Great, this morning we embark on a new sector where the collection of our personal data is once again a concern. This time, we are looking into the messaging applications that have become an integral part of our daily lives. Despite the risks associated with geolocation, facial recognition, and GDPR compliance, the exploration of online privacy dangers continues.
I won’t bore you by explaining what messaging applications are, as you are likely well acquainted with many of them and probably use them multiple times throughout the day. In fact, you may even have several messaging apps installed on your smartphone. According to Statista, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger are the top three most widely used messaging apps worldwide, with Telegram and Snapchat following closely behind. In Europe, WhatsApp takes the lead, surpassing FB Messenger (which is losing momentum), Snapchat, and iMessages. Not many surprises there.
With the staggering number of daily users, accounting for over 25% of the world’s population, and considering the highly personal nature of the information exchanged on messaging platforms, it’s no wonder that advertisers, data brokers, and the companies behind these applications are keen on collecting as much data as possible to gain a comprehensive understanding of our lives.
The vast amount of personal conversations, multimedia files, location data, and other interactions taking place on messaging apps provide a treasure trove of information for these entities. They see it as an opportunity to gather insights and target their advertising campaigns with precision, or even sell the data to third parties for various purposes. The potential value derived from understanding users inside out is immense from a business perspective.
It’s important for users to be aware of the extent to which their personal information is being collected and how it may be used. Taking steps to protect privacy, such as reviewing app permissions, being cautious with sharing sensitive data, and considering privacy-focused alternatives, can help mitigate some of these risks.
So in terms of security, how does it work?
I may be critical of WhatsApp, even though it now offers some impressive features like default end-to-end encryption. However, considering how Meta has been taking advantage of us for years, and considering that there are other apps that are just as practical and secure, there’s no reason to limit ourselves. Trust needs to be earned, in my humble opinion (IMHO = in my humble opinion, for those who may not be familiar).
Telegram, which is widely known, offers almost the same features as WhatsApp. It even allows you to import your WhatsApp conversation history for a smooth migration. However, it’s important to note that while Telegram offers end-to-end encryption through its “secret chats,” it is not enabled by default. Additionally, Telegram’s encryption protocol and servers are proprietary, which introduces some gray areas in terms of security.
Signal, on the other hand, prioritizes security over flexibility. As a result, it has made decisions that may not be popular with everyone, such as discontinuing support for classic SMS/MMS recently. This means that contacts who are not on Signal can no longer be reached through the app, requiring users to either have two messaging tools or convince others to switch to Signal.
These are just two examples of widely used and user-friendly apps, but there are other interesting projects worth mentioning, such as Session, Threema, Viber, and Silence. Each app has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to research and choose the one that best suits your needs.
In summary, when selecting a messaging app, prioritize those that offer end-to-end encryption, are open source, and don’t store your data. Steer clear of apps like Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and Snapchat, which collect your information. If you’re using WhatsApp (which shares data with Meta) or Telegram (which has some gray areas), it’s important to ask yourself the right questions.