Daniel Agnew | February 17, 2021 05 min read
If you use WhatsApp, you may have received a pop-up message on 4 January asking you to accept their new terms and conditions, which involves sharing more of your data with Facebook.
It’s proved controversial, with millions of users downloading rival apps Signal and Telegram due to privacy fears. WhatsApp has subsequently delayed its data-sharing update until 15 May to shore up these concerns.
As the best-encrypted apps don’t just allow you to message for free, they also ensure your chats, calls, voice messages, and videos are private and secure.
Here we’ll review what’s happening with WhatsApp and if rival chat apps can better protect your data privacy.
What’s up with WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is the world’s most popular chat app, with over two billion users. Its end-to-end encryption service means only you and the person you’re talking to can read or listen to your conversation.
Facebook bought the company in 2014 and is encouraging companies to create WhatsApp business accounts to enable “in-app” shopping.
If you accept their new terms and conditions, Whatsapp will share even more user data with Facebook:
- You live outside of the “European region,” which covers the EU, EEA, and United Kingdom.
- You message a WhatsApp business account like a hair salon or sneaker store.
WhatsApp has always shared your data
Since 2016, everyone using WhatsApp has been sharing information with Facebook.
According to the New York Times, the social network knows which phone numbers you use, how often you use the app, screen device resolution, real-time location, and more.
Facebook uses this metadata to ensure that WhatsApp runs smoothly and to facilitate business-led transactions.
What Facebook can’t do is read or access the content of your messages or calls because of its end-to-end encryption policy. Your content is inaccessible to them, and Facebook also claims that it doesn’t track your contacts.
Either way, that hasn’t stopped millions of users from turning to rival apps in response to their new terms and conditions.
WhatsApp users are fleeing to rival apps for safety
Since WhatsApp’s announcement, rival app Signal received an 18-fold increase in download numbers, and Telegram reported a 500% increase in users.
WhatsApp has subsequently delayed its update to its terms of service, and you now have until 15 May 2021 to review and accept the changes, or the app will stop working for you.
What is Signal?
Signal is a free chat app available to download on Android, iPhone, and iPad. Like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, they have a desktop version for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
In 2018, the Signal Foundation was founded by US entrepreneurs Moxie Marlinspike and Brian Acton. Together they launched Signal using an open whisper system that provides end-to-end encryption to all of its users.
Signal’s encryption keys are kept on users’ devices, minimizing the risk of hacking. They can’t access them even if they wanted to and have even created a specific encryption protocol for this reason.
What is Telegram?
Telegram is a chat app founded by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov and his brother Nikolai. It has an estimated 200 million monthly users. Like WhatsApp and Signal, it’s free-to-use on Android, iPhone, and iPad.
Telegram doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default. You need to activate this feature to make your chats with your contacts “secret.”
Their group chat feature doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption at all. Likewise, neither are the messages you receive from anyone outside of your contact list.
In that respect, Telegram’s encryption capabilities are not as good as WhatsApp or Signal.
There are no ads on Telegram
Telegram doesn’t sell your data to advertisers and states on its FAQ page that it will safeguard your Internet privacy by “protecting your personal data from third parties, such as marketers, advertisers, etc.”
WhatsApp may have end-to-end encryption, but it still integrates your metadata with advertisers in ways that Telegram is designed not to.
Signal and Telegram downloads are skyrocketing
If you’re someone who values your data privacy, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that people are already starting to vote with their feet.
Signal has gained 1.2 million downloads since WhatsApp made their announcement in January, while Telegram has received up to 1.7 million downloads.
Protecting your data privacy with a VPN
While apps rise and fall in popularity, the need for secure communications will never wane. If you download a no-logs VPN, you can better protect your devices as it provides an extra layer of security.
A virtual private network (VPN) secures your Internet traffic by directing it through an encrypted tunnel. Without one, your Internet service provider, or ISP, records the websites you frequent, the time you spend online, and your communication habits.
Even better, a no-logs VPN won’t log your details, meaning your browsing habits remain private and secure.
Choosing the best chat app for privacy
When you’re reviewing which app to use, there are many things to consider, from its encryption policies, privacy settings, and whether your family and friends use it themselves.
WhatsApp remains the world’s popular messenger platform by some distance, making it convenient for everyday use. There’s no getting away from its incredible reach — whether Signal and Telegram can match its mass appeal remains to be seen.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you hand over your data to a free service or choose a different path entirely.