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Best WhatsApp Alternatives for Privacy | Our Top 5

Review of the best alternatives to WhatsApp: Signal, Threema, Telegram, Element, Wire.

2022-04-12
Best WhatsApp alternative: Signal is our top choice.
WhatsApp is the number one among all chat apps. Yet its reputation is declining rapidly, not least because of privacy concerns and its being part of Meta (formerly Facebook). But what messaging apps are better suited as privacy-friendly alternatives? We've looked at five popular WhatsApp alternatives that focus on privacy and security.

Best alternatives to WhatsApp

Ever since WhatsApp has been acquired by Facebook, its reputation has gone down, and with every new Facebook scandal also WhatsApp suffers. And while WhatsApp is still the most popular chat app with more than 2 billion monthly active users worldwide, more and more people are switching to privacy-first alternatives.

Before deciding on an alternative chat app, it's most important to look at what these apps do better than WhatsApp, namely privacy and security.

Here are the five best WhatsApp alternatives:

  1. Signal
  2. Threema
  3. Element
  4. Wire
  5. Telegram

1. Signal

Best WhatsApp alternative for privacy: Signal.

Image credit: Signal Foundation

One of the most popular privacy-friendly chat apps is Signal (formerly known as TextSecure) with 40 million active monthly users. It is free, has strong encryption, and works on all platforms.

On top of the encryption, which renders messages unreadable to hackers, Signal ensures that little meta data is generated during messaging. This is important in case the authorities issue a subpoena to the Signal Foundation. The fewer data a service provider collects, the fewer data it can hand out upon a court request.

Like most messaging apps, the installation and operation of Signal are very simple. Photos, videos and audios can be sent in individual as well as group chats. It also offers voice and video calling, so you won’t miss WhatsApp. Messages can be set to disappear at a given time interval for automatic deletion. This guarantees privacy, even if someone else gains access to your phone.

Signal's program code is open source, which means that anyone can view it and check it for vulnerabilities. Who exchanges messages with whom and when (=meta data) is not stored by Signal. Many security experts recommend Signal, such as Bruce Schneier and Edward Snowden.

However, to use Signal one must connect their phone number to the messaging service, which stops anyone from using Signal anonymously.

Pros

  • Free
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Open source
  • Almost no meta data
  • Disappearing messages
  • Available on all clients
  • Intuitive interface

Cons

  • Requires phone number to register
  • Others can see that your are using Signal (if phone number is known)
  • Hosted on AWS

Our rating: Best choice for popular privacy-friendly WhatsApp alternative with a decent number of users.

Download Signal: Android, iOS

2. Threema

Best WhatsApp alternative for anonymity: Threema.

Image credit: Threema GmbH

Another well-known alternative to WhatsApp is Threema. You can register a Threema account anonymously as a phone number is not required. Anonymous payment is possible via Bitcoin. All communication via the messaging app is end-to-end encrypted and meta data is kept to a minimum. For example, it is not recorded who exchanges messages with whom and when. You can send images, text messages, and GPS location in the chat easily as the app is just as intuitively to use as WhatsApp. Threema also offers encrypted phone calls. Threema syncs your contact list so that you can easily find other users.

The client software is open source and can be viewed by anyone.

Convenience, data protection, and data security are right, but they come at a (low) price: The app costs a one-time fee of 3.99 Euros.

Pros

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Open source
  • Almost no meta data
  • No phone number required
  • Available on all clients
  • Intuitive interface
  • Hosted on own server

Cons

  • Low fee
  • Small user base

Our rating: Best WhatsApp alternative for anonymous and privacy-friendly messaging.

Download Threema: Android, iOS

3. Element (formerly Riot)

Best WhatsApp alternative for open source: Element.

Image credit: The Matrix Foundation

Element is a universal secure chat application designed to enhance communication and collaboration.

While the messenger app Element is quite unknown, it is used by tech-savvy government employees who highly value it for its security and privacy. The app is available for Android, iOS, Windows, Linux and macOS. The Android version does not require any Google services and can be downloaded via F-Droid - just like Tutanota. Element can be used directly with a web browser without installation as well. The user interface of Element might take some getting used to for WhatsApp users as it differs in some ways.

