WhatsApp Follows iMessage in Letting Folks Edit Sent Messages

But Apple still does it better
WhatsApp Credit: Eyestetix Studio / Unsplash
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While Meta’s WhatsApp has traditionally been a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to features, there’s one area in which iMessage actually beat it to the punch last year. In iOS 16, Apple introduced the ability to edit iMessages after they’d already been sent. Now, WhatsApp is following suit by bringing the same feature to its messaging app — and in a similar way.

However, in waiting to implement message editing, WhatsApp also gets to get to learn from Apple’s experiences and avoid potential pitfalls.

The first hints that Apple could introduce message editing came in a patent filing discovered in 2020, but it took two more years before it actually materialized when Apple debuted iOS 16.

However, Apple’s announcement of the feature immediately sparked valid concerns among advocates for victims of domestic violence, suggesting that it “provides a tool for perpetrators of harassment and violence to engage in this sordid behavior.” This same opinion was reflected in at least one comment on our June 2022 article that initially highlighted the feature.

Fortunately, Apple responded to these concerns by putting some limits in place before iOS 16 was released to the public. As a result, sent messages can only be deleted within the first two minutes after they were sent and only edited for up to 15 minutes after sending.

Further, an iMessage can only be edited up to five times, and the Messages app will retain a history of the original unedited message and each of the edits, which the recipient can easily view just by tapping the “Edited” link that appears below the message.

Editing Messages in WhatsApp

Now, WhatsApp has followed suit with its own message editing feature with the same 15-minute time limit that Apple implemented. However, that appears to be about as far as WhatsApp has gone.

While recipients will see a small “Edited” tag in WhatsApp to indicate the message they’re reading has been edited, there doesn’t appear to be any audit trail to show what the message looked like before it was edited. In fact, WhatsApp specifically highlights the lack of edit history:

Edited messages will display ‘edited’ alongside them, so those you’re messaging are aware of the correction without showing edit history. As with all personal messages, media and calls, your messages and the edits you make are protected by end-to-end encryption.

This could raise the same concerns about an abuser “gaslighting” their victims. WhatsApp notes that the edits are all end-to-end encrypted, like nearly everything else on the platform. However, it also provides a way for users to report abusive messages to the service, in which case it “receives the last five messages sent to you by the reported user.” It hasn’t indicated how that will work with edited messages, but hopefully, those “last five messages” will also include the prior versions of any edited messages.

However, it’s also worth noting that WhatsApp has long offered the ability to delete sent messages for everyone in a conversation — and in stark contrast to Apple’s two-minute limit, it’s been extended that time limit over the years.

Initially, users had up to seven minutes to delete a sent message. It later extended that one hour, then last summer, it shocked everyone by increasing it to over two days — only a few weeks after Apple had been pilloried for offering more than two minutes to delete a sent message.

Despite this, safety advocates don’t seem to be nearly as concerned about how WhatsApp “could enable sexual abusers and harassers” the way that they claimed Apple’s iOS 16 iMessage updates could. Maybe folks simply expect more of Apple than they do of Meta — the company that’s still essentially Facebook under a new name.

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