Watsapp currently is the largest messaging service in the world with over 2 billion monthly active users. Following that, Telegram accounts for 400 million and Signal stands at a ballpark of 10-20 million monthly active users. Simply looking at the raw numbers would suggest that WhatsApp is hugely popular and almost ubiquitous while Telegram is catching up and Signal seems to have just joined the million downloads race. However, numbers do not often tell you the entire story, hence here we do a comprehensive comparison of the three app’s security and features.
WhatsApp offers almost every feature you might need. You get support for group chats with up to 256 members. You can also broadcast messages to multiple contacts at the same time. It also supports voice and video calls, both for individuals and groups. However, for group video calls, you are restricted to 8 users at any time. Further, WhatsApp also offers a Status feature (also called WhatsApp stories) similar to Instagram stories.
Whatsapp also allows you to share all sorts of files and documents, but there are file size limits to adhere to. For photos, videos, and audio files, the limit is 16 MB. However, documents can be up to 100 MB. You can also share live location with your contacts and I am sure many users find this feature helpful.
And since WhatsApp is meant for general users, it offers seamless backup and restore functionality through cloud services like Google Drive and iCloud. And the best part is that cloud backup is completely free.
Telegram app offers so many features that it’s incredible. Similar to WhatsApp, you get the basics such as chats, group chats, and channels. However, unlike WhatsApp’s 256 member limit, Telegram brings support for groups with up to 200,000 members. It also offers multiple group-specific features such as bots, polls, quizzes, hashtags, and a lot more which can make group experiences a lot more fun.
The app also offers a unique feature, self-destructing messages (like Snapchat) which is great if you’re sending messages that you don’t want to remain on the recipient’s device for eternity. The size limit for sharing files on Telegram is a whopping 1.5 GB. The app now has both voice and video call on Android and iOS devices, which is great because video call support was a big omission from the app.
Signal offers its users secure messaging, voice, and video calls and all communications are end-to-end encrypted. Further, you can create groups, however, you don’t have the option to broadcast messages to multiple contacts at once. Plus, Signal has recently added support for group calling as well.
It has a feature similar to the self-destructing messages of Telegram. The best feature of Signal is “Note to Self”. Unlike WhatsApp, you don’t have to create a single-member group to send notes to yourself. On Signal, the feature is available natively and you can jot down your thoughts and ideas while messaging with your friends and family.
Apart from that, Signal allows you to relay voice calls to its servers so your identity remains concealed from your contacts. The feature is somewhat similar to what a VPN does. There are also emojis and some privacy stickers, but they are very limited in comparison to WhatsApp and Telegram.
The end to end encryption (E2E) introduced in 2016 on WhatsApp is available on every single mode of communication that the app enables. So all your messages, video calls, voice calls, photos, and anything else you share are end-to-end encrypted. WhatsApp uses the E2E protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems, which is the name behind Signal messenger. That’s a good thing, because the Signal protocol is open source, widely peer-reviewed, and is generally considered one of the best protocols for implementing end-to-end encryption in messaging platforms.
However, WhatsApp does not encrypt backups (cloud or local). Also, it does not encrypt the metadata which is used to carry communication between two endpoints. This is one of the major criticisms of WhatsApp’s security model. While metadata does not allow anyone to read your messages, it lets authorities know whom and when you messaged someone, and for how long.
All in all, WhatsApp does a pretty decent job of ensuring security for its users. That being said, WhatsApp has suffered a couple of major privacy nightmares, especially the recent issue with group chats getting indexed on Google search. That issue has been fixed, however, it was not a good look for the messaging app.
Telegram does offer some level of protection to its users. While Telegram supports E2E encryption, it’s not enabled by default. The only way to use E2E encryption on Telegram is to use its secret chats feature. However, Telegram states that it manages its message storage and decryption keys in a way that one would require court orders from multiple legal systems around the world to be able to access any of your data. The company says that it has shared 0 bytes of data with third-parties and governments to this date.
Telegram groups are not encrypted because Secret Chats are only supported for single-user communication. Moreover, Telegram’s desktop client doesn’t support E2E encryption on any platform other than macOS.
Signal is by far the best when it comes to security, be it on the back-end or the user-facing side of the service. Signal uses the open-source Signal Protocol to implement end-to-end encryption. And just like WhatsApp, the E2E encryption covers all forms of communication on Signal.
Signal goes one step further than others and encrypts your metadata too. To protect user privacy from all corners, Signal devised a new way to communicate between the sender and the recipient and it’s called Sealed Sender. Basically, with Sealed Sender, no one will be able to know not even Signal who is messaging whom, which ensures ultimate privacy. Signal by default encrypts all the local files with a 4-digit passphrase. And if you want to create an encrypted local backup then you can do that as well. The app now also supports encrypted group calls.
All in all, in terms of security and privacy protection, Signal stands head and shoulder above WhatsApp and Telegram and that makes it the most secure messaging app between the three.
- What data does each app collect?
Following is the list of data that each of the three messaging apps collects from their users:
WhatsApp Device ID User ID Advertising Data Purchase History Coarse Location Phone Number Email Address Contacts Product Interaction Crash Data Performance Data Other Diagnostic Data Payment Info Customer Support Product Interaction Other User Content
Telegram Contact Info Contacts User ID
Signal None. (The only personal data Signal stores is your phone number)