As we head into 2021, it’s becoming clear that society is waking up to the sheer amount of data that we hand over to tech giants. Whether it’s your browsing habits on Chrome or the number of times you play a certain song on YouTube, your online activity is tracked and used to generate income for these companies.
With that in mind, here are a few messaging apps that actually respect your privacy and a few you should avoid. We also cover a couple of ways to keep your digital life secure and private — as it should be.
Choose these messaging apps
Signal is a fully open-source messaging platform with some of the best encryption in the business. Dedicated to privacy, Signal offers end-to-end encryption as standard and its servers retain the absolute minimum of user data. When subpoenaed in the US, Signal had very little useful information to hand over to law enforcement agencies, proving its privacy credentials.
Additionally, Signal’s user base is rapidly growing — thanks in part to a Tweet from Elon Musk: Use Signal — so it won’t be hard to convince your friends to join you there.
Like Signal, Wickrs’ code is open source, so privacy experts and ethical hackers alike can prove it and look for any vulnerabilities in the encrypted messaging service. Wickr also offers a content shredder, a user-defined lifespan for messages (from three seconds to six days), and blocks screenshots. One thing privacy aficionados love about Wickr is that you do not need a phone number or email to create an account.
The service states it has one million users, but there is no publicly available data on the number of active users, so its user base is significantly smaller than Signal or WhatsApp. It may take some convincing to move your contact to this platform.
Avoid these messaging apps
As if its links to Facebook Inc. weren’t bad enough (remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal), WhatsApp has now said that it reserves the right to share data with Facebook, meaning your conversation data, if not the content of the messages themselves, will become fodder for advertisers.
With millions of users, WhatsApp is a popular service that many users will stick with, but despite its end-to-end encryption, its privacy standards leave a lot to be desired.
Despite claims that its messaging service is “heavily encrypted”, Telegram falls far short of Signal in the privacy rankings. According to Wired magazine, users fleeing WhatsApp for better privacy should look past Telegram. For one thing, its end-to-end encryption is optional, not the default, and there is no option to encrypt group messages.
Other ways to stay private online
Above and beyond switching to a more secure messaging service, you can also boost your online privacy by:
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Shield your internet activity from would-be threat actors and data-hungry platforms by using a VPN. The way VPNs work is by generating a private browsing network and encrypting all your traffic in the process. VPNs also allow you to hide your true IP address.
As much as you might love Google’s Chrome, it is widely recognized as the least private browser. Google’s revenue largely comes from advertisers, and users’ habits make up a huge part of Google’s appeal to companies looking for a way to pitch their target audience.
Instead of handing over your data points to Google, switch from Chrome to the privacy-conscious browser, Mozilla Firefox.
Keep your internet activity and private messages as they should be — private. Switch messaging apps and choose ways to limit what you share with big tech by following the tips above.