WhatsApp is adding eye, fingerprint, and face scanning - but says it won't have any access to biometric data
- This means you can now login using face, fingerprint, or iris scans depending on what device you have.
- WhatsApp said all the data is processed by a phone's operating system, so it doesn't see any of it.
WhatsApp is adding features to its web app to let users sign by scanning their face, thumbprint, or eye.
WhatsApp announced the new feature on Thursday, which it described as an extra layer of security for its WhatsApp Web and Desktop services.
At the moment, to use WhatsApp Web or Desktop users have to link it up to their phone account by scanning a QR code. This new feature would add biometric login to compatible devices as an optional extra layer of security.
WhatsApp said on Apple devices with iOS14 users will be able to use Touch ID or Face ID. Android phones will be able to use Face Unlock, Fingerprint Unlock or Iris Unlock.
The announcement comes at a sensitive moment for WhatsApp, which is still reeling from a huge user privacy backlash over a new set of terms and conditions it sent out earlier this month.
"WhatsApp does not see your face or fingerprint data," the company said in its statement announcing the new biometric login feature. In an FAQ, the company says because the user's device handles the biometric information, WhatsApp doesn't have access to the data.
"The authentication is handled by your device's operating system using the biometrics stored there. WhatsApp can't access the biometric information stored by your device's operating system," it said.
"If they use the standard APIs [Application Programming Interfaces] for biometrics then all this can be done in a way that shouldn't raise red flags," Eerke Boiten, a professor in cyber security at De Montfort University, told Insider.
"Best practice is in an analysed and then encrypted form (which means that it cannot be reversed), and stored on the user's device, and I expect that all standard biometric APIs on phones do just that. The link that WhatsApp insists on between the phone and WhatsApp Web is then essential, because the phone holds the registered biometric image that is being checked against, not some central server," he added.
Dr Catherine Flick, a computer scientist and privacy expert at De Montfort, agreed with Boiten the announcement did not ring alarm bells.
"If it's the built in facial/etc. recognition this is fine and standard with the phone operating systems (and good to have as a second level of privacy even if your phone is unlocked)," she said.
The addition of biometric scanning is not the last feature WhatsApp plans to add this year, as it told TechCrunch it is planning to expand with more features for WhatsApp web and desktop.
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