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Signal vs Telegram: Which messaging app should you download?

Earlier this year, WhatsApp announced an update to its terms that would require users to consent to sharing their data with Facebook. The news sent many users scrambling toward alternative messaging platforms – including Signal and Telegram. 

Now, with its latest revised (and recently passed) deadline of the May 15, the app has gone back on its decision to restrict accounts that refuse to agree to the controversial privacy policy – sort of. Instead of losing access the app immediately, users who put off hitting accept can now look forward to “persistent” reminders over the coming weeks before they begin to lose functionality. 

“After a few weeks of limited functionality, you won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone,” warned WhatsApp on its support page this week. 

So, what if you’re not interested in accepting the new terms? Luckily, there are a handful of messaging apps out there happy to offer your group chats a new home. We’ve reached out to security experts to take a closer look at Signal and Telegram in the past, but how do the two compare to each other? 

Here’s what experts from McAfee and IntSights had to say about Signal, Telegram and how the two messaging services stack up to one another when it comes to dealing with your data. 

If you’re main concern when it comes to finding a new messaging app is privacy, Signal may be the better choice.

“As a non-profit and privacy focused app, Signal claims to have no financial motivations to share its users’ private information, making it a secure option for people wanting to use a messaging app with enhanced privacy and security”, explained Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow, Raj Samani.

If you don’t want anyone sneaking a peak at your messages or listening in on your voice calls, you’ll want to make sure your next messaging app has end-to-end encryption, too.

While both Telegram and Signal have this feature, only Signal has it enabled by default. To access end-to-end encryption on Telegram, you’ll need to make sure you use the app’s “secret chat” feature, which is only available in one-on-one messaging. This means if you want to initiate an end-to-end encrypted group chat on Telegram, you may be out of luck.

“Signal also provides more thorough protection for user metadata, such as by encrypting or not recording it”, noted Head of Threat Intelligence Advisory at IntSights, Paul Prudhomme.

“In contrast, Telegram poses a greater risk of exposing user data, as has happened in the past. For example, the state-sponsored Iranian cyber espionage group Rocket Kitten obtained the phone numbers of 15 million Iranian Telegram users in 2016. Telegram is popular among Iranian dissidents, some of whom this breach may have exposed to scrutiny and surveillance by the Iranian government”.

Telegram collects more data than Signal, too.

“When choosing to switch messaging apps, privacy and data collection should be top of mind and it’s worth doing your research before making a decision”, advised Samani.

“Signal is designed with data privacy in mind. It claims to never collect or store sensitive user information, meaning they are unable to link to your identity. Also, as a result of its end-to-end encryption, the content of messages sent via the app is not accessible to third parties or even Signal itself. According to Telegram’s privacy policy, some metadata, including IP addresses, device details and history of a username change, are all stored on Telegram’s data cloud for 12 months. This can be linked to you and your identity”.

While Telegram could appear to fall behind Signal at this point, the app does include some impressive privacy features, including server-to-client encryption and self-destructive messages.

“A key feature of Telegram is that it provides its users with two layers of secure encryption, meaning both private and group cloud chats support server-to-client encryption”, said Samani.

Telegram is also the better choice if you’re looking to broadcast your messages to a larger number of people or send hefty image and video files.

“Telegram also offers users a self-destruction of messages feature and also offers a range of convenience features. For example, a group chat hosted on Telegram can have up to 200,000 people in a single group chat vs. 1,000 in Signal. You can also transfer larger files within Telegram when compared to Signal”.

While all of the above is important to note, ultimately, this decision will likely come down to what your friends and family already use – or are willing to download. After all, there’s no point moving to a new messaging app unless you have people there to talk to.

It’s also important to consider what you want from a messaging service.

“Much will depend on your specific use case, and also the predominant platform that your contacts use”, noted Samani.

“In other words, if most of your contacts are using one particular platform, your decision is likely to be influenced as such”.

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