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WhatsApp Adds New Privacy Tools, Including Online Activity Controls and the Ability to Silently Leave Group Chats

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WhatsApp Adds New Privacy Tools, Including Online Activity Controls and the Ability to Silently Leave Group Chats

Amid ongoing concerns about how it can be used to organize criminal activity, due to its default encryption process, WhatsApp has announced some additional privacy features, providing even more assurance and control for users, in various respects.

First off, WhatsApp’s giving users more control over how others see them in the app, with the option to switch off online activity markers, or restrict those signals to certain users.

As shown here, you’ll soon be able to decide who can see when you’re online in the app – ‘Everyone’, ‘Contacts’, ‘My Contacts Except’ or ‘Nobody’.

That’ll provide more capacity to avoid unwanted interactions by hiding your active status, which could be of significant value for users who want to go about their interactions in their own time and space.

WhatsApp’s also adding a new option to leave groups silently, so you can skip out of a group chat without alerting all group members.

WhatsApp updates

As you can see, group admins will still know you’ve left the chat, but there won’t be a ‘John Doe has left the discussion’ notification for all users in the thread.

In addition to this, WhatsApp is also extending the time window for deleting your messages from your chats.

And finally, WhatsApp’s also rolling screenshot blocking for ‘View Once’ messages:

View Once is already an incredibly popular way to share photos or media that don’t need to have a permanent digital record. Now we’re enabling screenshot blocking for View Once messages for an added layer of protection. We’re testing this feature now and are excited to roll it out to users soon.”

WhatsApp updates

That could facilitate even more private sharing on WhatsApp, which may lead to more questionable material being shared. If that’s what people want – though that specific aspect has also been the focus of various authorities, in various regions, who have called on Meta to enable a level of messaging access to authorities, in order to avoid its apps being used for illegal activity, which is currently shielded by its privacy measures.

Recently, the UK National Cyber Security Center published a research paper that proposed a new automated scanning process for WhatsApp, and other messaging tools, which would better facilitate the detection of illegal exchanges, while still maintaining privacy for users. The European Union has also proposed new legislation that would put more onus on Meta itself to detect and report any such activity within its platforms.

Thus far, Meta has resisted all calls to add in ‘back door’ access, or anything like it, arguing that the trade-off between all users’ privacy, and catching out the small percentage of criminal activity, is simply too great to consider.

As explained by WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart in response to the UK proposal:

“What’s being proposed is that we – either directly or indirectly through software – read everyone’s messages. I don’t think people want that.”

Indeed, Meta is actually still in the process of rolling out end-to-end encryption in all of its messaging tools, with both Messenger and Instagram Direct both getting enhanced security features, in order to bring them into line with WhatsApp.

The next stage, then, will be to integrate all of its messaging platforms into a single back-end, facilitating cross-platform chat – though Meta has delayed the full implementation of this due to ongoing regulatory questions and concerns.

And there is valid concern here. An inarguable side effect of the connective capacity of social media is that while social platforms and messaging apps enable everyone to ‘find their tribe’, those tribes are not always wholesome communities of knitting enthusiasts and TV show fans.

Sometimes, those tribes are dangerous, even criminal. And with encryption hiding any such exchanges, from everyone, there’s no telling just how significant this could be, and what types of activity WhatsApp could be facilitated through its circuits.

But as Cathcart notes, the alternative is that all of WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users lose their privacy, due to the actions of a likely few.

It’s a difficult argument, which looks set to carry on for some time yet.



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The Most Visited Websites in the World – 2023 Edition [Infographic]

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The Most Visited Websites in the World - 2023 Edition [Infographic]

Google remains the most-visited website in the world, while Facebook is still the most frequented social platform, based on web traffic. Well, actually, YouTube is, but YouTube’s only a partial social app, right?

The findings are displayed in this new visualization from Visual Capitalist, which uses SimilarWeb data to show the most visited websites in bubble chart format, highlighting the variance in traffic.

As you can see, following Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the next most visited social platforms, which is likely in line with what most would expect – though the low numbers for TikTok probably stand out, given its dominance of modern media zeitgeist.

But there is a reason for that – this data is based on website visits, not app usage, so platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, which are primarily focused on the in-app experience, won’t fare as well in this particular overview.

In that sense, it’s interesting to see which social platforms are engaging audiences via their desktop offerings.

You can check out the full overview below, and you can read Visual Capitalist’s full explainer here.

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Branding and rebranding is getting more fun, here we look at some of cheekiest brands that have caught our eye – for the right and wrong reasons.



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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.

Dragonbridge

Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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