Today we communicate with each other over the internet using instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime, Skype, Google Allo and Facebook Messenger. All are very easy to use with fantastic interfaces and free. But does all this brilliance have a downside and what information are these companies taking from you? Is what you communicate actually private? Can these apps track you and are there real alternatives that honour your privacy?
Is what you say and type being recorded?
Fortunately all messaging apps (i.e. Facebook’s WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage/FaceTime, Microsoft’s Skype, Google’s Allo, Telegram, Signal Private Messenger, Wickr and WeChat) have end to end encryption. This means that it is impossible to intercept and read anything you communicate via your fingers and mouth. Most of them use Signal’s encryption protocol which scrambles everything between you and the other person in transit so no third party can read anything. Admittedly you may have to turn on encryption manually for Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Google Allo.
Do messaging apps have access to anything else on your phone?
For a messaging app to function it needs access to your phone’s contacts so you can find other people who use the app. They also need access to your phone’s camera and hard drive in order to attach photographs and files to messages. All of this information is called “metadata”.
Is the information they have access to kept private?
Photos and files remain private for all messaging apps because they are encrypted in transit between you and the other person. However the mainstream apps keep a copy of your phone’s contacts on their servers which allows them to log and track who you call and the date and time. Only Signal and Wickr do not do this keeping your phone book and your messaging activity private.
Why Messaging Apps tracking you a problem?
Imagine receiving tests results from a health clinic, calling an addiction helpline for support or booking an online ticket for a secret romantic getaway. A clear picture can be made of what you are up to all of the time if you use these apps!
What do they do with your private data?
You give your private data to app companies for free. This allows them to sell this data to third party companies who in turn can market their products to you based on this information. Data like this is very useful to third parties and sometimes these third parties may be the police or government agencies!
Can you delete messages you have sent?
All apps allow you to delete your side of the chat but only the private apps like Signal and Wickr enable you to set messages to auto delete for both parties. This is great so you can be confident that what you said to the other person is permanently deleted their side as well. If you delete something from the insecure apps like WhatsApp and FaceTime only your side is deleted. Most people have a PIN on their phone and encrypt it, but what if they don’t and they lose their phone with all your sensitive and private message? Maybe they decide to export your chats to a computer and use it against you in a court of law!
Are you free to say what you want?
Lately Facebook Messenger and Skype are restricting you from sending offensive or politically incorrect words. Sure you might be against someone swearing at you but isn’t that your role to police the conversation? What about if you wish to speak out against a government’s policy or talk about a sensitive issue in the news? What’s stopping Apple Google and Facebook banning you from using their apps?
Are there any apps which are totally private?
As mentioned earlier the only private apps in my opinion are Signal and Wickr which keep the content of your communications encrypted, they do not have access to your contacts nor record who and when message someone. All are open source so you can inspect the code behind these programs to check how private they are and they do not restrict what you can say.
Are the private apps any different from the mainstream ones?
- Phone calling
- Video conferencing
- Group chats
- Send files, photos and videos
- Typing Status – get a notification the other person is typing
- Read receipts so you know they have read your message
- Use on Windows, Mac and Linux desktops as well
Free software but do you lose your “Free”dom?
So the content of what you communicate with the mainstream messaging apps provided by Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook is private using encryption. What they are doing with your permission is tracking what you are up to, who you are communicating with and when. If you are ok with this level of surveillance and happy to give this information to them for free then you don’t need to worry. However if you take your privacy seriously how about giving Signal or Wickr a go?
I personally use Signal as my goto app but also have both Wickr installed as well.
Download Links for these apps:
How I can help you?
My background is in technology and training and for over 10 years I have provided IT Support to home and small business users through my IT company ithound.co.uk. In recent years I have added Cryptocurrencies to my product offering with cryptohound.me.
Whether you are a business wanting to accept cryptocurrencies or an individual interested in investing in them, I will help you get started and provide training and support to give you confidence using them.
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Carl Hughes, The Crypto Hound
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