When social media giant Facebook (now Meta) purchased everyone’s favorite mobile messaging app WhatsApp, users were promised their data would be private and that they wouldn’t be subject to the shady things that Mark Zuckerberg and crew are known for. As time has gone on, more and more privacy has been taken away from Whatsapp users in the name of “analytical data.”
Gone are the days when you could trust this app to be totally private and not expect to get data mined for valuable information – information that could easily be sold to advertisers. Here we show you the best alternatives to WhatsApp that actually respect your privacy.
Key Features of a Good WhatsApp Alternative
There are a couple of main features of WhatsApp that we’re looking to see replicated in these alternatives. One is that they have to feel like modern, clean chat clients. Another important aspect is that these apps should offer calling (video and voice). This is primarily why so many people flock to WhatsApp for their communication needs. Over the years the Facebook-owned app has turned into a sort of FaceTime for Android users. It’s also favored by those making calls outside the US.
While WhatsApp has encryption, with Facebook in the equation it’s difficult to tell exactly what they have access to. Taking these factors into consideration, in this post we take a look at some cleanly designed chat clients with calling and true end-to-end encryption.
Formerly known as Riot.im, Element (Android | iOS | Web) uses Matrix as a backend. It’s an excellent chat app for those who like open source from start to finish. Everything from the chat client, chat protocol, and the video conferencing software is open source. This explains why Element is so respectful of your privacy.
In the open source community, people are generally very conscious of their privacy. So they will often look in the source code to make sure the software they’re relying on is safe to use.
Setup is simple — register right from the app without a phone number (a huge plus if you don’t have access to one). The app options are pretty transparent, and desktop clients are also available. For the FOSS-to-the-hilt user, we happily recommend Element.
Wire (Android | iOS) lets you sign up using either your phone number or email address, which is nice plus. The app uses the Proteus messaging protocol to provide end-to-end encryption for text messages.
We should mention here that both Proteus and the Wire app have been publicly audited, which is something not too many other apps can brag about. When it comes to voice and video calls, end-to-end encryption is provided via DTLS with a SRTP handshake. This retains message integrity and prevents eavesdropping and tampering.
As for features for daily use, Wire packs all the right stuff. This includes things like group video calling, screen sharing, and self-destructing messages. The app can be accessed for free for personal use, but for a business account you have to pay.
Telegram (Android | iOS | Web) is perhaps the most worthy alternative to WhatsApp. For starters, the setup is dead simple. It walks you through everything step by step, and it’s super easy to start chatting with your contacts.
Plus, it essentially has comparable features like voice and video messages, a phone number-based login system, stickers, emojis, chat bots, groups, channels and so much more. Along with those cool features, you can integrate it with your digital assistant on your smartphone.
The best thing is, you can easily import your WhatsApp chat over to Telegram. Also, you can use Telegram on the web or directly on your Windows, Mac, or Linux desktop. Most importantly, Telegram supports end-to-end encryption for secret chats and calls, as well as two-step verification.
Signal (Android | iOS) is also available on Windows, macOS, Linux and Chrome. The app is designed around a similar principle to Telegram. Private communication is based on your phone number, and they promise you’ll avoid SMS and MMS fees, as your number is just used as an ID and not the point of transmission.
Signal is the open source chat client that’s the most supported and backed, based on the endorsement from notable, albeit somewhat controversial, privacy advocate Edward Snowden.
Signal strikes the perfect balance of private and still fun to use. If you’re looking for an alternative to WhatsApp, Signal offers most of the features you’d expect including 2FA, disappearing messages, and secure communication verification.
In this age of Internet privacy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that if there is no product, you and your data are the product. That’s why it’s more important than ever to take your privacy back into your own hands, starting with apps like these.
5. Wickr Me
In probably the best endorsement of a privacy-oriented messaging app, Wickr Me (Android | iOS) is reportedly used by journalists, world leaders and other sorts who want to keep their private business private. (No names were specified, mind you, but that’s sort of the point, right?)
