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WhatsApp killer upgrade could shoot down Zoom — here's how

WhatsApp desktop
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

WhatsApp has not had a good few weeks, but there’s one bit of news that may help convince you not to leave for another service like Signal or Telegram: Video calling from your desktop.

WhatsApp has offered video calling for quite some time, but the service’s web client has been lagging behind. Thankfully it's catching up and you can WhatsApp video call from somewhere other than your phone. If you're a beta user, that is.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a huge demand for video calling software, as people try to get some face-to-face time without being physically close. WhatsApp stepped up by boosting its mobile video calling efforts, but desktop calling has always been absent. For that reason, competitors like Zoom or Google Meet have managed to get the upper hand.

The feature has already appeared in older versions of the WhatsApp beta, but the difference this time is it’s actually usable. According to WABetaInfo the feature is slowly rolling out and should be available to all beta users in the coming weeks. 

There’s no word on when it will arrive in the public version of WhatsApp. But the fact beta users are finally able to call each other on the web suggests that it isn’t too far away.

The feature appears to work just like calls on your phone, with a pop-up window letting you answer or decline calls as and when they come in. It’s simple, but that’s all it ever needed to be. And it’s strange that it’s taken WhatsApp so long to finally bring this major feature to desktops.

Of course, WhatsApp Web is different from most video calling clients in that the session is linked to your phone and can’t be used independently. That’s down to the way WhatsApp works, with conversations and messages stored on devices rather than in a random Facebook server farm. 

So if you want your account on your laptop, your phone needs to be involved. It’s an awkward system, but it at least does ensure an extra shred of user privacy.

That’s the latest in a string of privacy problems WhatApp has been dealing with recently. Updates to its privacy policy, which details tweaks on how it shares data with Facebook, led to a user revolt and saw millions of people flee to rival services.

WhatsApp insisted nothing major was changing, and what few changes there were only applied to data collected when you interact with businesses on WhatsApp. That didn’t stop rumors that the contents of private messages would be shared with parent company Facebook, forcing WhatsApp to push back the deadline. That move is to apparently let users read the policy and understand what the changes are, but it seems that for many the damage has already been done.

Maybe video calls on desktops can help keep people around. Or maybe you’ll still be heading off to one of the best WhatsApp alternatives in the hunt for something more secure.