Wickr Launches Vanishing Photo-Sharing Feature

Looking for a more private way to share your photos with friends? Encrypted messaging app Wickr is launching a new photo-sharing feature whereby users can create and share feeds of photos with up to 151 friends, and still have the assurance that those photos are both securely encrypted and will be permanently deleted in 24 hours.

Called the Wickr Time Feed (or, cheekily, WTF for short), the feature also comes with a clever tie-in to Facebook, on which you can, in a sense, disguise your pictures as images of cats. Out today (Jan. 27) for Wickr for iOS, the update will reach Wickr for Android soon, and eventually make its way to the Wickr desktop client.

MORE: 7 Ways to Lock Down Your Online Privacy

Wickr Time Feed was designed to be the app's "Instagram killer," Wickr co-founder Nico Sell told Tom's Guide. Sell says the idea came from her daughter, who asked if there was a way she could use Facebook in a way that her privacy-minded mother would approve.

The result is a feature built right into the Wickr messaging app, accessible via the tab labeled "WTF." Users can create various streams of photos and share those streams with different subsets of their Wickr friends, with up to 151 people per stream.

Viewers of your stream can see your photos for 24 hours after you've posted them, and react to them by clicking on one of three buttons: a heart, a little hand making the "rock on" gesture, or a pile of poop. You can see this feedback on your own photos, but your friends will not.

These images have the same end-to-end encryption that secures all messages sent through Wickr as well, meaning the data is encrypted on users' devices and travels in an encrypted state, to be decrypted only on the devices of the intended recipients. This means that even Wickr itself cannot read the messages sent through its system.

But with that 24-hour timer ticking, you might want a more public way to tell people you have photos to view, even if you don't want to publicly display the photos themselves. So when you post to Wickr Time Feed, you'll also have the opportunity to simultaneously post a photo of a cat to your Facebook account.

To most people, it will just seem like you have a sudden affection for cats. But your Wickr friends will be able to double-tap on those Facebook cat photos to launch their own Wickr apps, bringing them right to the true photo you intended to share all along. This feature was built using Facebook's API and with Facebook's permission, Sell says.

Why cats, you might ask?

"Spies usually hide secret messages in either porn or cats because they're the two most popular images on the Internet," Sell explained.

Dogs and other animals might become available as decoy images via an in-app purchase.

It's an interesting time to be an encrypted messaging app such as Wickr. Earlier this month, British prime minister David Cameron called for a ban on any encryption that the government could not break, which by definition includes end-to-end encryption. But Sell's unconcerned; she says any government attempts to shut down or control encryption would only work in the favor of companies like Wickr.

"We feel like we're in a good position in a really exciting time," she said.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.