a lot of mystery and Spy movies are based on the premise that you can send self-destructing messages, but you don’t need to be an international secret agent to do the same with your texts.
In fact, the most popular chat apps now include some sort of invisibility messaging feature – which means if you don’t want a permanent history of your conversation, you don’t have to have one. In fact, the encrypted messaging app Signal has made disappearing messages the default feature.
While it’s easy to have chat archives that can be referenced for both sentimental and practical reasons (recipes, addresses, how-tos, etc.), there are other times when you’d prefer not to save anything. Here’s what to do.
There’s a caveat here for all of these apps, as people you’re communicating with can take screenshots of what you said – or if screenshots are blocked, they can take a screenshot of another device. Some of them promise to notify you if a screenshot of your messages has been taken or downloaded, but there is always a workaround. This is something to keep in mind when choosing who to chat with and how much to share.
Update, December 2021: We’ve updated the instructions for Signal, Snapchat, and Messenger (formerly Facebook Messenger.)
Signal’s disappearing message feature is an option for every conversation you have, now available by default or with an individual conversation: you can switch between disappearing messages and permanent messages at any time in any thread. To do this, tap on the top banner on any topic, then choose messages disappear.
You can choose from one second to four weeks for your messages to remain after they’ve been viewed (or choose Off to disable the feature). You can also set a custom timer — you can tell a message to disappear in 60 seconds. An alert appears in chat whenever you change this setting, and anything you send since then follows the rules you set.
To set a default expiration time for messages in all your conversations, open the main app settings page and select Privacy And The default timer for new conversations (under messages disappear). This applies to every chat you start since then, not to the conversations on your phone.
WhatsApp messages that disappear only work with photos and videos instead of text, for now. The recipient has 14 days to view what you sent them, and it will disappear once they view it.
From within WhatsApp, open the conversation you want to send the photo or video to, tap the camera icon at the bottom, and then capture your content. You will see a small icon showing a file 1 In a circle, next to the send icon – click on it to make your message a photo or video disappear.
You can include a caption with the image or the clip that disappears with it. Once you’ve sent anything, you won’t be able to see it on your end: you’ll only see a photo or video entry in the conversation thread, with the little 1 icon next to it. The text will change to open as soon as it is displayed.
Snapchat didn’t invent disappearing messages, but it certainly helped popularize them. Access the chat tab by clicking on the second icon from the left along the bottom of the screen. From the main conversation list screen, you can tap on any contact to start a conversation, or tap the compose icon (bottom right) if the person you want to talk to isn’t on the screen.
Anything in the topic, including text and images, will disappear as soon as you view it. Either party in a one-on-one conversation can choose to permanently save something by pressing and holding it – but you’ll be able to see if that happens because it stays on screen.