Self-destructing messages are coming to WhatsApp soon, but when they arrive you'll find they're not as flexible as you might have hoped.
It's several months since we learned that WhatsApp was planning to introduce self-destructing messages (officially known as disappearing messages) for individual users, but now the company has revealed a few details about exactly how the feature will work.
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Resources tucked away in beta releases of WhatsApp suggested that users would be able to choose whether messages sent using the new option would be deleted after an hour, a day, a week or a year.
"You can send messages that disappear on WhatsApp by enabling disappearing messages," WhatsApp explains. "Once enabled, new messages sent in the individual or group chat will disappear after seven days. The most recent selection controls all messages in the chat.
"This setting won’t affect messages you previously sent or received in the chat. In an individual chat, either user can turn disappearing messages on or off. In a group chat, only group admins can turn disappearing messages on or off."
Now you see it...
There are a few other caveats to bear in mind. Firstly, if a person doesn't open WhatsApp for the seven days the message is visible, it will be deleted from the chat, but a preview of its contents may still be visible in that person's app notifications.
If you reply to a disappearing message, the original message will be quoted and might not disappear once it expires. Similarly, if you forward a disappearing message to a chat that doesn't have the feature enabled, it won't be deleted from the second chat.
Finally, any backups will include disappearing message that haven't yet expired. If the backup is restored after the expiration date, those messages will then be deleted.
Disappearing messages aren't available to try yet, but if you want to be the first to test them you'll need to join one of WhatsApp's beta programs.
Unfortunately the program for Apple devices is currently full, though it's worth keeping an eye on the Testflight page to see if a space opens up.
To join the beta program for Android, visit the WhatsApp Beta page on Google Play and enter your details. If you already have the public version of WhatsApp installed, it will be updated to the beta version automatically within a few hours.