Telegram adds the option to delete chats on other people’s devices

By Vlad Savov

Telegram, the WhatsApp rival that gained 3 million followers when Facebook had a day-long outage this month, has come out with a significant privacy-focused update. As of the latest version of Telegram — available on iOS, Android, and via a web client — you can now delete messages for all participants in your chats, irrespective of who sent them or when they were sent. Previously, Telegram allowed users a 48-hour window in which they could delete their own sent messages, both on their device and for others. Now, the time limit has been dropped, and you can wipe an entire chat history clean on your device and on anyone else’s who was part of the chat.

While this may seem like a drastic measure, Telegram founder Pavel Durov justifies it as an act to help people take control of their digital history:

An old message you already forgot about can be taken out of context and used against you decades later. A hasty text you sent to a girlfriend in school can come haunt you in 2030 when you decide to run for mayor. We have to admit: Despite all of our progress in encryption and privacy, we have very little actual control of our data.

This will ring a familiar tone for anyone who’s heard about Hollywood director James Gunn’s firing and rehiring by Disney, owing to offensive tweets in his past, or the way that Kevin Hart tweeted himself out of hosting the Oscars. Giving people the freedom to rid themselves of past indiscretions is, according to Durov, at the heart of Telegram’s newly added ability to purge entire chat histories.

Telegram’s implementation of this new privacy measure could backfire. I tested it out and found that it doesn’t leave any notification that a chat message had ever existed before it got deleted. Thus, should I ever feel inspired to maliciousness, I could selectively prune my chat history with someone, elide essential context, and misrepresent their words. Maybe the ability to delete others’ messages is going too far, but given Telegram’s effort is to allow users to delete entire conversation threads, it seems like it was unavoidable.

On the more lighthearted side of things, Telegram has added an emoji and GIF search, along with new sticker sets that feature the likenesses of Vladimir Putin, Valve’s Gabe Newell, Snoop Dogg, Ryan Gosling, Borat, Bender, and Yolandi from Die Antwoord.