If your encrypted messaging app of choice is a toss-up between Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp, don’t waste your time with anything other than Signal.
It’s not about which has the prettiest features, the more bells and whistles or is the most convenient to use: it’s purely about privacy. And if you want privacy, there’s nothing better than Signal.
You probably already know what happened. In a tweet heard around the world last January, tech mogul Elon Musk continued his feud with Facebook by advocating for people to abandon its WhatsApp Messenger and use Signal instead.
Twitter’s then-CEO Jack Dorsey retweeted Musk’s call. Around the same time, right-wing social network parlors went dark after the Capitol attacks, while political boycotters fled Facebook and Twitter. It was the perfect storm – Signal and Telegram saw a tens of millions of new users.
The setbacks reignited security and privacy checks on messaging apps more broadly. The top players currently dominating the download numbers have some similarities.
Available in the Google Play store and the App Store are all mobile apps that support cross-platform messaging, have group chat features, offer multifactor authentication and can be used to share files and multimedia. They also provide encryption for all texting, voice and video calls.
Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp use end-to-end encryption in some part of their apps, which means that if an outside party intercepts your text, they must be scrambled and unreadable. This also means that when you are communicating with another private user, the exact content of your messages cannot be seen by employees of those companies.
This prevents law enforcement, your mobile carrier, and other spying entities from being able to read your messages even if they are intercepted (which happens more often than you might think).
However, the privacy and security gap between Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp couldn’t be bigger. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.
Signal is a typical one-tap install app that can be found in your general market like Google Play and Apple’s App Store and works just like a normal text-messaging app. It is an open-source development provided free of charge by the non-profit Signal Foundation and famously used over the years by high-profile privacy icons such as Edward Snowden.
Signal’s main function is that it can send fully encrypted text, video, audio and picture messages – to an individual or group – after verifying your phone number and letting you independently verify the identities of other Signal users. could. For a deep dive into the potential pitfalls and limitations of encrypted messaging apps, CNET’s Laura Hautala’s explainer is a life saver.
When it comes to privacy, it’s hard to beat Signal’s offering. It does not store your user data. And beyond your encryption prowess, it gives you expanded, onscreen privacy options, including app-specific locks, blank notification pop-ups, face-blurring antisurveillance tools, and missing messages.
Contemporary bugs have proven that the technology is far from bulletproof, but Signal’s reputation and overall arc of results have put it at the top of every privacy-loving person’s list of identity protection tools. The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times (which also recommends WhatsApp) and The Wall Street Journal all recommend using Signal to contact their reporters securely.
For years, the main privacy challenge for Signal lay not in its technology, but in its widespread adoption. Sending encrypted Signal messages is great, but if your recipient isn’t using Signal, your privacy could be void. Think of it like herd immunity created by vaccines, but for your messaging privacy.
Now that support from Musk and Dorsey has sent a slew of users to get the privacy booster shot, however, that challenge may be a thing of the past.
Telegram falls somewhere in the middle of the privacy scale, and it sets itself apart from other Messenger apps because of its efforts to create a social network-style environment. While it doesn’t collect as much data as WhatsApp, it also doesn’t offer encrypted group calls like WhatsApp, nor user data privacy and company transparency as signals. Data collected by Telegram that may be linked to you includes your name, phone number, contact list and user ID.
Telegram also collects your IP address, something Signal does not. And unlike Signal and WhatsApp, Telegram’s one-to-one messages are not encrypted by default. Rather you have to turn them on in the settings of the app. Telegram group messages are also not encrypted.