• Gareth Mclean

WhatsApp or What's Next...

We've had WhatsApp, it's been great... But do we go forward with WhatsApp or set our sights on a new instant messaging platform?

This question arose due to WhatsApp's recent announcement of changes to their privacy policy coming into effect from the 8th of February 2021 [postponed to 15 May 2021], leaving users WhatsApp-less if they do not accept. Do you feel comfortable allowing Facebook (parent company that acquired WhatsApp) to read you like an open book? Some clarification is needed...


Firstly, it is important to understand that the privacy policy applies to all WhatsApp users, irrespective of whether you make use of Facebook or any of Facebook's other platforms.


The main concerns observed with the privacy policy changes are around some of the data that WhatsApp collects:

  • Your Account Information

  • Your Messages*

  • Location Information

  • Your Connections (contacts)

  • Status Information

  • Device And Connection Information

  • Usage And Log Information

  • Transactions And Payments Data

  • Customer Support And Other Communications

  • Cookies

A more in-depth explanation may be viewed on the privacy policy


I urge you to read the privacy policy (especially the 'Information We Collect' section) to fully understand the above mentioned points, and how your data is and may be used while providing you with this 'free' instant messaging platform. If something so great is free, you are most likely the product.


Under the new terms, Facebook reserves the right to share collected data with its family of companies. Personally, I believe this change trails one step closer to Facebook integrating their various messaging apps into one app. Facebook say the purpose for the change in their privacy policy is so they;

"may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.”

*For those who are concerned that WhatsApp will now be reading your messages, this is not necessarily the case. WhatsApp state in their privacy policy that they;

"offer end-to-end encryption for our Services. End-to-end encryption means that your messages are encrypted to protect against us and third parties from reading them".

Furthermore, WhatsApp affirm that they;

"do not retain your messages in the ordinary course of providing our Services to you. Instead, your messages are stored on your device and not typically stored on our servers. Once your messages are delivered, they are deleted from our servers."

Although Facebook may claim that they do not permanently store or read your messages, the data that WhatsApp collects and their policy update should still raise cause for questioning.


It is worthwhile to know that Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, left Facebook in September 2017. Not long after, Jan Koum, the other co-founder left the company amid arguments with Facebook over data privacy and WhatsApp’s business model.

More on WhatsApp's evolution


In some cases change may be good. There are other great messaging options, some showing off their own unique functionalities & capabilities that offer better instant messaging experiences. The current best cross-platform alternatives for WhatsApp are Telegram and Signal.


Signal vs. Telegram

Both selected alternatives pride themselves on privacy; promising a secure, fast, and reliable experience with no ads or subscription fees. Below you will see what I have found to be the cool and not so cool features of Signal and Telegram. Hopefully these could assist with your decision on which instant messaging platform to use.


Signal

Signal, launched in 2014, is a free multi-platform messaging app with a focus on security and privacy.


Cool Features

+ Minimalistic user interface (upside to some users)

+ Desktop App (needs improvements)

+ Delete a message you have sent (all participants will be aware that a message was deleted)

+ Disappearing messages (if enabled, messages sent and received will disappear after they have been seen)


Not So Cool Features

- Minimalistic user interface, with little to no customisation options (downside to some users)

- No read receipt timestamps

- No last seen

- No call log (view all and missed calls)

- Lacks Web application


Signal is simple and secure with massive potential, but is lacking (or purposely lacking?) in some very necessary features.


If you are looking for something simple and secure, Signal is your best bet.


Telegram

Telegram, launched in 2013, is a multiplatform messaging app with a focus on speed and security, it’s super-fast, simple and free. You can use Telegram on all your devices at the same time — your messages sync seamlessly across any number of your phones, tablets or computers.


Cool Features

+ Amazing mobile app user interface with many customisable options

+ Web & Desktop App (which, unlike WhatsApp, allows audio & video calling)

+ Listen to voice messages while manoeuvring around Telegram or minimising the app

+ Play voice messages at 2X speed

+ Create a 'Secret Chat' with various 'Secret Chat' functionalities

+ Copy part of a message instead of the whole message

+ Edit sent message (participants will be aware)

+ Various settings & permissions for group chats

+ Create a question poll in group chats

+ Schedule message send time

+ Find people & groups nearby

+ Set multiple profile pictures

+ Add up to 3 accounts

+ Chat folders


Not So Cool Features

- Either person can delete the entire chat data off both participants accounts at any time with no trace or notification

- Account name visible on forwarded messages (with options to link back to your account)

- No read receipt timestamps

- Find people & groups nearby (can be disabled)


It is extremely important to be aware that any message you send in a chat may be forwarded multiple times, sending both your message and account name to each person receiving the forwarded message.


I have enjoyed using Telegram thus far with only one concern; the ability for either participant to delete the entire chat data off both participants accounts. Telegram already provides the ability to create a 'Secret Chat' which as named, is a separate new chat with secret chat functionality independent from your standard chat with the other participant. It would be great if Telegram allowed either participant to delete the entire chat data off both participants accounts for a Secret Chat only, and not a normal chat.

A current solution to save all chats is to export Telegram data regularly.


If you are looking for something similar to WhatsApp with great additional functionality, Telegram is for you.


WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram?

Firstly, whether you decide to stay with WhatsApp or move to a new instant messaging platform, please always ensure you read the platforms policy and review all available setting (especially privacy and security settings) in order to customise the experience to your needs.


My experience with all three platforms left me with a fair conclusion. WhatsApp has been a great choice, and still might be if you are happy to accept the updated privacy policy.


Currently, Signal provided the slowest, less seamless experience. The mobile app was alright, but the desktop application was extremely slow and buggy, and there is no web app alternative in order to use Signal on a computer. Despite all that, I do believe signal has the potential to become great.


Telegram felt familiar! It is the closest experience you will get to WhatsApp, and also has some additional cool features. The mobile, web, and desktop app experience was secure, fast, seamless, and even has the ability to make calls from the desktop app (unlike WhatsApp).


My personal choice is Telegram, but this may vary depending on your intended usage. I do not advise Telegram for chats that are important and vulnerable to deletion at anytime by any participant.


For Telegram to earn the ultimate instant messaging title, my personal suggestion is for Telegram to only allow either participant to delete the entire chat data off both participants accounts for a Secret Chat, not a normal chat.

Please note: The above article is of my own opinion and experience, with guidance of credible sources.

Sources:

WhatsApp privacy policy

Telegram

Signal

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