WhatsApp could be moving towards usernames instead of phone numbers, new update suggests

WhatsApp Editing Messages (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
WhatsApp Editing Messages (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WhatsApp may be moving towards allowing people to be found by usernames rather than just phone numbers, according to a new update to the software.

The system would let people choose a unique username that could then be used to start new chats. That would allow people to more easily share their contact details without also giving away their phone number.

The new update is found in a beta version of the app that has been made available for Android, according to WABetaInfo, which has a track record of finding unannounced features in the app.

That beta version shows a part in the settings that allows people to choose a WhatsApp username. “This is your unique username,” the app says, alongside the separate option to choose a name, which is available in the app now and shows alongside messages.

The option to select a username will be found within the WhatsApp settings and then the “profile” option, the report indicated. It is inside the latest beta version of the Android app – though is not fully supported even in that system, being still under development and not visible to early testers.

There is no real indication of how those usernames might work. WABetaInfo speculated that the system could be relatively limited – such as simply allowing communication with businesses without giving up a phone number to them – to the more general usage as a way to speak to other people on the app.

Conversations initiated using usernames appear to keep end-to-end encryption, the report said.

WhatsApp has recently rolled out a host of changes intended to protect the privacy of users. Those have included new changes that let people control the information they give up alongside their chats, letting people leave group chats more quietly and allowing people to choose specific people who can see when they are online, for instance.

The company has said repeatedly that its aim is to allow WhatsApp conversations to feel like real life, with the privacy and temporary nature that brings. Other related features have included the option to delete messages and edit them after they are sent.

Throughout all those changes, however, WhatsApp has always used the phone number as a way of creating and verifying accounts, as well as finding other people on the app. As such, it has meant giving up your phone number in order to talk to anyone, including businesses who may abuse it with spam calls or other marketing.