Worried about privacy on WhatsApp? Here’s what you can use instead

Word of mouth spreads fast on the internet, which perhaps helps to explain the popularity of WhatsApp. It has become the go-to platform for sending texts, making phone calls free of tariff restrictions, and conducting video chats.

WhatsApp rivals have begun to line up. Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

But it is not, and never has been, the best at doing any of those. It is only its near universality that has drawn so many of us to it without a second thought.

That is no longer the case, though. Since it announced the other week a change in the way it uses and reuses the data it collects from your conversations, it has reportedly been haemorrhaging users at the rate of several million a week.

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The exodus is understandable. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which is as averse to privacy as a vampire is to garlic – so the prospect of retaining even less of it has simply scared many users away. And while WhatsApp says the basic terms of its service are unchanged, the ambiguity surrounding the small print has forced it to put back its implementation from last week’s planned launch.

The beneficiaries of the mass migration have been competitors like Telegram, which has long been the best platform for instant messaging and which now supports video calling, too.

Telegram’s biggest benefit over WhatsApp is its portability. Instead of working on just a single phone, it syncs your conversations automatically across all your devices – phones, tablets and computers – without taking up too much space on any of them. That’s because it stores images, videos and texts on its own servers, not on your phone. The data is encrypted by default but the service also allows for even-more-secure “secret chats” which are conducted outside the cloud.

Additionally, it lets you edit messages you have already sent, allows non-urgent “silent messages” which don’t disturb the recipient, and the scheduling of messages to be sent later. You can also set conversations to “self destruct” and delete themselves after a specified time.

Telegram supports public and private group conversations, too, and aims to introduce Zoom-style group video calling this year.

But it is not the only WhatsApp challenger out there. Signal Private Messenger also offers enhanced security and self-destruction, as well as “screen security” which prevents anyone taking screenshots of your conversation. It also claims not to link any of your data with your identity – a promise that WhatsApp, with its links to Facebook, cannot make. Signal does not work across multiple devices, though.

The disadvantage with Telegram, Signal and every other alternative app is that both you and everyone with whom you wish to communicate needs to be using it. That’s also the case with WhatsApp, but whereas you can usually take that for granted, its rivals have nothing like the same penetration.

All the same, if you’re in the habit of messaging a relatively small circle of people, a little coordination between all of you should be all that’s needed. This seems to have been borne out by the recent success of Signal, which was outside the top 1,000 apps in the UK at the beginning of last month but after the announcement by WhatsApp became the most downloaded in the country.

The irony is that WhatsApp is not only not the best messaging app on the market; it isn’t even necessarily the best one owned by Facebook. The company’s Messenger platform works across multiple devices and has no limit on the number of photos or videos you can send at once. On the other hand, it has nothing like the same level of message encryption.

The rumour mill that has hastened WhatsApp’s recent decline is the same one that made it popular in the first place. Oddly, it has taken far longer for it to spread the word that Telegram is the most flexible messaging platform currently available.

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