Messaging application Telegram is putting a lot more privacy powers in the hands of its users, but is it also opening itself up for malicious use of those powers?
In version 5.5 of the app—just released via the iTunes App Store and Google Play—users are given the ability to permanently unsend any messages they have received, as well as to delete entire private chats entirely, from both their own devices and the devices of participants.
Telegram added an unsend feature two years ago that covered only messages sent by the user and was only available for 48 hours, but now, there are no time restrictions, and messages and chats that are deleted disappear without a trace.
In contrast, Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp added the ability for users to delete messages in October 2017, giving them just seven minutes to do so, and replacing the deleted messages with notifications that a message had been deleted. That time limit was later extended to roughly one hour.
Line, another messaging app, went a similar route in December 2017, giving users 24 hours to delete messages and, like WhatsApp, replacing deleted messages with notifications.
And the Remove for Everyone feature added to Facebook Messenger in February gives users 10 minutes to delete messages, also replacing those messages with notifications.
However, all of those apps only enable deletion of messages sent by users, and not to users.
Telegram founder Pavel Durov explained the update on his Telegram channel, saying that it reduces the risk of old messages being taken out of context and touting the “complete control” it gives users.
He wrote, “Over the last 10 to 20 years, each of us exchanged millions of messages with thousands of people. Most of those communication logs are stored somewhere in other people’s inboxes, outside of our reach. Relationships start and end, but messaging histories with ex-friends and ex-colleagues remain available forever. An old message you already forgot about can be taken out of context and used against you decades later. A hasty text you sent to a girlfriend in school can come haunt you in 2030 when you decide to run for mayor.”
However, the update also brings with it a plethora of use cases for abuse, including sending and deleting threatening or harassing messages, or using the app to sell drugs or other illegal items.
Also, if one person in a conversation decides to delete it, the other person or people have no control and no way to save that conversation.
Durov acknowledged the potential for malicious use of the feature, writing, “We know that some people may get concerned about the potential misuse of this feature or about the permanence of their chat histories. We thought carefully through those issues, but we think the benefit of having control over your own digital footprint should be paramount.”
Telegram also detailed other new features included in its update in a blog post.
Users can now restrict who can forward their messages within their privacy and security settings. When this setting is enabled, forwarded messages will no longer lead back to the originating accounts, instead displaying an unclickable name in the “from” field.
Telegram also added a search tool to its settings, enabling people to more easily find the settings they need to access and guiding them to applicable answers in the app’s frequently asked questions section.
On the topic of search, the GIF and stickers search was updated on all of Telegram’s mobile platforms. Icons were added to sticker packs, and large GIFs and video messages on the app are now streamed, so that users can begin watching them before they are done downloading.
Android users also gained the ability to search keywords in several languages when looking for emoji, and lists of related emoji will pop up when they are typing messages. This feature will be extended to iOS users soon.
Finally, Telegram added support for accessibility features VoiceOver (iOS) and TalkBack (Android), with these gesture-based technologies enabling people to use the app without seeing the screen.