Expert comment: WhatsApp’s disappearing message function

person sitting outside looking at blank phone screen

A cyber security expert from Kent’s School of Computing has welcomed the news that WhatsApp plans to introduce a ‘disappearing messages’ function that will erase chats from the phone of both the sender and recipient after seven days. Professor Shujun Li said:

‘This is definitely a good new feature to help improve the privacy-friendliness of WhatsApp. Too many people especially young people are leaving their private information (some highly sensitive) on WhatsApp and other OSN/IM platforms, even on web forums, blogs and discussion groups that are publicly accessible by anyone. Once shared, such information often stays there for a long time because it is not easy or even impossible to delete (e.g. on the Chinese IM platform WeChat, a message can only be ‘recalled’ within 2 minutes after it is sent). A lot of research has shown that such private information can easily end up in the wrong hands.

‘This feature however does not magically solve all privacy issues. Once private information is shared, it can be re-shared and stored by whomsoever sees it, therefore still leading to privacy leakage. Individuals should think twice before sharing private information online, especially on public groups where not everyone can be trusted.’

Shujun Li is Professor of Cyber Security at Kent’s School of Computing and is the Director of Kent Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Cyber Security (KirCCS). Professor Li’s research interests are mostly around interdisciplinary topics covering cyber security and privacy, human factors, digital forensics and cybercrime, multimedia computing, internet measurement and social media analytics, practical applications of AI-related techniques, analysis and applications of chaotic systems implemented in digital domain.