Whatsapp is one of the most popular instant messaging apps boasting more than two million users. The app has gained popularity due to the ease of communication and information sharing options. However, despite its popularity, there are concerns about Facebook as WhatsApp’s parent company.
Facebook, or rather its owner Mark Zuckerberg has long since been under the spotlight for stealing user information and breaching their privacy. With Zuckerberg owning WhatsApp, the instant messaging app has become somewhat controversial. Specifically with the recent updates, it is necessary for WhatsApp to share messages and other information with Facebook.
Admittedly, Facebook promises to protect your information from third parties; however, Facebook’s track record in keeping its users’ data private is not exactly spotless. There is a lack of knowledge about what other data will be collected — such as your devices, connections usage, location, etc.
So where do we go now?
WhatsApp’s new policies are disturbing to many users. Many of them started searching for other messaging apps that will give them similar functionality without intruding into their privacy in unannounced ways.
There are plenty of other messengers in the market. This article will tell you about three trendy alternatives that you can use instead of WhatsApp if you think that Facebook has gone too far again.
Why do you mean “secure”?
The one thing we must have in any messaging app is security. But how can you tell if an app is secure or not? An app worth your trust must include the following minimum features to protect your privacy and security:
- End-to-end encryption. Almost every messenger says it provides E2E. The purpose of encryption is to scramble your data when it’s traveling between you and the recipient in such a way that it looks like random noise to third-party observers. Every message, including multimedia content, is encrypted in your device before it goes off to your interlocutor’s; then, the recipient’s app decrypts it. As we said initially, most apps support E2E, but you must ensure the feature is active by checking the settings because it’s not a universal default.
- Open-source code. Messengers based on open-source code are extra trustworthy. This is because access to the source code allows security professionals and auditors to make sure that the software works as it’s supposed to, understand what tasks are in the background, and even suggest improvements. Proprietary software, on the other hand, keeps its code confidential. It’s a black box as far as users and analysts are concerned. You don’t know what it does or how it does it, so you have to trust it blindly.
- Data collection. The fact that your app encrypts your data doesn’t imply that it’s also not collecting it. Information about your contacts, communication sessions, devices, private IP addresses, and things of the sort are solid gold for the companies that know how to mine through the data and make sense out of it. So it’s crucial for you to make sure you’re using a messenger that is not spying on you, literally.
- Shredding of messages and automated deletion. You can set an automatic expiration date for stored messages. In this way, all the information in your app that is older than a given date will be deleted automatically. However, not all sheep are equal. Some deletion methods still allow for message reconstruction with digital forensic techniques. What you want is a deletion that works in the sense that nothing that’s been erased can be recovered. The industry calls this feature “shredder.” That’s the option that completely deletes voice notes, videos, images, and texts.
So now that we know what we want in our messaging apps, let’s see each of the top three alternatives to WhatsApp we are reviewing here.
It has a self-destructive messaging system like Snapchat, but it allows the sender to set a timer ranging from a few seconds to more than five days. The timer running out will erase the message from the receiver’s end.
It offers 4,096-bit RSA encryption, which is a highly secure protocol. It also deleted the metadata from the messages like the location, date, day, time, and device information. Moreover, the message shredder is a highly advanced feature that removes any hacker’s possibility of recovery.
The messages on Wickr can contain plain texts, pictures, video, audio, attached files, and it also includes convenient integration with DropBox, Google drive. Users do not have to have a number or an email address to make an account on Wickr.
If our current widespread concern about digital privacy and security has a father, that would be none other than Edward Snowden. Well, Mr. Snowden (along with several additional reputable security and privacy experts) recommends Signal himself. This app is considered one of the best options in the current market, and it delivers each of the options we enumerated in the previous section, plus much more.
The Signal Foundation developed this app in 2018 as an open-source project, and donations fund it.
No official numbers are available for Signal, but app representatives said to The Verge that the app served more than 40 million users as the year began.
Security is at the top of Signal’s priorities. Everything is sent through E2E (even stickers). You can even set up a password against the accident of your phone getting lost.
Another feature in Signal is that it saves as little metadata as possible, only as much as it needs to function.
