New WhatsApp “Secret Codes” Meant to Add Privacy Could Be Safety Concern for Parents

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • "Secret Codes" lets WhatApp users hide chats behind a password.
  • Touted as a privacy protection, Secret Codes could be worrisome for parents.
  • WhatsApp, and parent company Meta, need to strike a balance between privacy and online safety for young users.

In its continuous effort to enhance user privacy and security, WhatsApp has recently introduced a new feature called "Secret Codes." While this feature is designed to offer additional protection to users' sensitive conversations, it could raise concerns among parents and guardians who are worried about the safety of their children on the platform.

Young Caucasian pretty woman making selfies downtown.

Image: urbazon, iStock

Introducing secret codes for added privacy

The new addition to Chat Lock, known as "Secret Codes," provides users with an extra layer of privacy and control over their locked chats. With Secret Codes, users can set a unique password different from their device unlock code to protect their locked conversations further. These secret codes can consist of letters, numbers, special characters, and even emojis, offering a wide range of customization options.

The critical feature of Secret Codes is the ability to hide the Locked Chats folder from the main chat list. This means that, by default, the locked chats will not be visible alongside regular conversations. Instead, users can access them by entering their chosen secret code in the WhatsApp search bar. However, users also have the option to display locked chats in their chat list if they prefer.

Screenshot showing example of WhatsApp secret code feature.

Image: WhatsApp

WhatsApp's Chat Lock: A brief overview

Before delving into the implications of Secret Codes, let's first understand what WhatsApp's Chat Lock feature entails. Chat Lock is a privacy-focused feature that allows users to safeguard their most private conversations by locking them behind a secure barrier. When a chat is locked, it's kept in a separate folder that can only be accessed using the user's device password, fingerprint, or facial recognition.

Additionally, the contents of locked chats remain hidden in notifications, ensuring that sensitive information remains confidential.

WhatsApp's efforts to enhance user privacy

WhatsApp's dedication to user privacy and security is commendable, and introducing Secret Codes is yet another step in this direction. The company acknowledges that many users share their phones with family members or may have moments when others briefly hold their devices. Chat Lock and Secret Codes aim to address these scenarios by providing a secure way to protect sensitive conversations.

The safety concern for parents

While these privacy enhancements undoubtedly benefit many users, they stand out as potentially risky for younger kids and teens using the app. The ability to hide locked chats behind Secret Codes can make it more challenging for parents to monitor their children's conversations and ensure their safety on the platform.

Parents have relied on being able to glance at their children's chat list to spot any potentially harmful or inappropriate conversations. Introducing Secret Codes may significantly reduce parents' visibility into their child's WhatsApp interactions. While WhatsApp allows users to choose whether to hide or display locked chats in the main chat list, this additional layer of secrecy may lead to concerns about children engaging in private conversations that parents are unaware of.

Balancing privacy and safety

WhatsApp's commitment to user privacy is positive. Still, it's essential to strike a balance between privacy and safety—especially for younger users who may not fully understand the potential risks of online communication. Parents and guardians are encouraged to have open and frequent conversations with their children about online safety and responsible messaging.

WhatsApp should consider providing additional parental control features to address these concerns, such as allowing parents to override Secret Codes or access locked chats with their permission when necessary. Striking the right balance between privacy and safety is crucial in today's digital age.

In conclusion

WhatsApp's Secret Codes feature is a commendable addition to its commitment to user privacy. However, it raises legitimate concerns for parents and guardians who rely on visibility into their children's chats for their safety. Finding a way to reconcile these concerns while preserving user privacy will be essential for WhatsApp as it continues to innovate and enhance its messaging platform.

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Disclaimer: Portions of this article were assisted by automation technology. All content therein has been augmented, thoroughly edited, and fact-checked by our in-house editorial staff of human safety experts.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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