Billions of people worldwide use messaging apps daily to exchange text messages, photos, links, etc. But not all messaging apps are created equally.
There are significant differences between them in terms of performance, functionality, and, most importantly, privacy and security.
WhatsApp and Signal are among the most popular applications of this kind. Here, we’ll compare the two so you can decide which one’s best for you.
WhatsApp Security: What You Need to Know
Created in 2009 by two former Yahoo! employees, WhatsApp quickly became one of the most widely-used messaging apps in the world, asserting itself as a market leader in dozens of countries.
Initially, WhatsApp faced criticism from privacy advocates for sending information as plain text and soon added encryption. By 2016, the service fully implemented end-to-end encryption.
Encryption is a must-have feature in any messaging app that aims to provide message privacy to users, but WhatsApp encrypting messages doesn’t mean it doesn’t collect your data.
By default, the app uses phone number area codes to estimate your general location and will know your precise location if you’ve enabled location permissions in your phone’s settings.
Clearly, WhatsApp is not ideal for privacy, but how does it perform in terms of security?
In 2019, for example, WhatsApp confirmed that a vulnerability in its systems allowed cybercriminals to install spyware on user phones and other devices. That same year, billionaire Jeff Bezos’ phone was infamously hacked via a WhatsApp video message.
But arguably, the biggest red flag when it comes to WhatsApp is the fact that Meta (formerly Facebook) owns it. The company, which acquired WhatsApp in 2014, does not have the best track record in privacy and security, to put it mildly.
Signal: Is It Really Safe?
Developed by the non-profit Signal Foundation, Signal has been around for nearly a decade but exploded in popularity recently, attracting journalists, activists, dissidents, cybercriminals, and people who care about privacy in general.
On the surface, Signal is pretty similar to other popular messaging apps. You can use it to send texts, videos, and images, make individual or group calls, and exchange files.
So, what does Signal know about you? Not much because the app does not collect user data at all. It doesn’t know who you are, where you’re from, or what device or operating system you use. All you need is a phone number to sign up.
Much like WhatsApp, Signal uses end-to-end encryption, but unlike the Facebook-owned app, it also has several built-in privacy features, like the ability to send disappearing messages, turn on the screen lock (which forces the app to ask for verification), relay all calls through Signal’s own servers, and more.
In early 2022, rumors that Signal suffered a massive breach began circulating online. However, as Forbes reported at the time, there was no evidence of a hack. Signal, for its part, described these rumors as a “coordinated misinformation campaign meant to encourage people to use less secure alternatives.”
So, what are the downsides to using Signal? Essentially, the app’s biggest issue is the lack of widespread adoption. After all, how do you maintain your privacy if the person you want to communicate with doesn’t like Signal and is using a different app?
Signal vs. WhatsApp: The Choice Is Easy
WhatsApp is intuitive and easy to use, the interface is pretty, the servers rarely crash, it’s free, and it does what it’s supposed to with relative ease. Plus, most of your friends are probably on it.
But if you care about privacy and security, the choice is easy: Signal is among the best privacy-focused apps on the market today, if not the best.
With that in mind, your privacy and security are ultimately your responsibility, and picking the right app won’t make much of a difference if you fail to take the necessary precautions.