WhatsApp and Amazon Alexa Launch Coronavirus Information Services

The British government this week launched a coronavirus information service on WhatsApp to help users access information about the disease from their smartphones.

WhatsApp users in the U.K. can access the service by tapping this link. Alternatively, start a new chat in WhatsApp, select New Contact, and add the number (+44) 7860 064422 to the Mobile field. The number will appear at the bottom of your contacts. Tap it, and when the chat window opens, text the word "hi" to activate the service.

Along with providing links to the U.K. government's latest COVID-19 guidance and the NHS website for health advice, the service allows users to reply with a number from 1 to 9 to find out more about the following topics related to COVID-19:
  1. What is coronavirus?

  2. Prevention.

  3. Symptoms.

  4. Stay at home.

  5. Travel.

  6. Latest numbers.

  7. Mythbusters.

  8. Share.

  9. More information.
In the U.S., Amazon says Alexa users can now use the voice assistant to help initial diagnosis of possible COVID-19 cases. Queries like "Alexa, what should I do if I think I have coronavirus?" prompts the voice assistant to ask about symptoms, travel history, and possible exposure to the virus. Based on your responses, Alexa will provide guidance based on official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information.

As we reported last week, iPhone users who ask Siri about coronavirus can complete a questionnaire about their symptoms and potential exposure to the virus to better understand their health situation. Apple says the answers are sourced from the CDC and U.S. Public Health Service, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.
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WhatsApp Testing Secure Chat Backups Feature

WhatsApp is in the early phases of testing a new privacy feature on the messaging platform that will allow users to secure their chat backups, according to WABetaInfo.


Currently, WhatsApp on iPhone lets users back up their chat history to iCloud, but messages and media that users back up are not protected by WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption while in ‌iCloud‌.

This new feature would resolve that security hole by allowing users to encrypt and password protect their chat history before uploading it to the cloud.

The new encryption and password-protection feature is currently being tested on Android for Google Drive chat backups, but given the way the Facebook-owned platform goes about testing and deploying new features, there's every chance that it will eventually come to WhatsApp for ‌iPhone‌ too.

As mentioned, this change to the way chats are backed up is still in the early stages of testing, and there's never any guarantee that new features will make it to public release.

Earlier this week, WhatsApp's long-requested Dark Mode rolled out to all users. Check out MacRumors' quick guide on how to set it up.


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WhatsApp for iOS Now Supports Dark Mode

WhatsApp was today updated to version 2.20.30, introducing a new Dark Mode option that has been in testing for a few weeks now. According to the WhatsApp release notes, the new ‌Dark Mode‌ option is available whenever ‌Dark Mode‌ is activated on the iPhone or iPad.


‌Dark Mode‌ is linked to iOS 13, which means ‌iOS 13‌ is required to use ‌Dark Mode‌. WhatsApp users on earlier versions of iOS will not have access to the feature.

‌Dark Mode‌ is available throughout the WhatsApp app, with dark chat bubbles and a dark version of wallpaper, a dark settings section, and a dark splash screen.

Today’s update also includes a new search option that allows users to filter by author and content type, making it easier to locate photos and other content.


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WhatsApp’s Dark Mode for iPhone Inches Closer to Release, Requires iOS 13

WhatsApp's Dark Mode for iOS got one step closer today, with the long-awaited feature rolling out to all beta users on TestFlight. Gleaning details from the latest 2.20.30.25 build, WABetaInfo has provided a few more nuggets on what iPhone users can expect.


First off, the new Dark Theme is a better one than the previous version WhatsApp was working on, with no battery drain and support for Apple's official iOS 13 APIs. So like Instagram, it respects Apple's guidelines and syncs with the system-wide ‌Dark Mode‌ setting, switching on and off if the user has set it to Automatic.

Given that WhatsApp uses Apple's APIs, the dark theme won't be available for users running iOS versions earlier than ‌iOS 13‌. In other words, you'll need an ‌iPhone‌ 6s or later to be able to use it.

There's a redesigned dark splash screen with the WhatsApp logo, which makes way for a dark chats list screen. All the other screens are similarly fully darkened.

Meanwhile in chat threads, WhatsApp will show dark chat bubbles and a dark version of the chosen wallpaper – this part's dynamic, so if you switch the theme, the wallpaper style changes too. WhatsApp has also done some extensive work on a raft of Dark Mode-friendly solid colors.

According to WABetaInfo, this latest WhatsApp beta build supports an additional dark theme setting that uses lighter dark colors for some UI elements if the user has the high contrast setting enabled.

