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Privacy and Messaging

Millions have turned to Signal and Telegram. But how much do you know about these rival messengers?

Are you more secure if you switch to Signal or Telegram?

The WhatsApp backlash has focused on its collection of metadata—the who, when and where of a message rather than its content. And while the platform denies sharing anything private or sensitive with Facebook, it still collects too much. What hasn’t been questioned, though, is the security it applies to your messages themselves. Check out a visual comparison of App Privacy information.

Who is behind Signal and Telegram?

Telegram is managed and funded by Russian social media billionaire Pavel Durov, and operates from undisclosed locations. In its early years, the messenger became famous as the platform of choice for dissidents and protesters and, unfortunately, for criminals and extremists, all looking to keep their communications out of the reach of the authorities. Despite its lack of end-to-end encryption by default and the fact it holds decryption keys, Telegram says that to access messages it needs keys from different jurisdictions to frustrate any attempts by law enforcement to access content. This gives a good insight into the original philosophy behind Telegram.

Signal was founded by a security researcher who uses the name Moxie Marlinspike for his public profile. Until 2018, the platform was fairly niche and unless you worked in some form of security field, it was unlikely to be found on your phone. But then Brian Acton, one of WhatsApp’s founders, left Facebook and ploughed $50 million into Signal to help take it mainstream. Prior to Acton’s involvement, Signal was fairly clunky to use, you really needed to want its enhanced security. But that has all now changed, as my colleague Kate O’Flaherty explains, its user interface and features rival WhatsApp, all the way to group calls and stickers. It is now the nearest thing to the original spirit of WhatsApp, before Facebook flexed its ownership muscles.

Are Signal and Telegram really better for you than WhatsApp?

Yes… and no. It is undoubtedly true that Facebook’s focus on data collection and processing is at odds with the principles of secure, private messaging.

But a messaging platform is only as useful as its userbase. This has always been Signal’s challenge, now finally being resolved. “When I look through my contacts,” ESET’s Jake Moore tells me, “it seems Signal is winning the race against Telegram so far. And I think that may continue due to its default end-to-end encryption on offer—a must for any messaging service in my opinion.”

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