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WhatsApp Communities to unify workplace group chats, expand functionality

Group chats will also expand to 1,024 participants, as WhatsApp aims to cater to larger teams

Meta has announced a new ‘Communities’ feature for WhatsApp, allowing for group chats to be organised together under an umbrella group.

With Communities, WhatsApp states that groups such as workplaces can bring up to 50 disparate group chats together under umbrella categories such as departments or office locations. Unlike Facebook groups, WhatsApp communities will be invite-only.

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For added functionality, community administrators will be able to send community-wide announcements, run community-wide polls, and manage messages within group chats.

This will allow for a hierarchical structure, in which group chats are run by individual managers with only certain individuals within an organisation given control over entire communities.

WhatsApp is one of the most widely-used messaging apps worldwide and has a wide business userbase. Around 400 million people are believed to use WhatsApp in India, where the app is also widely used for communication between companies and customers as well as for internal company communications.

Communities will primarily benefit internal communications, in practice acting like productivity apps such as Slack or Teams. The update adds to this by expanding video calls to include 32 participants, and increasing group chat sizes fourfold from a maximum of 256 to 1,024 participants, both of which benefit large teams.

However, it will still lack a number of features such as shared document editing, integrated automation, and plugins that such apps provide. Despite this, as WhatsApp is free it remains a useful option for communication amongst small and medium-sized businesses.

WhatsApp Business, a separate app from WhatsApp LLC, allows businesses to engage directly with customers manually and through basic automation, as well as advertise catalogues within the app.

CRM specialist Salesforce and WhatsApp partnered recently to offer firms a unified commerce and marketing platform within WhatsApp, with the ability to bring customers into a chat through adverts on Facebook, and use data to target audiences.

A key feature of WhatsApp chats is that they are end-to-end encrypted (E2EE), giving an added layer of privacy to all messages sent on the app. Businesses might find this especially attractive, as it offers a layer of security for sensitive business information.

This is not without controversy, with the UK government largely opposed to E2EE despite two-thirds of IT professionals saying banning E2EE would do more harm than good. The currently stalled Online Safety Bill, proposed under former home secretary Priti Patel, would override E2EE by legally compelling companies operating messaging apps to scan for child abuse imagery.

Although WhatsApp is frequently applied in the private sector, its use by public servants such as MPs has drawn the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). In July, the ICO called for a review of the government's WhatsApp use, stating that frequent use of the app for official channels could breach transparency and accountability requirements.

Meta remains not only committed to retaining WhatsApp encryption, but also eventually rolling out E2EE to Messenger and Instagram as well. 

The new features are expected to be rolled out imminently worldwide, on both WhatsApp mobile and desktop. 

IT Pro has approached WhatsApp for comment.

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