Nine years ago, Snapchat made its initial splash by popularizing the concept of ephemeral messaging—chat that frees you up by quickly disappearing rather than sticking around forever. Facebook has long played around with variants on the idea and recently included a version when it began letting people chat back and forth between Messenger and Instagram.
And now it’s introducing an emphemeral-messaging option in its other big messaging app, WhatsApp. It’s called “disappearing messages,” and the most noteworthy thing about it is that the messages don’t vanish in seconds, minutes, or hours—they self-destruct only after seven days. The goal, Facebook says, is to help users speak freely in the knowledge that messages will go away, but still permit them to carry on conversations that might unwind over an extended period rather than in a brief flurry of exchanges.
WhatsApp, which has always emphasized privacy, is trying to be clear about just how private disappearing messages are: It points out that recipients can save them and offers a list of ways in which they aren’t entirely ephemeral. For instance, they may get saved as part of backups (although they will then get deleted as part of the restore process).
Facebook, which has been testing WhatsApp’s disappearing messages for a while, says the function will officially roll out this month.