Away from ‌Dark Mode‌, this beta also includes a noteworthy new feature in the form of an advanced search function, adding a categorical breakdown in the search bar with options for filtering the search through photos, GIFs, links, videos, documents and audio.

Note that the WhatsApp TestFlight beta program on iOS is already at maximum capacity, so if you're not already on it, you'll have to wait for the build to go public, which could be any day now.


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Dark Mode Appears in Latest WhatsApp Beta for iPhone

Dark Mode is coming to WhatsApp for iOS soon. Users participating in the app's TestFlight beta program have spotted the setting in the latest testing notes, confirming that the dark theme setting is finally coming to iPhone.


The setting first appeared in a recent WhatsApp for Android beta build, which is a good indication of what users on iOS can expect down the pipe. The latest Android beta also includes new solid dark wallpapers for users to tailor their ‌Dark Mode‌ experience, suggesting these will also come to the ‌iPhone‌ app.

We're still not sure when the stable builds of WhatsApp will get ‌Dark Mode‌, but it surely can't take any longer than Google's protracted rollout of its Gmail dark theme, which still hasn't appeared for some users.

(Thanks, Aaron!)


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Facebook Shelves Controversial Plan to Insert Ads into WhatsApp

Facebook's controversial plan to sell ads in WhatsApp has been put on the back-burner, according to a new report today from The Wall Street Journal.

WhatsApp in recent months disbanded a team that had been established to find the best ways to integrate ads into the service, according to people familiar with the matter. The team's work was then deleted from WhatsApp's code, the people said.
Plans to monetize WhatsApp were floated no longer after Facebook acquired the messaging service in February 2014 for $22 billion. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum and Brian Acton continually pushed back against the plans, which were a factor that ultimately led both men to quit the company.

Prior to leaving, Koum and Acton changed WhatsApp's terms of service to explicitly forbid displaying ads in the app, which complicated Facebook's future efforts to do so, according to WSJ's sources.

Facebook has changed its platforms' terms of service in the past, but introducing ads on WhatsApp would have required a formal notification of users, creating a potential public-relations problem for Facebook.

Still, Facebook hasn't completely given up on inserting ads into WhatsApp, and reportedly plans to add them to the app's Status feature "at some point." Status allows users to create short-lived posts similar to Instagram's Stories.

However, for now the focus is said to be on developing money-making features that enable businesses to communicate with customers and better manage those interactions.

Before the acquisition, WhatsApp was initially a paid-for app and later transitioned to a $0.99 annual subscription service. Facebook made the service free after buying it and later unveiled its own revenue-generating plans for the platform, which has 1.5 billion users globally.


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WhatsApp Tests Feature That Lets Users Share Their Status With Facebook and Other Apps

WhatsApp is testing a feature that enables users to share their WhatsApp Status posts over Facebook, Instagram, and other services.


WhatsApp's Status feature works a lot like Stories do in Instagram, in that users can use the option to stitch together photos and video to express themselves in a way words alone might not allow them to.

The idea behind WhatsApp Status sharing is that it will allow users to post their status directly to their Facebook story, Instagram Story, Gmail, Google Photos, or other service.

WhatsApp told The Verge that the sharing feature doesn't link accounts on the two services in any way, and instead transfers the data on-device using Android and iOS data-sharing APIs.

Even when sharing to another Facebook-owned service like Instagram, WhatsApp says the two posts remain separate events and are not associated in Facebook's systems.

Regardless of that explanation, relating the two platforms in the public consciousness has become a risky business for Facebook ever since it acquired WhatsApp in 2014.

The company said at the time that it wouldn't collect data from the end-to-end encrypted messaging service, but then two years later it began doing exactly that for ad-targeting purposes.

In 2016 the company had to end the collection of WhatsApp user data across Europe, including the phone number a user verifies during the registration process and the last time a user accessed the service, after privacy watchdogs slammed the practice and regulators demanded it be stopped.

Facebook was subsequently fined $122 million by the European Commission for misleading regulators during the merger review about the extent to which it could link accounts.


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WhatsApp Vulnerability Left iPhones Vulnerable to Israeli Spyware


WhatsApp today disclosed a vulnerability that allowed hackers to remotely install spyware on iOS and Android phones by exploiting a bug in the audio call feature of the app.

The vulnerability let spyware be installed on a target device when a call was initiated regardless of whether the call was answered, according to TechCrunch.

Hackers took advantage of this security flaw to install Israeli spyware called Pegasus from NSO Group, normally licensed to governments who purchase the spyware for installing on the devices of individuals who are the target of an investigation.
Description:A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP packets sent to a target phone number.

