WhatsApp update changes how billions log in to messaging app

WhatsApp has close to 3 billion users worldwide in 2023, making it one of the most popular apps in the world (iStock/ Getty Images)
WhatsApp has close to 3 billion users worldwide in 2023, making it one of the most popular apps in the world (iStock/ Getty Images)

WhatsApp is changing the way billions of users log into the messaging app, ditching passwords and two-factor authentication in favour of quicker and more secure passkeys.

The move is part of a major shift within the tech industry to move away from decades-old password technology and replace it with the more modern passkey format, which combines biometric information like fingerprints with a simple numeric code in order to identify people.

A similar switch was recently announced by Google, which will introduce passkeys to its apps like Maps, Search and YouTube. WhatsApp’s update will only impact Android users to begin with.

“Passkeys are a new way to log back into your account,” said Will Cathcart, who heads WhatsApp. “This is a more secure way of confirming it’s really you – and gives you an added layer of security.”

WhatsApp is also rolling out self-destructing voice notes to users as part of new measures to improve privacy on the world’s most popular messaging app.

The update is currently only available for beta tester users who have the latest version of WhatsApp installed on their phone or computer, though it is expected to eventually be introduced for all users.

With more than 2.7 billion users worldwide – the majority of which on Android devices – WhatsApp updates typically need to be introduced gradually in order to make sure any potential security bugs do not have a critical impact.

The self-destructing audio messages, first spotted by WhatsApp feature tracker Wabetainfo, is compatible with both Android and iOS users, though no date has been given for when a wider roller out might be expected.

WhatsApp does not comment on release schedules for feature updates unless they relate to security.

“After sending the voice note with view once mode enabled, you won’t be able to listen to it and the recipient can no longer listen to the voice note after dismissing it,” Wabetainfo noted.

“This mode effectively minimises the chances of unauthorised access or later listening, providing a new layer of privacy for sensitive and confidential information.”

The latest update follows recently added features like ‘Channels’, which allow people to follow celebrities and companies within the app, and a ‘Create’ button that gives users the ability to make custom art on the platform.

The Create feature brings generative artificial intelligence to WhatsApp for the first time, and means users do not require external tools or specific design skills to create the stickers.

Instead, the custom stickers can be produced using simple text-based prompts, similar to other AI image generators like Midjourney and OpenAI’s Dall-E.