WhatsApp Channels feature rolls out in these two countries - here's how it works

Available via a tab on the messaging app, Channels is touted as a one-way broadcast tool that can be followed privately.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
WhatsApp Channels

WhatsApp released its Channels feature in two countries, touting the new service as a one-way private broadcast tool that can be followed privately. 

Now available to users in Singapore and Colombia, Channels is parked under the Updates tab on the messaging app. From there, users will be able to view Status and the channels they decide to follow, separate from their chats. 

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For now, though, they can only follow channels via invite links sent by channel admins. Admins can decide who can follow their channel but will not be able to add followers to their channel, so user choice is maintained. A search directory to offer a way to find a relevant channel is in the works and will be available within the next couple of weeks, according to WhatsApp.

Phone numbers and profile photos of channel admins will not be made public to followers, whose phone number also will not be revealed to admins and other followers. "Who you decide to follow is your choice and it's private," WhatsApp said. 

Text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls can be sent via Channels, and updates will be stored for up to 30 days before they are removed. In addition, admins can choose to block screenshots and the ability to forward messages via their channel. 

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With the launch in Singapore and Colombia, a mix of local and global organizations have set up channels on the messaging platform, including the World Health Organization, FC Barcelona, Singapore Heart Foundation, and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. 

Organizations that wish to set up a channel currently have to submit their request to do so, but WhatsApp says anyone, including individuals, will be able to start their own channel in the future.

Unlike regular messages, channels do not have end-to-end encryption by default since they are meant to be a broadcast service. However, there may be potential for some channels with a limited audience to have such encryption, such as non-profit organizations or healthcare services providers. WhatsApp is assessing the feasibility of this as a future feature. 

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It also will expand the availability of Channels to more global markets over the coming months, including the addition of new features, a company spokesperson told ZDNET. 

He noted that Singapore had local partners that were keen to hop onto Channels and offer a base from which feedback could be gleaned on how the feature should be tweaked to improve user experience for other countries. The Asian market also was among the first in the world to have the payments feature added to the app last month, he said, in response to why Singapore was selected as the initial launch market. 

With the payments feature, users can pay local merchants for products and services within their WhatsApp app, bypassing the need to go to a website or access another app. The feature supports payments via credit and debit cards, and Singapore's e-payment platform PayNow. There are some 4.6 million WhatsApp users in the country. 

Learnings from the Channels launch will be incorporated in future rollouts, with more functionalities planned over the coming months, the spokesperson said. Apart from the search directory, these include the ability to react to messages, as well as administrative functions, such as setting channel updates to be removed after a certain time and choosing whether to have their channels be discoverable or not. 

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"We believe there is an opportunity to support channel admins with a new way to build a business around their updates, for example, with the expansion of our payment services or the ability to highlight certain channels in the directory," he said. More details on additional features would be provided in coming months since the service still was in its early stages, he added.  

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, which owns WhatsApp, said the company was building Channels to be "the most private way to communicate." The company is adhering to that core principle of user privacy by not storing messages on the app and not showing an admin's number on the channel.

Lim Kiat, senior manager of programs for Singapore Heart Foundation, said the social service agency hoped to tap Channels to drive awareness of its programs in the country. 

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