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WhatsApp Adds Biometric Authentication

Early last week, WhatsApp announced that they are adding biometric authentication to the computer versions of their app. This is one of the many features they have prepared for this year.

WhatsApp started as a mobile messaging app. But since 2015, it is possible to use their services on a computer as well. Still, the majority of people were using mainly the mobile version. With the global pandemic, however, and people staying mostly at home, the possibility of using the computer versions increased. So, WhatsApp decided to add more features to it as well, starting with the biometric authentication. 

This new feature comes along with the ongoing dispute around WhatsApp’s decision to update its terms and conditions. Users need to consent to the update in order to keep using the app. Recently, WhatsApp decided to give more time to their users and delayed the change until May, while in the meantime they keep working on the new features planned for this year.


Why Biometric Authentication?

The idea of adding a biometric login is to bring another layer of authentication to the desktop and web version. The goal is to make it as secure as the mobile one.

Usually, in order to connect to the computer version, you need to scan a QR code with your mobile device. And the scanning of the code will remain. But you will now need to also scan your fingerprint or face in order to link the two devices. It’s like two-step verification.

If the biometric features are enabled on your phone, they will be enabled for WhatsApp as well, without the option to remove it. If they are disabled or not available for your device, you will only be required to scan the QR code. 

By enabling this on your device, you will remove the possibility of having someone else log in to your WhatsApp on another device. It will ensure that it is really you (the owner of the app) that wants to make the connection. Only then will the link be successfully made.

In their announcement, WhatsApp said they want to provide their users with the possibility to communicate privately and securely, no matter the device they choose to use for this. 


What About Data Privacy?

Many people are concerned about WhatsApp’s updating their privacy policy. To some extent, this is a normal reaction since messaging is a very private space. And we tend to share sensitive information in our conversations there. Over the years, people have become more protective and cautious about sharing information online, due to data leaks and changes in privacy terms. 

WhatsApp, however, clearly highlights that they are not able to access your biometric or any other data you share. So it follows a simple algorithm, where WhatsApp asks the phone if the person that wants to connect is really its owner. It then gets an answer – yes or no, but does not see the biometric data (fingerprint or facial recognition) gathered along the way.

Moreover, they are using the same APIs for the biometric authentication, that the banking apps are using. The connection with the banking apps is very important since WhatsApp has been adding many more features, including the possibility of paying for products and services directly from the app. This goes to show the level of security it provides. 

The new feature is to be added over the coming weeks. This will happen along with the design change of the page used for linking to WhatsApp Web. Data protection and security have been very important matters. And it is good to see how WhatsApp make sure to comply with it by providing stronger security for their users’ data.  

Sources: Enabling Biometric Notification (WhatsApp instructions); Sending Payments in India through WhatsApp

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