Element offers end-to-end encryption for voice-over-IP phone calls, video chats and the classic messaging services for sending texts and pictures. Group voice and video calls, however, are not encrypted end-to-end. If downloaded via Google's Play Store, the Element app features an application library that ensures the app is constantly connected to Google. Therefore, privacy-sensitive users prefer to get the app from F-Droid, which does not have this library.

As an open-source application, built on the federated Matrix, you can also fully take control over your own data by hosting it on your own server. As all Matrix servers are interoperable, you can also send messages to users of other Matrix-based apps (Element is the most popular one among these). So called Matrix 'bridges' even enable you to send messages to other messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal and others.

Pros

  • Free
  • No phone number required
  • End-to-end encrypted (except group calls)
  • Available on all clients
  • Interoperable with other apps
  • Self-hosting possible

Cons

  • Some aspects are rather technical

Our rating: Best choice for open source enthusiasts as there is a fully degoogled Android version available.

Download Element: Android, iOS

4. Wire

Best WhatsApp alternative: Wire.

Image credit: Wire Swiss GmbH

Wire, another encrypted chat app, is based in Switzerland. Wire lets you communicate via voice, text and video chat. It supports GIFs, file sharing, emojis and other options that your are used to from using Whatsapp.

Wire can be synced across devices - unlike WhatsApp - and you can connect multiple accounts to the app. Wire is fully open source and has published its code on GitHub for security review. Is relies on the Signal protocol that is also being used by Signal and Whatsapp to encrypt messages.

The messaging app Wire is free of charge for mobile and desktop users. It is run as a freemium model as there are also paid options for businesses.

Pros

  • Free
  • End-to-end encrypted
  • Available on all clients
  • Open source
  • Self-destructing messages

Cons

  • Phone number or email address required
  • Does not support 2FA
  • Small number of users (around half a million)

Download Wire: Android, iOS

5. Telegram

Best WhatsApp alternative: Telegram.

Image credit: Telegram FZ-LLC

The chat app Telegram has gained a lot of respect and popularity for fighting for anti-censorship in autocratic countries, namely in the founder's home country Russia. With 500 million active users, it is one of the most popular WhatsApp alternatives. Similar to WhatsApp, it uses a double-tick system to display when someone received a message. Like Signal, Telegram offers the ability to automatically delete a message after a certain time.

However, Telegram is a cloud-based service without end-to-end encryption; only client-to-client 'secret' chats are stored encrypted on devices locally. With the cloud-based service, chats are re-encrypted on the server. In this process, however, operators do have access to the data.

Additionally Telegram is not as sparse with meta data collection as Threema or Signal as it may collect the following meta data from users: “We may collect metadata such as your IP address, devices and Telegram apps you’ve used, history of username changes, etc.”

Telegram is as easy to use as other messaging apps such as WhatsApp. Additionally, you can send text and media messages in a chat with up to 200,000 users, or create 'channels' to which an unlimited number of users can subscribe to.

Telegram's apps (client software) are free, available on all clients and open source, so anyone can view them, while the central server's software is proprietary. Former WhatsApp users have also often opted for Telegram because they can import their WhatsApp chats into Telegram.

Pros

  • Free
  • Channel feature
  • Available on all clients
  • Intuitive interface

Cons

  • Not end-to-end encrypted (except secret chat)
  • Requires phone number to register
  • Collects lots of meta data
  • No option to encrypt group chats

Download Telegram: Android, iOS

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can say that there are lots of great messaging apps that easily exceed WhatsApp in regards to security and privacy. As privacy-focused developers we can say that Signal, Threema and Element are our personal favorites among the ones presented here. Please do your own research as well before choosing one of these WhatsApp alternatives to increase your level of privacy.

In addition, it is of course recommendable to also get a secure email account due to its interoperability. With Tutanota you can email anyone anywhere in the world - also encrypted.

After all, the more data you encrypt, the more secure you are on the web! Sign up now.

Happy encrypting!

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