Is Signal the Best App for Privacy?

It appears that no conversation is safe from the prying eyes of Facebook. With WhatsApp becoming even less secure the shift away from the popular messaging app seems inevitable. You do not have to ponder on which app will be the best for your private conversations. Elon Musk on January 7 Tweeted: “Use Signal”. While the Singal app has been in existence for years, the Tweet by the Tesla CEO created a surge in the number of users of the app.

Before you download the app and start using it let us share our thoughts on the app and its claims of privacy.

What is the Signal app?

The history of the Signal messaging app is entangled with that of WhatsApp.

Signal was developed by the Signal Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization. Signal Foundation was founded by Moxie Marlinspike and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton. Acton left WhatsApp after he disapproved of Facebook’s monetization of the app in 2017. In 2018 he along with Marlinspike created the foundation responsible for the Signal Messenger.

The encrypted messaging app has become a hot topic after WhatsApp announced changes to its privacy policy. Signal offers most of the features that other popular messengers do, however it claims that it does not gather user information like Facebook’s apps.

Related: How Does Signal Make Money?

How secure and private is the Signal app?

Signal has been pretty clear about what information they collect from their users and the protocol they use to encrypt messages. As the app is a non-profit it does not gather user information to sell. You do not have to worry about the app selling your information to advertisers, businesses, and governments.

Related: Is Signal Safe and Secure?

This does not mean that Signal does not collect any user data. You need to provide your phone number to create your profile. You also have to give the app access to your contacts.

Marlinspike in an interview pointed out that the developers are working towards non-reliance on the user’s phone number. When that fix is in place, then even the requirement of registering your phone number with the app will not be there. This will further reduce the user data collected by Signal.

When it comes to the encryption protocol, Signal uses the Signal Protocol which was earlier known as the TextSecure Protocol. This encryption protocol is used by other messaging apps including Facebook’s messengers, Google Allo, and Skype. The encryption ensures that audio, video, and text conversations between users remain private.

So, Signal is as secure as any messaging app gets and is definitely more privacy-centric than any of Facebook’s messaging apps.

Related: How to Unlock Signal App

Signal vs. other messaging apps

There are many ways in which Signal is more secure compared to Facebook messaging apps. Users have also been comparing Signal to Telegram. Here is all you need to know about the differences between Facebook’s messaging apps, Telegram, and Signal.

Image credit: Twitter

Related: Signal vs WhatsApp vs Telegram: Privacy, Permissions, Data Collection, and More

Signal vs. WhatsApp

Both Signal and WhatsApp are E2E encrypted messaging app. In fact, both of them use the same encryption protocol. So, why is everyone worried all of a sudden about WhatsApp and shifting to Signal?

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy which will become effective from February will hand over user data to Facebook. Users will be forced to accept the new privacy policy terms if they want to continue using the app. This will not grant Facebook access to chats, which will still be encrypted, but it will allow WhatsApp to share other user data. Even without peeking into your chats, Facebook will know about everything from your location to who you are communicating with. 

As stated before Signal gathers minimal user data that it possibly can. Whatever data it collects it is not for sale. 

When it comes to ads, during the Facebook Marketing Summit there were talks of how WhatsApp would soon be incorporating ads like how Instagram does. On the other hand, Signal has been pretty vocal about not selling out by allowing ads to invade the messenger. 

The user interface is pretty different for the two apps. For those who have been used to the elaborate and highly customizable look of WhatsApp, Signal may feel a little bare-boned. The app also lacks features such a marking important messages. 

WhatsApp can be downloaded on iOS and Android devices. Users also can use WhatsApp web to chat on their computers. Signal’s messaging app is downloadable for free on iOS, Android, Windows, and Linux devices. Signal does not have a webchat option. 

So, Signal offers greater privacy but the user interface is yet to catch up with that of WhatsApp. 

Signal vs. Facebook Messenger

When we compare Signal to Facebook’s other messaging app we get to see exactly why it is best to quit WhatsApp while we have the chance. 

Facebook Messenger firstly is not E2E encrypted. Yes, there is the option of having secret conversations but this does not provide protection to every conversation that you have on the app. Thus, your conversations are out in the open for anyone to hack. 

