Is it a feature, or a bug? This question, that’s about as old as software development itself, seems pertinent now in the case of WhatsApp’s upcoming update.
Namely, programmers over at the Facebook-owned cross-platform messaging an VoIP service, now installed on over one billion phones, are working on an update for Android that will allow users to authenticate and access chats using their fingerprints.
Introducing this as an option has been coming for a while, and is meant to offer enhanced security by preventing unwanted parties from accessing the app and private conversations of others.
But if enabled, this new opt-in feature disables an old one: i.e., the possibility of taking screenshots of conversations, WABetaInfo has found out.
But preventing users from taking screenshots of their own chats – once they are using the app in a secure way, doesn’t seem to make much sense, if it is designed to further improve security. This is especially true since on the other end of the same chat, capturing the same screen will apparently still be possible.
And while disabling the screenshot feature to improve privacy and give users more control, or for any other reason, is not exactly unheard of – the way WhatsApp chose to go about it is baffling.
Since this is an early development version of the update, it’s also unclear right now if screenshots will continue to be disabled once the update rolls out, and whether the changes will affect iOS users as well.
WABetaInfo, a blog whose writers poke around the code of development versions of WhatsApp updates, also observed that users’ reaction to the feature being implemented in this way was difficult to predict.
Earlier in the year, announcing the fingerprint feature, the blog said it would apply to the whole app rather than particular chats.
In any case, WhatsApp’s “commitment to privacy” is a laudable policy, especially when implemented properly – but in this case it is manifesting itself in a rather puzzling way, seemingly reiterating the notion that more security invariably means less usability.