Like Element, Wickr Me doesn’t require a phone number to log in and contains all manner of silly and fun features, like stickers and emojis. But that’s where the similarities end. Wickr doesn’t store your contacts on its servers, doesn’t keep metadata, and deletes messages irretrievably from your phone when you ask it to. It’s free, doesn’t involve ads, and encrypts your data to high heaven. Good stuff.
6. Delta Chat
Delta Chat (Android | iOS | Web) is an interesting app which deserves a place on this list. Technically, it’s an email application but has a modern chat interface attached to it for maximum convenience.
This is how Delta Chat allows you to message virtually everyone, you just need their email address. The recipients of your texts don’t need to use Delta Chat themselves and can reply to you directly from email. You will then see their replies in Delta Chat. Pretty convenient, right?
Delta looks like a regular chat app (although the interface is not as modern as in other cases), but the good news is that it does not involve centralized tracking and control. There are no Delta servers where users’ private information could be uploaded.
The app sets up end-to-end encryption automatically when a chat starts. This not only works between Delta Chat apps, but also with other email apps (provided they support Autocrypt Level 1 encryption standard).
Users can add as many accounts to Delta Chat as they want and can even use the app without a phone number. It’s definitely worth a try.
Conversations (Android) is a messaging and VoIP app that actually makes you pay money to use it. While paying a couple of bucks for an app may seem strange in this day and age, if your main concern is privacy, then that’s literally the price you pay for it, given that “free” apps tend to rely on your data to a greater or lesser degree to make money.
Conversations is a free and open-source app based on the Jabber/XMPP protocols. The company uses its own XMPP server and promises to “never upload data to the developer.” The fact that the app is open source means that anyone can go on GitHub to see what’s contained in the code (e.g. any dodgy privacy issues) and make contributions themselves. It’s an app committed to being open.
You don’t need to use a Google account or phone number here, and it demands very few of your permissions (though of course will require camera and microphone access if you want to use its video and voice features). It is very easy on the battery, too!
Threema (Android | iOS | Web) is a paid alternative. The best part about this service is that it can be used completely anonymously, without you having to share anything you don’t want to such as email or phone number.
Like many of the entries on this list, Threema is open source and its software code can be viewed by anyone. The app can be used to make end-to-end encrypted voice and video calls, as well as to create polls. On Android, users can also take advantage of distribution lists which let you send messages to multiple recipients.
With Threema, your metadata is kept to a minimum. For instance, the app notes that it doesn’t keep records of who exchanges messages with whom. Threema access requires a one time $3.99 payment, which is not a large sum if you truly value your privacy.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I hold on to my WhatsApp conversations?
You can export your WhatsApp chat history in .txt format from the app. If you’re switching to a WhatsApp alternative, check if it allows you to import your chats from WhatsApp. Telegram is one app that has this feature.
What are the dangers of using WhatsApp?
One of the primary issues with the popular messaging app is that it’s now owned by Meta (formerly Facebook) and so suffers many of the same privacy dangers as its parent company. This is perhaps one of the chief reasons why a large number of users have chosen to migrate to different platforms.
With Meta and its dubious practices aside, WhatsApp still suffers from other security risks. For instance, WhatsApp Web can be a rich ground for cybercriminal activity such as hackers passing off malicious software as WhatsApp desktop applications. Besides that, WhatsApp is known to have been implicated in the spread of fake news and information in various regions across the world. Fortunately, the company did implement a few changes meant to discourage these practices such as putting limits on forwarding. Even so, the possibility of getting random messages of a dubious nature still looms.
On the Whatsapp alternative apps that require my phone number to sign in, who can see my number afterwards?
That depends on the app you’re using. For instance, Telegram lets you limit the visibility of your phone number to yourself. You can do that from “Settings-> Privacy & Security-> Phone number.” On Signal, this option is not available, however. Check your app’s settings to see if you can make your phone number private to hide it from the people you’ve added as contacts on the app.
Image credit: Unsplash
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