Since the data is the new oil, data protection and privacy has been a hot topic for the past decade. Many countries have made powerful regulations for data security. The latest flare up was ignited by the WhatsApp backlash. WhatsApp has been a trusted messaging application for a long time now, but people are flocking to other alternatives since the Apple- WhatsApp issue and the newest policy changes WhatsApp rolled out. The new trends are Signal and Telegram. Let us analyze these three applications from a security standpoint.
Data Protection and Privacy
Why is data privacy so widely discussed? There are at least two reasons. One being, privacy is a right for human beings. Everyone in this world has a right to live their life without being spied on or surveilled. Everyone has the freedom to express thoughts or opinions and to live without getting identified which is the nature of a democratic system. And the second reason being the precious nature of data in this technology driven era. Data is the most important asset a company can possess now. Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. have literally built empires on top of the data. And because of this, there is a high chance that these companies might exploit their users for what is rightly called the new oil- Data!
Data security and data privacy are completely different concepts. Data privacy refers to the act of supervising how data is collected, transferred or used. Whereas data security refers to the act of protecting data from internal or external attacks. Both data privacy and data security go hand in hand but both are not essentially the same. Many companies misinterpret these concepts and one of the common misconceptions is that if data is secure from attackers, they are automatically compliant with privacy regulations. In other words, if data are not collected with proper consent, you might be violating regulations even if the data is secure.
There are various regulatory standards around the world to ensure data privacy and security such as HIPAA, CCPA, GDPR etc.
Let us analyze three messaging applications, WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal on the wake of data protection and privacy. We will discuss how much data is collected by each of these applications. We will also discuss the security standards they have set and the shortcomings in their security infrastructure.
WhatsApp has been a hot favorite for people when it comes to messaging applications. It supports a wide array of features such as voice calls, video calls, group chats, broadcast messages, status updates and so on. WhatsApp made end-to-end encryption popular among the users, which allows only the sender and recipient to read a message. The WhatsApp backlash was focused on the collection of metadata or the underlying data such as place, time etc., rather than the actual message. WhatsApp uses third party backup services such as iCloud/ Google.
Telegram has been around for a few years now and is known for its mega groups and extensive features. It supports groups of up to 200,000 members. It supports voice calls, video calls and self-destructing messages. Telegram has no end-to-end encryption except for secret chats. This means a normal message send via Telegram is not end-to-end encrypted. Telegram stores backups in their own servers and does not use any third-party services.
Signal got popular recently after the WhatsApp backlash even though it has been around for a few years. Signal supports voice calls, video calls, group chats, group calls and self-destructing messages. All messages are end-to-end encrypted in signal. The difference is that the signal is open source, which ensures more security. The signal does not backup the chat, it stores everything in the device itself.
- Phone number
- Device info
- Purchase history
- Crash data
- Performance data
- Phone number
- Phone number
Switching from WhatsApp?
Even though WhatsApp has a history of security compromises and leaked chats, the most popular one being Israeli spyware incident, almost all of which were endpoint compromises. It is not WhatsApp’s infrastructure being compromised but our phones. Another shortcoming with WhatsApp is that the chat back up is not end-to-end encrypted as they use third party services. Abandoning WhatsApp for Telegram might not make much difference as it does not have end-to-end encryption by default and it is not extended to group chats.
Strictly from a security standpoint, Signal is the best alternative, as it has end-to-end encryption, no chat backup, it stores just your phone number and no data is collected. And Signal can’t see your messages even if it wanted to, unlike WhatsApp and Telegram.
But as of now, there is a significantly lesser number of people using Signal. Chances are you could count the number of signal contacts in your phone with your fingers. What is the use of a messaging application if there is no one in it?
- If security is your utmost priority, Signal will be the best for you as it offers the highest level of security among these three apps.
- If you don’t want to miss out on the extensive feature list of the Telegram, there is no other choice.
- Since WhatsApp is the most popular among these three, your loved ones might be using WhatsApp and that makes it difficult to bid adieu to WhatsApp.
- Why not enjoy all three if you are able to manage and choose the appropriate use cases, without compromising your privacy and data security.