Messaging Privacy

Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. Which messaging app to use?

Digital communication privacy has been a constant battle between convenience and security. The default message apps on our phones work so well, why change them?

  • Default messaging apps are usually not encrypted. All messages can be read if they’re intercepted. Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp all offer encryption to varying degrees to keep messages private.
  • On the default apps, when you get a message the pop up can show the sender and a preview of the message.
  • Default messaging apps don’t offer disappearing messages.
  • Default messaging apps do not offer face blurring anti-surveillance tools.

Your best choice for privacy is the Signal App.

  • Does not collect data, only your phone number
  • Free, no ads, funded by nonprofit Signal Foundation
  • Fully open-source
  • Encryption: Signal Protocol
  • Used for years by privacy icons like Edward Snowden.

Telegram Messaging App

Telegram would be our second choice. Data collected by Telegram that could be linked to you includes your name, phone number, contact list and user ID.

  • Telegram collects your IP address
  • Telegram’s one-to-one messages aren’t encrypted by default.
  • Telegram group messages aren’t encrypted.
  • Some of Telegram’s MTProto encryption is open-source, but some portions are not, so it’s not completely clear what happens to your texts once they’re in Telegram’s servers.
  • Some 42 million Telegram user IDs and phone numbers were exposed in a breach in March of 2020.
  • A Telegram bug was exploited by Chinese authorities in 2019 during the Hong Kong protests.
  • Its GPS-enabled feature allowing you to find others near you has created obvious problems for privacy.

WhatsApp Messaging

Not surprisingly, in last place of the 3 most popular apps – WhatsApp.

  • Data linked to you: Too much to list (see below)
  • Free; business versions available for free, funded by Facebook
  • Not open-source, except for encryption
  • Encryption: Signal Protocol 

There’s a difference between security and privacy. Security is about safeguarding your data against unauthorized access, and privacy is about safeguarding your identity regardless of who has access to that data.

WhatsApp says it can’t view the content of the encrypted messages you send to another WhatsApp user. What it doesn’t say is that there’s a long list of other data that it collects that could be linked to you: Your unique device ID, usage and advertising data, purchase history and financial information, physical location, phone number, your contact information and that of your list of contacts, what products you’ve interacted with, how often you use the app, and how it performs when you do. The list goes on. This is way more than Signal or Telegram.

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