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Leak says WhatsApp is getting the feature you’ve wanted the most

Published Apr 6th, 2021 7:31AM EDT
WhatsApp Multi-Device
Image: oatawa/Adobe

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Privacy controversies aside, WhatsApp is one of the most popular and useful apps in the world. The app supports the same rich instant messaging experience you’d get in iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram, and it handles voice and video calls. Unlike Facebook Messenger, it comes with the same strong end-to-end encryption as iMessage and Signal. And unlike iMessage, it works on iPhone and Android. It is no wonder that Facebook paid nearly $20 billion many years ago on an app that bridges chat communications between platforms securely.

These features will make leaving WhatsApp for good all the more difficult for existing users in May when they’ll have to decide whether to agree to the new privacy policy or swap WhatsApp for something else. But Facebook isn’t readying only policy changes that will allow it to collect user data from WhatsApp and make some money off an app that’s available to users free of charge. It’s also working on brand new WhatsApp functionalities, including a feature many WhatsApp users have been asking for.

A new leak from WABetaInfo tells us that Facebook is testing a chat migration feature that would let users move their chats from iPhone to Android and vice-versa. WhatsApp already offers chat backup features, so carrying a WhatsApp account over to iPhone or Android shouldn’t be a problem. The new chat migration feature is meant to support a different WhatsApp feature, the highly anticipated multi-device experience that WhatsApp users have been craving for.

As it is now, WhatsApp is tied to the user’s phone number, which is a great security feature. But it makes it impossible for a person to operate the same account on iPhone, iPad, Android, and PC. There is a desktop app version of WhatsApp that brings the app to Windows or Mac, but that trick doesn’t work on Android and iPhone.

The new chat migration tool will allow users to sync multiple devices under the same WhatsApp account, and the only way to do it should be an official feature in the official app. WhatsApp makes a note in its FAQ sections that third-party apps that offer users ways to migrate their chat histories violate the company’s terms of service. WhatsApp doesn’t support those apps, as it can’t validate their security practices.

WhatsApp Chat Migration
Screenshot shows WhatsApp’s chat migration tool on iPhone. Image source: WABetaInfo

It’s unclear how the official chat migration feature would work, and there’s no demo available. But WABetaInfo did release the user interface image above that shows what migrating chats would look like on iPhone. The app invites users to update the app to WhatsApp’s latest version before transferring the chat history to an Android device. Presumably, similar screens would appear when attempting to transfer chat history from Android to an iPhone or iPad.

It’s unclear how the multi-device WhatsApp experience would look like or when it’ll be rolled out. But the discovery of this official chat migration tool indicates that WhatsApp is getting closer to that moment.

As for the recent WhatsApp privacy controversy, Facebook plans to make it possible for companies to offer customer support over WhatsApp. The user data collection will impact that sort of functionality. WhatsApp will continue to remain end-to-end encrypted, both when it comes to chats and calls. Users who want to ditch WhatsApp can use a different chat migration tool to move everything to Telegram. This popular app, however, doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default. Signal is another potential WhatsApp replacement, and Signal supports end-to-end encryption.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.