We share joys and sorrows with each other via chat apps such as WhatsApp, assuming it can be done safely. How do these apps ensure your privacy?
Since Facebook’s takeover of WhatsApp in 2014, discussions about privacy have flared up regularly. People have turned to competitors like Signal and Telegram, although WhatsApp is still the largest. How secure are your conversations with these apps?
In any case, the concerns are not related to the possible hacking of your chat history. Given the protection used, you don’t have to be afraid that a hacker or another service will read your messages. WhatsApp uses what is called end-to-end encryption, just like its competitors.
End-to-end encryption between you and the recipient ensures that the messages sent are read. Sending a WhatsApp message seems very easy, but there is a rather complicated system behind it. Your app first goes to the server, to be sent from there to the intended recipient.
It encrypts your message end-to-end as soon as it is sent, so that no one can read it on its way to the server. The key to the lock is only you and the recipient. It will be applied automatically when your message reaches the recipient’s account. So you don’t have to enter a special code for it.
Even WhatsApp itself cannot read your messages. This is not what the discussion is about. Privacy sensitivity comes into the picture with metadata, in other words: data about your data.
It’s not about the content of the messages themselves, but about things like when they were sent, where you were when you sent them or how often you talk to certain contacts. Facebook (or now: Meta) will get all of this data and the company can use it, for example, to serve you personalized ads.
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Signal en Telegram
In rival Signal, that metadata is also encrypted and then not stored by Signal itself. The company is not commercial and exists thanks to donations. So there is no revenue model associated with storing or using your data. In addition, the Signal app is “open source”, which means that the code for the app is available to everyone. Thus, technically minded people can see for themselves whether Signal is keeping these promises, or whether something is secretly going on behind the scenes.
Telegram is also “open source”, but offers less security than Signal and even WhatsApp. Conversations are not automatically encrypted, so the user has to choose a secret chat by himself. This can only be used in private chats and not for entire group chats. Experts also criticize the encryption method and that other applications methods are more secure.
So there are certainly good reasons for wanting to ditch WhatsApp, but whether it weighs heavy enough for you will have to decide for yourself. The big drawback is that Telegram and certainly Signal have much fewer users. WhatsApp has about 2 billion users, Telegram has about 500 million, and Signal had about 40 million at the beginning of this year.
You can then switch yourself, but of course everyone you want to chat with should have the same app. You will then have to convince all your friends to go to a specific app as well. As WhatsApp is the market leader in the Netherlands, this can be a challenging task.
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