In recent weeks, WhatsApp, the popular messaging app with more than 2 billion users, has received a lot of heat and lost users after announcing (and then delaying) changes to how it shares data with its Facebook owner. And how it tweaks privacy and security isn’t done with that. Now, for those using its web and desktop versions, it is adding a new biometric feature to the service to bring in a new authentication layer.
The company said that from today, when using WhatsApp on the desktop or web, it will allow people to add in a fingerprint, face, or iris scan. As part of a new look for the desktop versions, the feature comes ahead of what the company suggests will be more updates coming soon. With the new feature, you will now have the option (not required) to add a biometric login that uses either a fingerprint, face ID, or iris ID to add a second layer of authentication depending on the device on your Android or iPhone handsets.
When implemented, before a desktop or web version can be connected with a mobile app account, it will appear for users, which today relies only on the use of a QR code: the QR code does not go away; this is a second step that users will need to take, similar to how you can choose to implement two authentication steps on a handset to use the mobile WhatsApp today.
WhatsApp says it will work with Touch ID or Face ID on all devices running iOS 14 and above on the iPhone, while it will work on any device compatible with biometric authentication on Android (Face Unlock, Fingerprint Unlock or Iris Unlock). The service is another step forward in creating more feature parity between WhatsApp’s flagship mobile apps and how you communicate with the service when you use it elsewhere. While WhatsApp began as a mobile messaging app, it has been developing other methods of using it over the years, such as adding desktop support to the iOS version in 2015.
What comes next for biometrics?
Recent announcements by WhatsApp about data sharing changes between it and Facebook have put a lot of people on the edge of the intentions of the company. And this isn’t surprising. As messaging has been thought of as a very personal and sometimes private space, it is an especially sensitive issue, seen as separate from what people do on more open social networking platforms. However, that view has been eroded over the years through data leaks, abuse of group messaging, and (yes) changes in privacy terms. That means a lot of people will probably be there who will doubt what the intentions of Facebook are here, too.
WhatsApp makes it fairly clear that it is unable to access the biometric information you store on your device and that it uses the same standard biometric authentication APIs that are used by other secure apps, such as banking apps.
But the parallel banking app is notable here, and maybe one more thing worth thinking about. Consider how the firm has added a lot more features and functionality to WhatsApp, including the ability to pay for goods and services, and tests to offer insurance and pension products in markets such as India. Yes, to create a more secure way for people to connect apps across devices, this new biometric feature is being rolled out today.