When social media giant Facebook purchased everyone’s favorite mobile messenger 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 I want to make sure we compare to. One is that it feels like a modern, clean chat client. There aren’t any crazy design elements or anything like that. Another is that calling is included, which is a huge part of why so many people use WhatsApp to communicate – it can become like a “FaceTime” for those with Android phones or those speaking with someone outside the U.S.
And finally, WhatsApp does have encryption, but the problem is that Facebook is in the middle of your messages, so it’s difficult to tell exactly what they know. Taking these factors into consideration, here we look mostly at modern, cleanly-designed chat clients with calling and true end-to-end encryption.
What’s this? A messaging and VOIP app that actually makes you pay real 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!
Formerly Riot.im, Element uses Matrix as a backend and is an excellent chat app for those who like open source from end to end. Everything from the chat client, chat protocol, and the video conferencing software are all open source, which is an important part of why Element is so respectful of your privacy.
In the open source community, people are generally very conscious of their privacy, and they will look in the source code to make sure the software they’re using is safe for them to use without giving their data to a company that they don’t want to have it.
Setup is simple: you can register right from the app with no phone number (a huge plus if you don’t have access to a phone number) and options are generally pretty transparent. For the FOSS-to-the-hilt user, I’d happily recommend Element.
3. Wickr Me
In probably the best endorsement of a privacy-oriented messaging app, Wickr Me is apparently 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.
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 – Telegram isn’t just a mobile app.
The best thing is, you can easily import your WhatsApp chat over to Telegram, and you can use Telegram on Windows, Mac and even Linux with their desktop app. Alternatively, Telegram has a web chat application for all your messaging needs. Best of all, Telegram supports end-to-end encryption and two-step verification, with respect to your privacy.
Signal is an app for Android, iPhone, macOS, Windows, Linux, and Chrome that 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 raving endorsement from notable, albeit somewhat controversial, privacy advocate Edward Snowden.
He uses it every day, and it’s where many of the Internet’s private conversations take place. Signal strikes the perfect balance of private and still fun to use. If you’re looking for the alternative to WhatsApp that I’d personally most highly recommend, it would be Signal.
In this age of Internet privacy, it’s becoming more and more 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.
If you enjoyed our list of the best WhatsApp alternatives, make sure you check out some other privacy-related writeups, like I Have Nothing to Hide, So Why Should I Care About Privacy?, the best privacy-focused browsers for Android, and our guide to PGP encryption.