Monday, December 5, 2022

Annoyed of WhatsApp: Find out alternate messenger apps


Izaan Zubair
Technology writer @ WNObserver

Uneasiness is growing with WhatsApp users as it has been part of Facebook since 2014, the founders have left the company, and WhatsApp, contrary to original assurances, is sharing private user data with Facebook. Last but not least, in the future all messengers belonging to Facebook will have a common substructure, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger will be interlinked later this year. Anyone who bothers about Zuckerberg’s data collection must leave WhatsApp.

This is easier, at least with a look at the alternatives than you think. Because despite the strong position in the market, there are quite a few programs that are even better than WhatsApp. They offer more features, are more economical with data, and their security is verifiable.

To start right here: What a messenger has to offer in any case is secure end-to-end encryption. With simple transport encryption, the data is encrypted during transport. But they can be read, copied or even modified on the server of the service provider. The end-to-end encryption ensures that even the operator of a messaging service cannot read, if the secret keys are kept safe. Therefore, the key is usually generated on the user’s terminal and does not leave it. A gap could be that the manufacturer of the messenger picks up the secret keys through a back door. A basic trust in the providers is therefore essential – or better:

Without end-to-end encryption by default, Google chat programs such as Allo, Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Russia’s popular telegram work. To all these apps you make a big bow. If you look for a messenger that is available for both mobile platforms, for Android and Apple’s iOS, remain among the well-known providers: Line, Signal, Threema, Viber and Wire.

Line was developed by a Japanese company and has about 80 million users, mostly in Asia. That’s not much compared to the 1.3 billion of WhatsApp. Signal is being developed by the not-for-profit American Signal Foundation, which is funded by donations. Among others, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton donated $ 50 million last year. Signal propagates the principle of data economy with the goal that the operator has no information who talks to whom and when. Threema is distributed as a commercial product by a synonymous GmbH in Switzerland, is popular in Germany, but has a total of only five million users.

Viber was developed in Israel and adopted in 2014 by the Japanese company Rakuten. In the past, Viber was always in the criticism, because it collected masses of data about its users and at the same time betrayed as little of themselves. In the Terms and Conditions, Viber takes out rights that are incompatible with the principle of data economy. In the summary by security researcher Mike Kuketz: “A trash can messenger.” Wire, owned by a Luxembourg company, has received good reviews from privacy advocates, but like Threema, suffers from a very small number of users.

All five programs can do more than text messaging. Messenger becomes a communication hub that also allows you to send voice messages, photos, videos and more. Encrypted phone calls can also be made with all five candidates, which saves you the roaming charges when used in countries outside Europe. The messengers can also be used on the computer, either you install your own software, or you use a browser window to quickly overview all messages and write especially with your mouse and keyboard nimbly your own.

With similar performance, you should prefer the program that works most sparingly with data and also provides independent security researchers with insight into the code so that all the programmers’ promises can be verified. Here comes in second place and with many restrictions Threema, which has at least opened its encryption process for independent exams. The rest remains secret – and ultimately a matter of trust.

The clear winner with unrestricted transparency is Signal. The source code of the apps and the server is completely publicly available and allows everyone an intensive investigation. In recent years, several university researchers have repeatedly discovered smaller problem areas, but the result of the safety of the system certified. Signal is the messenger that Edward Snowden has repeatedly recommended and the network elite’s favorite. If Open Whisper Systems is forced to disclose data from users and their communications, the company can only provide their registration date and time of last login. Everything else is not stored or is like the contents of messages encrypted and therefore not visible.


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