Affected Versions: The issue affects WhatsApp for Android prior to v2.19.134, WhatsApp Business for Android prior to v2.19.44, WhatsApp for iOS prior to v2.19.51, WhatsApp Business for iOS prior to v2.19.51, WhatsApp for Windows Phone prior to v2.18.348, and WhatsApp for Tizen prior to v2.18.15.
WhatsApp says that it believes a small number of users were targeted, because it's "nontrivial to deploy, limiting it to advanced and highly motivated actors." It's not clear, though, how long the security flaw was available nor how many people were affected.

According to WhatsApp, once the vulnerability was discovered, it took less than 10 days to make changes to the app's infrastructure to make the attack inoperable.

"WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices," the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

WhatsApp says that it has notified the Department of Justice and a "number of human rights organizations" about the issue. NSO Group, according to The Financial Times, says it is investigating the issue but while it vets its customers and investigates abuse, it has no involvement with how the code is used or where.

WhatsApp customers do not need to worry further about the exploit as it was updated server side on Friday with an additional patch released today.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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Facebook Co-Founder Calls For ‘Break Up’ of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp

Recently, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren put forward the idea to reverse certain tech mergers to promote healthy competition in the market, particularly including Facebook and Instagram. In an op-ed shared today by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, that topic is revisited (via The New York Times).


According to Hughes, the Federal Trade Commission's "biggest mistake" was letting Facebook acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. As the co-founder pointed out, many people left Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but they didn't leave the Facebook ecosystem altogether because of Instagram and WhatsApp, with some people unaware that Facebook owned these social networks.
First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years.

How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares.
In the years since its acqusitions, the founders of both Instagram and WhatsApp have left each company, reportedly due to clashing with Mark Zuckerberg and his management of their apps. Hughes described an informal slogan that became well-known in the Facebook offices in the wake of its launch of the "Stories" format on Instagram and Facebook: "Don't be too proud to copy."
The vibrant marketplace that once drove Facebook and other social media companies to compete to come up with better products has virtually disappeared. This means there’s less chance of start-ups developing healthier, less exploitative social media platforms. It also means less accountability on issues like privacy.

Mark may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power. The American government needs to do two things: break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.
Although the Cambridge Analytica scandal has passed, in 2019 Facebook continued to appear in headlines regarding data breaches and user privacy issues. In April alone, it was reported that Facebook's executive team used the data of its users as leverage over partner companies; two days later it emerged that Facebook harvested the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their knowledge or consent and used the data to build a web of their social connections.

That same day, Facebook confirmed that millions of Instagram passwords were stored on its servers in plain text with no encryption. Similar stories have been shared frequently since news broke about about the Cambridge Analytica scandal just over one year ago.

Amid all of the news, Facebook today announced the launch of a new feature for Stories called "Birthday Stories." Using this ability, friends and family members can add digital birthday cards, photos, or video messages to your Birthday Story, which will be visible at the top of the Facebook iOS app like other Stories.


The feature will be available in the birthday notification that pops up when a friend is celebrating their big day. From there, you'll be able to take a photo or video, share a music sticker on the Story, and more. Once multiple people have added to the Birthday Story, the person in question will be able to browse it like any traditional Facebook or Instagram Story.

The company said that its goal with the new update was expanding on existing birthday features on Facebook, while also continuing to push interaction with Stories. It's been over two years since Facebook Stories began rolling out to users, and nearly three years since Instagram first copied the Stories format from Snapchat.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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WhatsApp Business App Expands to iPhone

Facebook-owned WhatsApp today expanded its popular WhatsApp Business app to the iPhone, giving business owners a better way to interface with their customers using the chat app.

With WhatsApp Business, businesses are able to create profiles with contact details, website information, and options for automated greetings, replies, and away messages.

Whether it's an online sweet shop in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil that closes 60 percent of its sales via WhatsApp Business or a cinnamon roll company in Tijuana, Mexico that credits WhatsApp Business for allowing it to open a second location, small business owners all over the world are using the app to grow. We're excited to bring the WhatsApp Business app to even more small businesses and hear new stories about how it's helping them succeed.
WhatsApp Business also includes a desktop website component, so businesses can use a smartphone, tablet, or desktop machine to contact customers. Prior to now, the WhatsApp Business app has been limited to Android devices.

WhatsApp Business will be available in the App Store for free, but it looks like it's still rolling out at the current time. It will be available in Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, India, Mexico, the UK and the United States, with WhatsApp planning to bring it to additional countries in the near future. [Direct Link]


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