Dubbed Chat lock, the new feature could be particularly useful for users who use WhatsApp for business purposes, or for message exchanges they’d like to keep as far away from prying eyes as possible.
WhatsApp already uses encryption to protect chat archives, but only when syncing in the cloud between devices attached to the same user account. Once downloaded to the device, messages and attachments can be accessed by anyone who manages to gain access to the unlocked phone.
Protecting apps and their data using a password or other means of biometric authentication is nothing new. For example, Xiaomi has been offering app lock capabilities in the MIUI interface for some time now, and the functionality can also be achieved using specialized apps available in the Play Store. But with the official implementation in the WhatsApp client, users of the messaging platform will be able to rest assured that the protection offered is at the highest level, easy to activate and without hidden ways to bypass.
Discovered in WhatsApp beta (v 220.127.116.11), the Chat lock feature can also be applied at the conversation level, allowing message exchanges to be protected with a fingerprint or a unique password. Presumably the access restrictions apply to notification alerts for new messages as well, allowing them to be viewed only with prior authentication.
Considering the private nature of WhatsApp message exchanges, and how photos and documents received as attachments can remain stored even for years in the chat archive, the lack of a seemingly basic access control option is hard to understand, especially on a messaging service with such a large user base. For example, Telegram has offered similar functionality since 2018, but based on limiting in-app access rather than individual chats.