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Is WhatsApp safe: A quick overview & comparison with Telegram and Signal

Is WhatsApp safe: A quick overview & comparison with Telegram and Signal
WhatsApp allows us to communicate with each other over great distances. Like other messaging apps, your messages could potentially be read by people you don’t know. Used for things you are not aware of. If you’re looking to find out if Whatsapp is still safe, you are in the right place.

What is a messaging app?

Messaging apps are great. They allow us to stay in contact with each other at a very low cost. Since they don’t work on the phone network you can use them on Wi-Fi. Some even allow you to call this way. Meaning you don’t even need an expensive phone contract. You can switch to prepaid instead and save on costs.
More and more companies use their messaging apps to collect data, however. Meaning you’re not always quite sure your private messages stay private. Take WhatsApp for instance. It’s the most popular messaging app worldwide, by far. If you’re one of its 1.6 Billion users, you might have heard some of the horror stories. How WhatsApp now shares all your data with Facebook. In reality, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Is WhatsApp safe? And what are the other options if you’re looking for an encrypted messaging app? Read on to find out.

What is an encrypted messaging app?

To understand whether WhatsApp is safe or not we first need to understand a bit about encryption. Don’t worry, there is no math or technical information involved. At its heart, encryption is easy. You just take a message and change it a little in a systematic way. Let’s say we want to encrypt the word ‘why’. Just change every letter to the letter to the right on your keyboard. It now reads ‘eju’. Congrats! You’ve just written an encrypted message.
You’ve probably written something like this in high school. It’s a simple form of encryption. You have a message and one way of systematically changing every letter. That way of changing the message, we call that the key. You need the key to change the message back and be able to read it. The most famous version of this kind of encryption was used by the Roman general Ceasar.
The problem with this kind of encryption is that it’s so systematic that it becomes easy to crack. Especially with the computing power that exists today. A computer can just try every possible key until it gets the right one. This method is called brute force.
Modern encrypted messaging apps use more complicated algorithmic encryption. To explain how this works exactly would be a bit technical. If you want to find out more, check this article out. To put it in simple terms, there are so many possible variations to the key, that it’s impossible for a computer to brute force it.
One last important part of an encrypted messaging app is ‘end-to-end’ encryption. What this means is that it’s nearly impossible to intercept the key and decrypt the message that way. In theory, modern encryption combined with end-to-end encryption makes your messages impossible to read for anyone but you.

Is WhatsApp safe?

With all that in mind. Is WhatsApp still safe? To begin with, WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption. This means they cannot read your messages and cannot share them with Facebook. On this level, Whatsapp is still one of the most secure messaging apps around. WhatsApp’s encryption makes sure your messages stay private.
They are, however, reserving the right to collect other data. This includes your general, but not exact, location. It also includes information on how you’re using the app, like how many people and how often you are sending messages. All this information can be used by WhatsApp as well as Facebook and their parent company Meta to improve services and sell targeted advertising. You can find more information on how much data WhatsApp collects on their website.
So, yes, WhatsApp is collecting data and sharing it with Facebook. But it’s collecting far less data than Facebook itself does, or Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or Google do. If you’re using any of those services, WhatsApp is not your biggest data leak. In other words, WhatsApp is still safe to use.
But if you are nervous about WhatsApp’s connection to Facebook, or if you’re just looking for the safest option out there. Then there are some options you can look at.

Telegram v Whatsapp

Telegram is one of the most popular messaging apps after WhatsApp. This is for a couple of reasons. Telegram has a secret chat option. This uses end-to-end encryption but also prevents messages from being backed up in a cloud. Messages only exist on the phones of the sender and receiver. Besides that, group chats and self-destructing messages are popular features of Telegram. Then, is Telegram safe? Generally, yes. The biggest disadvantage of Telegram is that end-to-end encryption is not the default. You have to turn secret chat on to use it.

Benefits of Telegram:

  • Secret Chat
  • Self-destructing messages

Disadvantages of Telegram:

  • End-to-End encryption not the default
  • If you don’t turn secret chat on – Telegram logs metadata

Signal v WhatsApp

Signal is often seen as the gold standard of secure messaging apps. So, is Signal safe? Signal’s encryption is trusted and by default turned on. It has self-destructing messages like Telegram. Best of all, it’s a non-profit. So there is no reason to collect data, no advertising or secret trackers. The only downside? It’s the least used app of the three we’re comparing here.

Benefits of Signal:

  • End-to-end encryption is the default
  • Self-destructing messages and files
  • No metadata collection

Disadvantages of Signal:

  • The smallest user base of the compared messaging apps

Which is the most secure messaging app in 2021?

If you’re looking for the most secure messaging app on the market, the clear winner is Signal. But if you’re just looking to message your friends, WhatsApp is perfectly safe to use. There are of course even more messaging apps you can consider. Some of those, such as Facebook messenger, don’t have end-to-end encryption turned on by default. Others are simply used by even fewer people than Signal. If you’re looking for a complete comparison of the messaging apps on the market you can find that here.

Written by

Ravian Ruys