WhatsApp users may now send photographs and videos that disappear from message threads after being viewed once, according to the company, which claims the new feature improves user privacy.

The View Once function will be available this week, according to the Facebook-owned messaging service.

Once activated, users will be able to exchange photographs and videos that the recipient may only view once before they disappear and are no longer accessible, with WhatsApp promoting the function as a secure means to share sensitive material without it being saved or frequently visible.

Several other social sites, most notably Snapchat and Instagram, currently allow users to post messages that disappear once they are read.

“While shooting images or videos on our phones has become such an important part of our lives, not everything we share needs to become a permanent digital record,” the messaging company explained in a blog post.

“On many phones, simply taking a photo means it will take up space on your camera roll for the rest of your life.

“That is why, today, we are introducing new View Once images and videos, which disappear from the conversation after they are opened, providing users even more control over their privacy.

“For example, you could send a View Once photo of some new items you’re putting on at a store, a short reaction to a certain moment in time, or something critical like a wifi password.”

View Once media will be explicitly identified as “opened” once a message has been viewed and then disappeared, according to WhatsApp, to eliminate confusion about what has been happening in an individual discussion.

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Some have criticised the new function, with the NSPCC, a children’s safety organisation, suggesting that it might put young people in even greater danger.

“NSPCC data reveals that 10% of child sex offences on Facebook-owned applications occur on WhatsApp, but because they can’t see the content, it accounts for fewer than 2% of the company’s child abuse reports to police,” said Alison Trew, senior child safety online policy officer.

“At a time when attempts to combat child sexual abuse are already hampered by end-to-end encryption, this View Once function could put children at even greater risk by providing perpetrators with another tool to avoid discovery and erase evidence.

“Facebook must explain how they have minimised these concerns, but this appears to be another another example of internet businesses failing to consider child protection when weighing users’ rights to privacy and safety.

“Regulation must correct this by instilling in businesses the notion of safety by design, requiring them to evaluate how modifications to products and services would affect their response to the child abuse threat.”

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