Anything you can do in WhatsApp, you can do in Signal, except for status updates and automatic cloud backups. But you can still react to individual messages with emojis, pixelate faces on pictures automatically, set a message deletion period. One single account allows you to use one mobile device and five desktops.
But if you change your mobile number, not every one of your contacts will be notified, so if you’re in any group, you’ll need to be added again by hand.
We are not promoting the Signal, but even an honest look shows no significant security risks in using it. No data is collected because it’s run by a non-profit, which is how most companies behind these apps make their money.
Nikolai and Pavel Durov, two Russian brothers, developed and launched Telegram in 2013. Their brains are also behind VK’s (VKontakte previously) creation, the social media platform dominating the Russian Market.
Telegram is their latest non-profit venture. It seeks to offer total privacy and anonymity or get as close as possible. The corporation is headquartered in London, but the developing team is based in Dubai –it’s a tiny group of 15 developers.
Telegram serves about half a billion users currently, and it was the first option in the minds of many of the WhatsApp refugees looking for a new messaging refuge.
The Russian government banned Telegram in 2018 as the project refused to give up the app’s encryption codes. This looks great in terms of commitment to user privacy. But if you want E2E encryption, you have to enable it manually in the app’s settings.
You don’t need to give Telegram your exact phone number, you can password protect your messages, and two-factor authentication is available.
If you like all those cool features in WhatApp, we have good news. Telegram supports all the same things, so you can do all the things you’re used to in this app. Telegram group admits as many as 200k members.
Automatic deletion is on offer for messages and the whole account and associated media if it remains idle during a given period. You can use Telegram on several devices at once. Telegram allows you to share all kinds of multimedia files as long as they’re under 2GB and Telegram’s emojis are undoubtedly the coolest in the industry.
So what are the risks in Telegram? Not noticing that E2E is not enabled by default would be the first one. Toggle it on at once. Also, Telegram’s MTProto protocol is proprietary, so it has not been as extensively tested as we would like.
This one was developed by a company headquartered in Switzerland. This is good news because it’s a friendly country for privacy and anonymity issues, and the local legal context counts for the companies that do message services.
But this one is not free. The company says that you will get the industry’s highest security standard for your subscription. And unlike WhatsApp, this open-source option fulfills every data protection requirement mandated legally.
Manuel Kasper developed Threema in 2012. It’s among the smallest services in terms of the user base –only 9 million members so far. All the servers are based in Switzerland.
E2E is enabled by default. Also, you can communicate with utter anonymity. Every user has a randomly generated ID that is visible to the rest. You don’t need to use your real name in this app, but you can if you’d like to make things more personal.
Threema’s servers do not permanently store any information (Telegram’s servers do keep everything). All the messages and the media in groups and contact tabs are stored in your phone instead. Once a message is delivered, the server deletes it with no trace left behind. Another good thing with Threema is that it keeps the metadata to a minimum.
Functionality in Threema is very much like WhatsApp, as it offers the same features, essentially, and the app is still growing and adding new features through updates.
You can use your Threema account on your phone or desktop, and the developing team is working on a multi-device solution.
Organizations can also choose Threema Work Messenger, a separate app for communication among working colleagues.
There are no risks related to Threema. The project’s stance towards security, privacy, and anonymity is impeccable, and it submits its software to regular audits (an advantage of open-source projects). Threema is not a non-profit like Telegram or Signal. But the product they sell is their app, not your data, which is why it can afford to give you the privacy you want.
You probably wonder why we did just three reviews instead of five or ten. Well, there are many messengers out there. We didn’t get review Line, for instance, which is hugely popular in China.
But we have good reasons to keep things short and sweet. The three options we described to you are top-notch projects that combine great functionality (sometimes even better than WhatsApp) with a proven track record of prioritizing privacy, anonymity, and security.
In the final analysis, you’ll be safe if you move to Signal, Telegram, or Threema. And you don’t have to delete WhatsApp from your phone; you can just reduce its use as much as possible and do most of your communication through those other, much more reliable, messaging apps. Enjoy your encrypted messaging experience and stay safe online!