WhatsApp is testing a new feature that it hopes could prevent hoaxes or fake news spreading across its network.
The Facebook-owned messenger platform could soon allow users to perform reverse image searches in order to easily identify whether an image they’ve been sent is legitimate or not. A reverse image search simply involves uploading an image to Google, which then crawls the web to see if it has appeared anywhere else. Quite simply, a Google search but for images, not words.
WhatsApp is looking to enable the feature so users can quickly and easily test the veracity of an image with just a few taps. It’s hoped that anyone who is sent a hoax or fake news story can identify it as such, and then break the chain by not forwarding it on themselves.
It comes at a critical time for Facebook, which is looking to restore some credibility after finding itself at the centre of arguably the biggest data privacy scandal of all time.
This isn’t the first step WhatsApp has taken to prevent such messages from spreading, however. It has already rolled out updates to label forwarded messages so they can be identified at a glance. It has also instituted forwarding limits, as a result of nearly a dozen deaths which were attributed to people spreading rumours about child abductors and traffickers in India.
WhatsApp’s latest update works by presenting users with the option to ‘Search image’ when they’re sent a picture. Once selected, it informs users that the image will be uploaded to Google for it to be searched, so they can agree to it. Users are then presented with the results showing where – if anywhere – that image has also been used.
Though the feature has been welcomed by many in the tech security industry, WhatsApp has remained tight lipped on when it’ll get a full roll out. It’s currently only on internal testing, so hasn’t even made it to the Beta stage, let alone a full deployment. So though it may be some time before it reaches a wider audience, WhatsApp’s previous moves in the security world suggest it’s a case of when, not if.