Breaking news
Read our blog to learn why privacy matters. And don't forget to get an encrypted mailbox yourself!

Top 5 WhatsApp Alternatives for Privacy

Signal, Threema, Telegram, Element, Wickr - check out these alternatives to WhatsApp.

2021-11-05
WhatsApp is the top dog among all chat apps, but its reputation is declining rapidly, not least because of privacy concerns. But what messaging apps are better suited as privacy-friendly alternatives? We've looked at five popular chat apps that focus on privacy and security.

5 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 starting to look for alternatives.

Before deciding on a new chat app, it's most important to look at what these apps do better than WhatsApp, namely privacy and security. Here are five alternatives to WhatsApp.

1. Signal

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.

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 app with a decent number of users.

Check out Signal.

2. Threema

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 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 userbase

Our rating: Best choice for an anonymous and privacy-friendly app.

Check out Threema.

3. Telegram

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 local devices. With the cloud-based service, chats are re-encrypted on the server. In the 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' 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 encrypted
  • Requires phone number to register
  • Collects lots of meta data
  • Group chats are not encrypted

Check out Telegram.

Element (formerly Riot)

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 fully degoogled Android version available.

Check out Element.

Wickr

Founded by privacy and security advocates in the USA in 2012, Wickr was one of the first messaging apps to adopt end-to-end encryption. All messages are encrypted by default and a phone number is not required upon sign-up for Wickr Me. The app is partially open source, and it undergoes regular security audits. The personal version - Wickr Me - focuses on ephemeral messages, which means that the messages disappear automatically after a set period of time, which is great for privacy. Meta data is then also wiped.

The app’s free and paid versions both have plenty of security features, such as self-destructing messages, content shredding, and an inability to take screenshots (on Android only), but no sync across devices.

Pros

  • Free
  • No phone number required
  • End-to-end encrypted
  • Available on all clients
  • Disappearing messages

Cons

  • Not fully open source
  • Results of audits not published
  • Bought by Amazon in 2021

Check out Wickr.

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!

Happy encrypting!

LOAD COMMENTS