WhatsApp's Disappearing Messages—What Are They Good For?

Absolutely anything

Key Takeaways

  • WhatsApp’s disappearing messages can now be set as the default for new conversations.
  • You can choose to have messages self-destruct after 24 hours, seven days, or 90 days.
  • People can still save and screenshot your indiscretions.
WhatsApp disappearing messages on android

WhatsApp

WhatsApp users can now set the app to send disappearing messages by default.

You've been able to use disappearing messages for a while now, but this is the first time you've been able to set the feature as the default for all new conversations. You can also fine-tune how long they stick around before vanishing. Disappearing messages won't save you from embarrassment, but they can ensure that long-forgotten communications stay forgotten. 

"Perhaps one of the easiest ways to understand what [this change is], is to think of old spy and cold war movies—‘This message will self-destruct in 10 minutes' or invisible ink," cyber defense expert and White Tuque founder and CEO, Robert D Stewart, told Lifewire via email. "This feature allows the user to have more private, confidential, and free speaking messages without the fear of it being exposed, used against them, or leaked as part of a cyberattack."

Vanishing Act

Disappearing messages are just what they sound like. You send them like normal, only instead of lingering around on the phones of anyone who received them, they delete themselves after a set time period. The original time frame was seven days, but now you can choose 24 hours or 90 days instead. 

Disappearing messages are also available to use by default in group messages, which might be the place you most want your contributions to be quickly forgotten.

"It helps you to choose which conversation or information you'd like to vanish and which you'd like to keep," digital PR specialist Chary Otinggey told Lifewire via email. "We can use this feature for one-time conversations, like when you must send your current location to a person you have to meet, or any other relevant information that you have to share with a person you only occasionally talk to."

WhatsApp disappearing messages with new duration options

WhatsApp

Don't go thinking that the message has been completely erased from the world, though. If your message is quoted or included in a backup, it will stick around. 

"When you reply to a message, the initial message is quoted. If you reply to a disappearing message, the quoted text might remain in the chat after the duration you select," says WhatsApp in an FAQ entry

And don't forget people can grab a copy for themselves. 

"However, [a message] disappears in the same way that a photo you send via Snapchat disappears," business software tester Hanah Alexander told Lifewire via email. "In other words, the user could still screenshot what you said. And once they have that screenshot, well, whatever words or photos you sent live on."

So What Is It Good For?

Disappearing messages won’t help you avoid the consequences for ill-considered messages. Any savvy recipient can just screenshot the messages for posterity (and evidence).

But it’s generally a good idea to leave as small a digital footprint as possible. You know how public figures often get roasted on Twitter when someone digs up an old tweet that contradicts their current claims? That would happen much less often if those public figures auto-deleted their tweets every week.

"It helps you to choose which conversation or information you’d like to vanish and which you’d like to keep."

Likewise, your messaging history is a long list of opinions, embarrassing photos, and other things you might prefer to forget.

If you don’t want something to stick around, you should just never send it. No amount of disappearing chats or photos will fix that. But as a general rule, you might prefer not to spread opinionated bits and bytes around the metaverse.

And if you don’t want all your messages to disappear? That’s what the new settings are for. You may want your family’s conversations to stick around forever, because why not? There can be some precious memories in those message threads.

The uses for this feature are legion, and just as long as you understand what it can and can’t do to protect you, it’s an excellent privacy tool for everyone.

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