A number of Android OS skins from prominent brands such as Xiaomi offer app lock capabilities, whereby individual apps require authentication to gain access, sometimes by way of biometric verification.
Stock Android can also be endowed with this feature by utilising various apps accessible on the Play Store, though their reliability can be called into question. Given the confidential nature of WhatsApp conversations, Meta’s ongoing development of a per-chat biometric lock embedded into the app is a positive move in the right direction.
For an app that is advertised as having a strong focus on privacy and security, the absence of in-app biometric authentication options is highly noticeable. Luckily, according to WABetaInfo, the latest WhatsApp beta update available on the Play Store (v18.104.22.168) gives indications of a new feature being developed. This feature will allow users to lock individual chats using either a passcode or fingerprint, even though only the latter’s toggle is visible. It is suspected that the fingerprint unlock will require a passcode to be set up as a backup.
Screenshots imply that it will be possible to lock sensitive group chats from the group info section. It also appears that all locked chats will be relocated to a vault-like space, separated from regular chats, hence requiring authentication only once. While it isn’t apparent from the shared screenshots, WABetaInfo reports that WhatsApp will erase the chat if users wish to unlock it by force, such as in the event of forgetting the passcode.
There is little information available about how notifications for these chats will be displayed, what will happen to the media in the conversations, and how many chats can be locked. WhatsApp is one of the most well-known encrypted messaging apps in existence, yet it is not at the forefront of this feature. For instance, Telegram has allowed passcode or fingerprint unlocking since around 2018, but it is for the app as a whole rather than individual chats. It is somewhat perplexing why WhatsApp has not followed this path.