If this does not convince you that Facebook Messenger is to be avoided, the list of data that it collects is too long. Not only are your shared photos and videos collected by the app, but it also gathers search, browsing, and purchase history. It tracks each piece of data you leave on the app during your use. In comparison Signal only has your phone number and no other data.

So, Facebook Messenger does not even hold a candle compared to Signal. 

Signal vs. Telegram

With more users downloading Signal, many have questioned why to choose it over Telegram. 

Telegram is another end-to-end encrypted messaging app that has been noted for the privacy it offers users. However, if you have already made the switch from WhatsApp to Telegram, here is why you should switch from Telegram to Signal. 

Even though Telegram gathers minimal data it connects the data to you. It collects your phone number, contacts, and identifiers. The data is apparently safely encrypted in the Telegram servers, it is still more data than Signal collects. Signal does not attempt to link your phone number to your identity. It is a necessary evil that Signal is actively trying to cut out from the user experience. 

Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, made it pretty clear that paid ads will be a part of the app for funding. You can read his statement here. Signal, on the other hand, has made it plenty clear that ads will never disrupt your messaging experience. Signal’s non-profit status sees findings come from donations and private owners. This is why you will never be bothered by Signal ever having to rely on ads for revenue.

Telegram has also turned into a toxic platform due to the large size of groups that can be joined using links or simply by searching for them. These groups are often used to share explicit and illegal content ranging from racist rants to revenge porn. Unless you change the privacy settings, anyone can add you to groups. They do not need to have your phone number to do this.

On Signal, however, the group size is limited and you can be added only if the person has your contact. Strangers cannot by default add you to groups.

Telegram does have a few things going for them at this point. Telegram allows you to save important messages, much like WhatsApp. Signal is yet to get this feature. Telegram also has interesting stickers that users love sharing, while Signal is a more clean messaging app. At this point, more of your contacts may be on Telegram, but the shift may soon see Signal as a more popular app.

Drawbacks of the Signal App

The main problem that has been bothering privacy-seekers is the fact that Signal still requires a phone number to sign up. This betrays the app’s promise of complete privacy. There have only been words of optimism about the decoupling, but even after years of existence, the app has not been able to work around this.

The app also does not support two-factor authentication. 

Signal also does not have the option of saving important messages.

Telegram and WhatsApp offer options for saving messages.

You also cannot see if the person you are talking to is online or when they were last online.

When it comes to user interface there is space for improvement. This does not hinder what the app promises: a safe and private messenger.

Verdict 

Before you do download the app lets take a look at what people have to say about it:

What we have to say

Having shifted to Signal, I still am tethered to WhatsApp. Convincing friends to join Signal is one thing and convincing family is another. Even though millions of users joined Signal almost overnight, leaving WhatsApp for most will take some time. Personally, the unavailability of saving important messages still has me on WhatsApp where I have a number of starred messages. 

Before WhatsApp’s privacy policy update in February Signal is definitely worth shifting to. It will be a much more secure and much less invasive app to safely communicate on. At the same time, the app is expected to add features to make even the most loyal WhatsApp user feel more at home. 

In conclusion– Do not be the last person to abandon the WhatsApp cruize for the Signal life-raft.

What the internet says

The Tweet that drew everyone’s attention: 

A surge has been noticed:

Signal on Twitter: "How it started vs how it’s going 😅" from signal

Signal messenger is not just for activists and privacy-seekers. This Twitter user pointed out in response to another one’s question over the relevance of the app:

But with more users joining Signal, early users are worried about the app morphing into something other than a private communication-centric tool.

Is this really the extinction of WhatsApp?

Users seem to be on the side of Signal:

I transformed the pictures of u/Crazy-Lizard’s post to 5 30sec video’s to post on your WhatsApp Stories. from signal

And Signal appreciates your efforts:

It seems to have hit WhatsApp hard to have them taking over the front page of newspapers in India: 

WTFF! Facebook is really desperate. Fighting a non profit organization by spending millions. from signal


What do you think of the mass-messenger migration that is taking place? Will you be joining us on the Signal side or are you not ready to leave WhatsApp yet?

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1 Comment

  1. Ͳհҽ-ហօҍӀҽ-ꝈӀąʍą 🦙

    you forgot Threema in this comparsion…

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