WhatsApp +94 779-052-592
A photo of a man looking at the WhatsApp welcome screen on his phone.

3 Unreliable Features of WhatsApp

Reading Time: 4 min

I could have said “half-baked,” “meaningless,” “nonsensical,” “less useful,” “unproductive,” or even “useless” instead of unreliable, but I wanted my title to be easy to understand. Besides, I didn’t want to be overly critical or blow it out of proportion. In 2014, when Meta announced its updated privacy policy for WhatsApp, millions of users who misinterpreted the new policies left the instant messaging app for Signal, and people assumed it was the end of the popular platform. However, with 2.4 billion active users every month WhatsApp has become stronger than ever, outgrowing Signal (40 million monthly active users.) while introducing new features. It is worth noting, however, that not all of these new features are as reliable as we may believe them to be. Meta has mentioned the limits of these features on their official website, but the average user doesn’t read them. They rely on trial and error. Today, let’s consider three examples of such less reliable features in WhatsApp. [Image Credit: Jirapong Manustrong]

WhatsApp Chat Backup

A friend and former colleague of mine upgraded from a Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra to an iPhone 15 Pro Max and attempted to transfer his WhatsApp chat history to the new device. Along the way, he made a mistake. He installed WhatsApp on his new device just like he would if he were transferring his chat history from one Android device to another. To fix the problem, he had to factory reset his iPhone, then reinstall WhatsApp on the Android device, and use the “Move to iOS” app to transfer the WhatsApp chat history. Meta has already provided these instructions on the official WhatsApp website, but regular users seldom check such instructions. On the other hand, Move to iOS is not even an app developed by Meta but by Apple. It may be due to restrictions in iOS, or maybe not. Either way, the lack of a straightforward approach to transferring WhatsApp chat history from Android to iOS, in my opinion, warrants WhatsApp Chat Backup as a less reliable feature.

WhatsApp Chat Lock

Locked Chats is an impressive feature that Meta introduced, or so I thought. Most of us start using new features right away, as soon as they’re announced to the public. Like I said we don’t bother reading the official instructions to learn more about the new feature but rely on trial and error until we have a problem. Likewise, I enthusiastically locked some of the chats that contained sensitive information and forgot about it. Then, one day, I had to google why the chats on my phone that I had locked were not locked on the WhatsApp Desktop client. It was the official desktop client and not third-party software. Lo and behold! According to the official FAQ page on the WhatsApp website, when you turn on chat lock from your phone, it will lock chats on that phone only. If you have other devices linked to WhatsApp, such as a desktop computer, the chats on those linked devices won’t be locked—another less reliable feature in my individual opinion.

Disappearing Messages

Disappearing Messages is another less reliable feature because WhatsApp isn’t designed to prevent the recipient from taking screenshots of a message set to automatically disappear by the sender. Unlike “View Once” messages that prevent the recipient from taking screenshots, Disappearing Messages are prone to screenshots and could be used for undesirable purposes. To be frank, I don’t understand the actual purpose behind disappearing messages. In my opinion, it’s not practical at all. On the other hand, media attached to disappearing messages are not saved to the recipient’s smartphone unless the sender disables disappearing messages. However, media attached to disappearing messages can be saved using the WhatsApp desktop client on Windows and Mac. (I haven’t tried it on Ubuntu and other variants of Linux.) This is a fact that Meta has not addressed in their documentation for WhatsApp.

Wrap Up

Will Meta address these flaws in their design in the future? Maybe they will, or maybe they won’t. Who knows? It’s possible that Meta doesn’t even see these issues as design flaws! However, these issues have an important lesson for us. That lesson is to check the official online documentation and test new features when they are announced before committing to them. As end users, we should not rely on trial and error and leave anything to random chance or assume everything will work out as expected, especially when it involves our data and privacy. After all, tech can be tricky, and gigantic tech firms like Meta have very complicated end-user policies and terms of service. We may not take the time to read these policies and terms of service, but we agree to them the moment we install their products and start using them, which relieves them from any losses we might suffer.

Update: View Once

I initially planned to write only about Chat Backup, Chat Lock, and Disappearing Messages. However, it turns out that the View Once feature in WhatsApp is also very unreliable. When I tested sending an image using View Once on both Android and iOS, it worked perfectly. However, I didn’t test audio and video messages. According to the official WhatsApp website, audio and video messages sent in View Once mode can be recorded using the built-in screen recording app on Android devices. While Meta might fix this issue in the future, it’s not guaranteed. (Meta introduced the View Once feature in 2021 but didn’t implement screenshot blocking for View Once messages until August 9, 2022.) As you can see, the View Once feature in WhatsApp is also highly unreliable. Therefore, you should be cautious when sending audio or video messages in View Once mode. Using this feature carelessly could compromise your privacy.

If you found this content helpful, I kindly ask you to leave your feedback in the comments section below. Sharing it on social media would also be greatly appreciated. In order to promote meaningful and respectful dialogue, I request that you use your full name when commenting. Please note that any comments containing profanity, name-calling, or a disrespectful tone will be deleted. Thank you for your understanding and participation.

Related Content:
5 Smarter Ways to Use Your Smartphone
A woman, holding a smartphone in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.

Although smartphones are supposed to make us more productive whether they make us more counterproductive or not is dependent on CONTINUE READING

WhatsApp Best Practices
A closeup photo of a smartphone with an evergreen display.

On March 10th, 1876, a man accidentally spilled battery acid on his desk while conducting an experiment. In panic he CONTINUE READING

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments