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When Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, joined our call last Friday, his 2 billion-user piece of the Facebook empire was, as usual, right in the middle of things. Just recently, WhatsApp had to deal with a botched privacy update that caused users to panic and switch to Signal and Telegram. It was trying to figure out what a new law in India meant and whether it could force it to break encryption. And it was getting ready to launch voice and video calling on desktops, which it did today.

Cathcart answered questions about a wide range of things. And by nodding and winking, he showed where his app and Facebook are going. In this week’s newsletter, I’ll talk about some of Cathcart’s thoughts on the most important problems facing WhatsApp and how I think things will turn out based on what he said.

You can listen to the whole thing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Overcast. It’s on the Big Technology Podcast.

Apple and Facebook are at war.

Facebook and Apple are at war over messaging in a big way. Apple knows that people who use Messenger and WhatsApp are more likely to switch to Android. You don’t have to worry about breaking group chats or showing up as a green bubble on Android when you use Facebook’s apps. So Apple has been working hard to make people not trust Facebook.

Cathcart talked about Apple’s offensive in a clear way. “They want people not to use Android phones, so it’s in their best interest that people don’t use apps like WhatsApp,” he said. I asked him if the two businesses talked about what made them different. “I think we’re treated the same as any other developer,” he said. Things seem cold between them.

Prediction: The fight between Facebook and Apple will get worse and become the most intense fight between tech giants for years to come.

Disappearing messages
It’s kind of strange that mobile messages last forever. But that’s about to change. You can finally send messages that disappear after seven days on WhatsApp. And with the new “Vanish Mode” on Messenger and Instagram, messages disappear when you close the chat.

Cathcart said that Facebook plans to add more ways for messages to disappear. “We were so excited about messages that disappeared,” he said. “I think we can do a lot more there, so that’s what we’re working on.”

This year, Facebook will make it possible to send disappearing messages on Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

The Sign of Danger
Signal, an app that competes with WhatsApp and is backed by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, is doing very well. When WhatsApp messed up its privacy update in January, so many people downloaded it that they broke the app. The signal is encrypted, doesn’t use your data for ads, and lets you set messages to disappear in as little as five seconds. It looks like a good alternative.

Cathcart didn’t say anything to suggest that he thinks Signal is a different kind of threat. “There are a lot of apps we always worry about,” he said.

Even though Facebook thinks of Signal as just another app right now, that won’t be the case for long. Within two years, Signal will become Facebook’s main rival for messaging.

Indian encryption
The Indian government announced new rules at the end of February that could force WhatsApp to break its security. The rules could force WhatsApp to find out who sent a message in the first place. So, if a rumor spreads through WhatsApp, the government could force the company to find out who started it. If WhatsApp doesn’t cooperate, it’s possible that the Indian government will ban it.

Cathcart wouldn’t say if WhatsApp would break encryption in order to follow this rule. But he didn’t look like he wanted to go along with the plan. He said, “This is a problem in a lot of places, and we’ve been stopped.” “Every day, there are a lot of places where we run the risk of not being able to work tomorrow.”

Prediction: WhatsApp stands firm, makes a few concessions that don’t hurt its encryption, and the Indian government doesn’t block it.

WhatsApp’s plan to stop things from going viral

One of the most surprising things Facebook has done recently is limit how many times you can forward a message on WhatsApp. The “share” button on Facebook makes it possible for things to spread, and the “forward” button on WhatsApp is how you share. So putting a limit on forwards seemed like an admission that sharing, which can spread false information and anger, wasn’t a great thing.

Cathcart said that the changes to WhatsApp would cut forwarding by 25% worldwide and “highly forwarded messages” by 70%. He seemed happy about it, but he didn’t want Facebook to have the same rules. He said, “We think that private messaging is different from social media in a large forum.”

Prediction: Even though WhatsApp’s decision to limit forwards has been a success, Facebook will keep the share button the same.

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