Read receipts are both extremely useful and the bane of many people’s existence.
Let’s say someone sends you a message and you don’t want to reply right away, but you’re worried they’ll see your availability status if you chat with someone else. Is it impolite to be seen “Online” and yet not reply to a message? For some apps, you can turn off read receipts and/or your “last seen” status, but then you don’t get to see those things for other folks. This post tries to explore the answer to the question: “When does somebody actually know if I’ve seen their message?”
Apart from dodging read receipts like a ninja, we will also tell you how to hide yours if you want to (on all the major messaging apps). Let’s get started.
Probably the most-used messaging app in the world, WhatsApp has three levels of message delivery reports. A single tick next to a message means it was sent from your end successfully, a double tick means it was delivered to the recipient’s phone, and a blue-shaded double-tick means the person has read your message. By default, when you start a conversation, you’ll also see the last time the person was seen using the app.
If you want to switch off these read receipts, the instructions differ depending on your operating system. On Android, you can click the three-dot menu, then go to Settings > Account > Privacy. On iOS, you follow the same instructions, but the Settings button is in the bottom-right corner.
In Privacy, you’ll see the option to change who sees your “last seen” status. It can be everyone, only your contacts, or nobody. Below there’s also a “read receipts” switch. You can turn both of these off, but then as a consequence, you won’t be able to see “last seen” or read receipts for other people.
Now, let’s answer some of those burning questions. We sent WhatsApp messages between an iPhone 6 running iOS 10, a Galaxy S6 running Android 6.0, and a OnePlus 3T running Android 7.1.1. All phones had “last seen” and read receipts turned on. After sending a couple of messages, we saw the single ticks next to them turn to double ticks instantly, as long as the receiving phone is connected to the internet.
Now, just reading those messages from the notification drawer of the receiver phone didn’t trigger the blue tick mark or change the last seen status on the sender device. Upon opening the app, the status of the receiver phone did change to “Online” but the messages still weren’t blue-ticked — they expectedly did turn blue only when that particular conversation was opened.
On Android 6.0 and below, pulling down on a WhatsApp notification reveals a “reply” shortcut. Tapping that triggers a popup mode, a feature that’s been around for a long time. But replying to a chat this way is the same as opening the app — it will show you “Online” on the sender’s phone, and it even shows when you’re typing.
But since iOS 9 and Android 7.0 Nougat, both operating systems have a native Quick Reply feature that works with third-party apps like WhatsApp. You can quick reply on an iPhone by hard-pressing on the WhatsApp notification (if you have an iPhone with 3D Touch), swiping the notification to the right and clicking “View”, or by simply pulling down a toast notification when the screen is on. On Android 7.0 and above, you simply hit the “Reply” button below the notification.
In our testing, using this native quick reply feature lets you reply to other people without letting the other person know that you’re online.
With Telegram, the secure messaging app, you have more granular control over your privacy. If you head over to Settings > Privacy and Security > Last Seen, you’ll see that apart from the three levels of controls WhatsApp offers, Telegram also has an exceptions list. The people on this list will never see your “Last seen” status, even if you’ve set it for everyone to see.
It also has a rudimentary read receipt feature: a single tick means the message has been sent, a double tick means a message has been read. The read receipts feature works very similar to how it does on WhatsApp.
The only difference we noticed was that when using its popup quick reply feature on an Android 6.0 phone, it would attach a double tick only to the message you replied to, whereas WhatsApp would just mark all messages with a double-blue-tick (meaning: read) even if you replied to just one out of those.
Unfortunately, on iOS and Android phones that support the native quick reply feature, Telegram didn’t work like WhatsApp did, as sending quick replies updated the last seen status for other contacts.
Facebook Messenger has notoriously placed the toggle to turn off the “active” status in a place where you wouldn’t expect. Instead of putting it in Settings, you need to click the “People” tab (which is the symbol at the bottom-right of the Android app) and go to the “Active” tab. Here you’ll see a toggle to turn it off for yourself.
It almost seems that the quick reply hack for WhatsApp is the exception, not the rule, as even Facebook Messenger updated the last seen status when a quick reply was sent from one of our test devices to another.
Although available only for Apple devices, iMessage is a reason for people to stick to their iPhone because a lot of their peers use it too. Nobody wants to appear as a green bubble (a regular SMS) instead of a blue bubble (an iMessage). iMessage also got a huge feature boost recently with stickers, handwritten messages, effects, and apps in iOS 10.
If you head over to your iPhone’s Settings and tap Messages, here you can either turn read receipts on or off. You can also turn off read receipts individually for each conversation from the “i” button menu. And there’s no “last seen” feature in iMessage.
When sending an iMessage from a Mac to an iPhone, the moment the message reaches the other end, “delivered” appears written underneath each message in a conversation. This is easier to understand than the one-tick, two-tick convention that isn’t really self-explanatory.
Initiating a quick reply to that iMessage on the iPhone resulted in a “read” status updated on the other end instantly — which is different than with the other apps. For the others, the “read” status updated only after the quick reply was sent.
That’s How You Avoid Read Receipts
Hopefully this will help you avoid read receipts like a pro. Do you have any tips for other apps that we didn’t include here?
And if you’re up for something a little different when it comes to texts, take a look at this list of weird messaging apps for the web and mobile devices.