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WhatsApp chases Discord and Slack with new voice chat feature

Men pose with smartphones in front of a WhatsApp logo in this illustration. Photo: Reuters

Men pose with smartphones in front of a WhatsApp logo in this illustration. Photo: Reuters

Published Nov 21, 2023

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WhatsApp has introduced a new voice chat feature for large groups, similar to Discord, with a roll-out announced by the Meta-owned company on Monday.

The feature is aimed at providing a less disruptive alternative to traditional group calls, as it starts quietly without ringing each member. Users can join the voice chat by tapping an in-chat bubble, allowing them to talk with others while messaging those who are unable to join.

The feature brings WhatsApp in line with other premier communication platforms, such as Slack, which are built on this idea of a channel or room where users can join and exit voice calls easily alongside sending text messages. For the many businesses that adopted WhatsApp for their work communication during 2020 and 2021, this will be a much-needed quality-of-life improvement.

The global roll-out of voice chats will occur over the next few weeks, beginning with groups of 33 people or more.

The introduction of voice chats aligns with WhatsApp’s recent efforts to enhance its platform. Users now have the capability to use two accounts simultaneously, and passkey support has been introduced on Android.

Additionally, a new “Flows” functionality has been launched to enhance the shopping experience within the app.

The development is not surprising, as reports from August indicated that WhatsApp was testing voice chats in beta. The move comes at a time when WhatsApp has been steadily incorporating various features into its platform.

During Meta’s quarter three (Q3) earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said users and businesses interact more than 600 million times a day across the company’s platforms. Notably, revenue from the family of apps and other sources reached $293 million (R5.4 billion) in Q3, reflecting a 53% year-over-year increase, largely attributed to the growth of the WhatsApp Business platform.

TikTok logos are seen on smartphones in front of displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration. File picture: IANS

Nepal Bans TikTok amid growing global concerns over anti-social content

In a move reflecting a broader global trend, Nepal has banned the popular short video app TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance. The decision follows the introduction of a new rule requiring social media platforms to register with the local government, and the government’s assertion that TikTok’s refusal to address issues related to hate content was impacting “social harmony”.

Nepal’s officials expressed concerns about TikTok content allegedly fuelling religious hate, violence and sexual abuse, leading to off-line clashes, curfews and police deployment. The government’s decision was reinforced by reports of more than 1 600 TikTok-related cybercrime cases in the country over the past four years.

The ban aligns with a global trend of countries re-evaluating their relationship with TikTok. India, notably, banned the app in 2020, citing national security concerns amid escalating tension with China. Similarly, other countries, including the US, Canada and the UK, have imposed varying degrees of restrictions on TikTok, primarily limiting government officials’ use of the platform.

TikTok’s rapid ascent has been met with resistance globally, with many nations expressing unease about China’s influence. In response to the concerns, TikTok has consistently maintained that it does not share user data with the Chinese government. The app even invested $1.5bn in “Project Texas” to store user data onshore in the US.

Despite the efforts, Nepal’s decision to ban TikTok underscores the challenges the app faces in assuaging international fears and criticisms. Opposition leaders in Nepal criticised the move, stating that regulation rather than outright restriction should be the focus. However, regulating an online video platform is easier said than done, as the challenge of content moderation on social media has shown over the past decade.

James Browning is a freelance tech writer and music journalist.

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