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WhatsApp to finally add encryption to backups, among a slew of upcoming changes

WhatsApp, features, chat migration iOS to Android, WhatsApp privacy police agree

We have all been busy shaking our heads and waving out fists in rage at WhatsApp over its new terms of service. The thing though is that these are not the only upcoming changes to WhatsApp. The negative reaction to the terms of service thingy has all but eclipsed some very commendable planned updates to the popular messaging up.

Notable among a slew of upcoming updates is a new feature that will see us being able to make encrypted remote backups. Currently, backups are the weak link in WhatsApp. While chat messages are protected using end-to-end encryption backups tend to be un-encrypted. This applies to both backups made on your devices and the all-important Google Drive backups.

Naturally, Google encrypts the information on its end but anyone who has access to your Google Drive account can access your data and read your chats. So all law enforcement agencies or the government has to do is simply wait for your latest backup and subpoena Google and just like that, they would have passed WhatsApp’s touted end to end encryption.

In fact, they don’t even need to go to Google. All one needs is access to your number and governments, even rogue or oppressive ones can easily get hold of that, they can then simply reinstall WhatsApp, enter the OTP that comes to the new phone, restore your backup and start reading your messages, even past messages.

This will be soon a thing of the past according to data seen by WABetaInfo. In the near future, you will get an option that will allow you to set up encrypted backups. Now for this to work it means you will have to choose a password. Your chats are then encrypted using this password. If you want to restore your backups you will have to enter the password otherwise you won’t be able to restore past chats. Of course, the police in rogue nations will have no qualms about beating the password out of you.

Another upcoming major update will make it finally possible to move between iOS and Android. Evidence shows that a lot of miserable Apple users are stuck on that platform because that will mean losing their message history. That explains why some people keep buying iPhones. I am just kidding but it’s true you cannot move to or from Android to or from an iOS device without losing your history.

You will soon be able to migrate between iOS and Android

Now it seems the method that will be used to allow this to happen is the same tech that will finally see WhatsApp truly supporting multiple devices. According to WABetaInfo, in order for you to move your chats to another device, you will first have to sync your messages into the cloud. You can then add a new device. Both the new and old device will now be in sync.

An insight into multi-device support

Multiple device support comes with a number of complications not the least of which is chat deletion. Specifically what happens when I delete a chat on one device? There are three rules to that question:

  • If you delete a message on one device it won’t remove the same chat on another device even if they are in sync
  • If you delete a message using the delete for everyone option it will be deleted from any linked device
  • If you choose to delete for me the message will not be deleted on linked devices-it will only be deleted from the current device.

Device syncing is just as dangerous as WhatsApp web when it comes to privacy. It seems WhatsApp is keenly aware of the possibility that someone will surreptitiously link their device to your account and start spying on you. A jealous spouse perhaps. To thwart such potential misuse you will be notified when your account is linked to multiple devices. You will also be given an option to unlink those devices.

Although there are bits of code on this it’s not really clear when the changes are coming to the stable version of WhatsApp. My guess is it’s going to be a while. They will want to test these thoroughly as it has the potential to be a disruptive update.

Other changes

WhatsApp also launched Payments in Brazil. This has the potential to be big but it all depends on how the government of Brazil reacts. The government of India was spooked by the monopolistic potential of WhatsApp payments they swiftly moved in to neuter them.

Another interesting development is a feature that will allow you to review your voice messages before they are sent. Why on earth this is just coming out now is beyond me. We have all mistakenly sent out less than perfect audio messages because there is really no way to review them. You lift your finger and WhatsApp pulls the trigger.

Facebook is also making another tweak to disappearing messages. With the new changes, you will be able to make your messages disappear in 24 hours. Still dumb if you ask me but much better than the previous longer options. It would be much simpler if they allowed people to set custom times for self-destruction.

That’s a lot of changes so it’s safe to say with disaster averted, WhatsApp is keen to move on from the 15 May deadline.

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