The Best Secure and Private Instant Messeger Alternatives to WhatsApp
Why does secure and private messaging matter? If you're not a "bad actor", that is, someone with harmful intentions, what would it matter if someone can see your communication or have access to the trail of your personal data left behind around the internet?
The answer is manifold: you deserve to be able to choose which parts of your life might go public, you deserve to know that personal information you send stays private (even from the company or organization that helps you send it), and you deserve to send communicate with friends and family without having your personal and private information sold to generate someone else’s profit.
There are deeper concerns, too, for people the world over who are struggling for legitimate democratic reasons; trying to overcome censorship that includes violent persecution is vital for the spread of democratic ideals, and secure messaging platforms can help make that possible.
Internet security is not an easy thing to understand
How does one secure one’s online presence? The truth is that this is difficult. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the most important organizations around, actually stopped providing a simplified scorecard for the best secure messaging platform because the topic is so complex and difficult for non-tech-trained people to understand. With simplification comes the danger of assuming security. If you’re someone in need of extreme privacy and security on the internet, you should absolutely refer to the EFFs security guide which will help you understand and prepare in far greater detail.
Of course, the best way to protect yourself online is to just limit your use of all online services. Don’t use any online service and you can’t be tracked online. For many of us, that’s neither desirable nor possible, however, which leads us to the next best thing: use platforms that feature known elements that support privacy!
My one-stop recommendation: If you want to skip ahead and get my recommendation for the best possible messaging application, get Signal. It’s secure, a known quantity, trusted by many privacy-conscious users, and is EFFs own initial recommendation.
What matters when it comes to privacy and security?
There are a few major points that matter when it comes to online security.
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) means that one device communicates with another directly, with no intermediary.
- End-to-end encryption (E2EE) means that a device communicates with another via intermediaries, but does so with encryption that only the intended sender and receiver can decode.
- Open-source software is software where the code has been released for public use and study. This is great for security reasons because it ensures that anyone can study the code of a program, see how it was built, secure it against bugs and security issues, and make sure that nobody placed malicious code in the program (like a “back door” which would allow, for instance, a company to access private E2EE communications). Apple recently fought the US Government in court to keep its Messages service free from just such a back door — though their service is obviously not open-source.
These are not the only things to be aware of when it comes to security and privacy! However, if you understand that these are generally good things, and a little bit about why they’re good, you’ll be way better off than those around you who don’t.
What’s problematic with Whatsapp and Telegram?
Whatsapp is owned by Facebook and several recent changes to both the WhatsApp terms of service, and how the application itself functions, have created serious privacy concerns. While their normal messages are still E2EE, messages to any business result in information also being shared to Facebook. A whole bunch of other user information, too, beyond the scope of the main content of an E2EE message is still collected, as well, and all of that is shared with Facebook and any company Facebook wants to share it with.
Telegram is not open-source; they keep their code hidden. Furthermore, Telegram does not enable E2EE by default, nor in groups which means that average users will be sharing a lot of data with Telegram. Even if Telegram chooses not to use this data, they could use it if they so chose.