatsApp account

What are the potential risks?

  • Domestic abusers and stalkers could potentially use this new feature to their advantage by stealing private QR codes, which would allow them access to victim’s WhatsApp account. They could then see all of the victim’s messages. As this feature is in testing, we do not yet know if Two-Factor Authentication will be used to ensure the primary account holder can control the devices attached to their account.
  • There is the potential for QR codes to be shared publicly, which can put anyone at risk of being contacted by a stranger.
  • If the same account can now be accessed in multiple places without the primary mobile device being nearby, this means the account may be used by multiple people.

Delayed Joining for Group Calls

Always late to the group call? Then you’ll enjoy this new feature! You’ll now be able to hop onto a group call with up to seven participants, even if it’s already started. Previously, you could only join a group call (or ‘room’) on WhatsApp if you answer when it’s first initiated.

Image of WhatsApp logo

Here are the facts for the latecomers:

  • Alongside allowing you to join calls late, there will also be a screen showing you who is already on the call and who has been invited but hasn’t joined yet

  • Links to group calls can be shared outside of WhatsApp for anyone to join

  • Joinable calls will still be end-to-end encrypted

©blog.whatsapp.com

What are the risks?

  • Group chat links can be shared publicly where offenders may use them to share tactics on harming others or livestream abuse (similar to the ways Zoom and other encrypted platforms are misused).
  • If a stranger gets hold of the video call info, they can freely join at any time and can save any contact details available at the time of the call. 
  • Anyone with a link or QR code to the group can freely join the group chat at any time. 
  • Group admins can refresh links and QR codes, but any member who has left the group can still contact group members if there has been an outgoing call made when they were a part of the group. 
  • Any group member can view and save another group member’s mobile number, even if they are not a saved contact. That being said, WhatsApp does allow all users to block and reject communication from any unknown contacts.

Image of people using their phones

What to do if you’re worried a child or young person has shared an image online

It’s helpful to have a clear understanding of what you can do if a child or young person in your care loses control of an image before it happens. You might want to talk to the children in your care about who they would talk to if they were worried about something online.

There is always something that can be done once an image or video is posted online. Check out our blog on harmful images here for helpful information on what you can do if an image is put online.

Top Tips:

  • Have an open conversation with children and young people in your care about what messaging services they use and discuss the potential risks involved.
  • Discuss the risks that come alongside the appeal of “Disappearing” videos, photos, and messages. Remind young people that something they believe will vanish can still be saved by the recipient for nefarious purposes. Ensure they have someone to confide in, such as a Trusted Adult, if an instance of bullying or harassment occurs.
  • Make sure a young person understands the dangers of sharing any group links or QR codes externally. This is not necessarily restricted to strangers, but also anyone who might have the intent to bully or harass.
  • Remind children and young people that they should not accept any calls or messages from someone they do not know, as well as joining group chats including people they don’t know.
  • Talk to the children in your care about using 2 Factor Authentication, an extra layer of protection which will help keep their WhatsApp account secure. This means that even if a password is guessed, an unauthorised user should not be able to gain access.
  • Explain why it’s important not to share any personal information (address, date of birth, etc.) over messaging platforms.
  • Encourage children and young people to only talk to people they know from their offline life, ask them to talk to you before adding anyone they haven’t met yet.
  • As WhatsApp is encrypted, if a child is sent an illegal image, they should NOT forward it on or screen shot the image, but instead report the URL to the Internet Watch Foundation.

     

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