Kaunda Selisho
Lifestyle Journalist
6 minute read
13 Jan 2021
9:26 am

Telegram vs Signal: What are the pros and cons?

Kaunda Selisho

WhatsApp has requested permission from users that will allow its parent company, Facebook, and its subsidiaries, to collect user data from their devices.

Picture: iStock

Telegram vs Signal? That’s the question on most WhatsApp users’ minds after they were recently made aware of the update to WhatsApp’s terms of service and privacy policy.

Last week saw users faced with a pop-up message announcing a change in the messaging app’s terms of service. While most people didn’t bother to read the document and immediately agreed, others took the time out to find out exactly what it is they would be agreeing to.

According to the update, WhatsApp was requesting permission from users that would allow its parent company, Facebook, and its subsidiaries, to collect user data from their devices.

This would make users’ personal data more readily available for businesses to target them more specifically, as there would be more integration of Facebook’s other products with WhatsApp.

Users’ phone numbers, IP addresses, and mobile device information are just some of the things expected to be shared with Facebook, according to WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

Many users have registered their concern with this update and are now considering moving to alternative messaging platforms.

EXPLAINED: What the new WhatsApp update means for SA users

What is Telegram?

Telegram is a freeware, cross-platform, cloud-based instant-messaging software and service similar to WhatsApp that was launched in 2013.

It currently offers feature such as video calling, VoIP, file sharing, secret messaging, the ability to edit messages that have already been sent, the ability to delete messages at any point in time and other features.

Because Telegram is a cloud-based service, it boasts unlimited storage.

Therefore, all your text messages, images media files and documents will be saved on their cloud and not strictly on your device.

This also enables you to log out and log in as many times you want, using any number of devices simultaneously without losing any data.

Basically, you don’t need to worry about backing up and restoring your chat history.

Other interesting features include the ability to create a supergroup with up to 5000 members, the ability to create a channel for mass broadcasts, the ability to use the app with just a username (and not only a phone number), secret chats and bots to help manage the more mundane aspects of some tasks on the app.

ALSO READ: Moving from WhatsApp? Beware of Telegram’s dicey location setting

Creators of the app decided to capitalise on recent interest in their platform by engaging heavily with social media users over the past week, in an effort to entice them to make the switch.

What is Telegram’s privacy policy?

Although Telegram rents a designated space in third-party provided data centres in the Netherlands, the app’s creators assure users that the servers and networks that sit inside these data centres, and on which your personal data is stored, are currently owned by Telegram.

“As such, we do not share your personal data with such data centres. All data is stored heavily encrypted so that local Telegram engineers or physical intruders cannot get access.”

Telegram also assures users that “it does not use cookies for profiling or advertising. The cookies we use are small text files that allow us to provide and customise our services, and in doing so, provide you with an enhanced user experience.”

The only people they would need to “share” your basic data with are other users of Telegram, in accordance with their privacy policy.

“Telegram may also share your personal data with its parent company Telegram Group Inc, located in the British Virgin Islands and Telegram FZ-LLC, a group member located in Dubai. This is to help provide, improve and support our services. Telegram may also share your information with law-enforcement authorities.”

The downside

Firstly, you would have to get all the people you regularly contact to make the switch with you if you choose this app.

Secondly, if you decide to join, you might have to contend with being contacted by people you may no longer want to speak to as Telegram announces that you have joined the app to all who have your contact details.

The third downside comes from the feature that allows you to view “people nearby” and if you opt in to sharing your location, they can be made aware of your account as well.

Furthermore, this feature allows users of any age to join any kind of groups operating nearby. No matter what the subject matter of said groups may be.

What is Signal?

Touted as “the most secure messaging app” by Mashable and endorsed by Elon Musk, Signal is a cross-platform encrypted messaging service developed by the Signal Foundation and Signal Messenger.

It uses the internet to send one-to-one and group messages, which can include files, voice notes, images and videos.

According to Mashable, Signal first saw an increase in users in early 2020 as people participating in anti-racist protests around the killing of George Floyd realised how closely law enforcement was surveilling them.

Part of this surveillance included asking companies to hand over user data.

Signal’s emphasis on user privacy made them an attractive option.

The app is available on Apple and Android iOS and all you need to create an account is a phone number.

ALSO READ: What you need to know about WhatsApp security flaws

The app boasts end-to-end encryption, which means only the people within chats can see the content of the messages they send. This data is not even available to the company itself.

What is Signal’s privacy policy?

Signal has been hailed for collecting as little data as possible from their users.

This is because the company operates as a non-profit organisation.

They, therefore, sell no advertising and have no reason to track users.

How do they keep the lights on? Well, through grants and private investors with a personal interest in making a privacy-oriented platform.

One such donor is WhatsApp founder Brian Acton, who reportedly donated $50 million to create the Signal Foundation, which now runs Signal.

Acton reportedly left WhatsApp following a disagreement with Facebook over how it was eroding WhatsApp’s privacy.

Mashable reported that Signal was working on a way to completely keep user data private by making encrypted contact servers so that even the numbers used to sign up to Signal become private information.

The downside

As stated above, getting everyone you love to stay in touch with to join a new platform is a lot of work. Work that might take months, if not years to complete.

However, if privacy is what you’re after, the migration is worth.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.