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Instant messaging services - these are the alternatives to WhatsApp

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If you want to continue using WhatsApp, you have to agree to share even more data with the parent company Facebook in the future. Here are the alternatives to the dominant messaging service - with all their advantages and disadvantages.

signal

Signal, Link opens in a new window was developed and founded by IT security specialist Moxie Marlinspike. End-to-end encryption, which is also used by many other messenger services, is based on the protocol he helped to develop. Signal attaches great importance to data protection and, according to its own information, is financed solely through grants and donations.

Encryption: End to end
User: unknown (more than ten million downloads in Google Play)
Costs: free
Company and domicile: Open Whisper Systems, Signal Foundation, USA
Open Source: Yes
Contact details and metadata: saves little metadata
Registration: Telephone number required

Criticism: Signal also needs a telephone number in order to be able to register, which has been criticized by users who place great value on data protection.

What does end-to-end encryption mean?

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An end-to-end encrypted chat can only be read by the participants in that chat. The app operators cannot read along and use the data. End-to-end encryption is also known under the term peer-to-peer (P2P).

Encryption during transport is less secure than P2P. Messages are encrypted on the way between the users' devices and the service's servers, but they can, for example, be stored unencrypted on the servers and used by the messenger services.

Threema

Threema, the link opens in a new window is a Swiss messaging service. Data protection - and avoiding data if possible - has top priority. In contrast to most other services, Threema does not need to provide a telephone number or other personal data when registering. Group messages are sent to each participant individually so that the server does not know the group. And contacts are anonymized and transmitted to the server for optional comparison. In addition, third-party security audits are regularly carried out and published so that the information provided by the company can be checked. Another unique selling point: users pay a small one-time fee for the app

Encryption: End to end
User: 8 million (January 2021)
Costs: 3 francs
Company: Threema GmbH, Switzerland
Open Source: Yes
Contact details and metadata: does not store who is communicating with whom
Registration: possible without specifying telephone number and personal data

Criticism: For a long time it was criticized that the source code of the service was not published and that the information on data handling could not be checked. The code has been open source since December 2020 and visible to everyone.

Telegram

The messenger app Telegram, Link opens in a new window was developed in 2013 by the Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov. They had previously founded the Russian social media platform VK. In contrast to WhatsApp, the service is cloud-based, so it can be used easily by different devices and without a mobile phone, but the data is therefore not end-to-end encrypted. Exceptions are so-called "secret" chats, which can then only be seen by one device.

Encryption: Client-to-server, end-to-end in «secret» chats
User: 500 million
Costs: free
Company and domicile: Telegram Messenger LLP, USA / UK
Open Source: Yes
Contact details and metadata: are saved
Registration: Telephone number required

Criticism: Telegram's main criticism is the intransparent company structure. The company says it is not for profit, but is not currently structured like a non-profit organization. Telegram is registered as both a UK and American company, but it is unclear where the company's main offices are.

WhatsApp - the original

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WhatsApp is arguably the world's most popular messaging app. It was first published in 2009 and made a significant contribution to the replacement of SMS and ultimately helped messenger services to break through. In 2014 Facebook bought the company.

Encryption: End to end
User: more than 2 billion
Costs: free
Company and domicile: WhatsApp Inc., USA; Subsidiary of Facebook Inc., USA. For Europe: WhatsApp Ireland Limited, Ireland
Open Source: No
Contact details and metadata: are saved
Registration: Telephone number required

Criticism: Since 2016, the terms of use have stipulated that user data such as mobile phone number and profile picture may be exchanged with all Facebook services. Now users have to agree to the new terms of use by February 8th at the latest. These allow WhatsApp to share even more data with the parent company Facebook, including metadata such as the status, time of sending a message and where the user is. It is unclear what data Facebook actually collects. One thing is clear: the content of the messages is encrypted and will not be passed on to Facebook. Nevertheless, calls on the Internet to delete WhatsApp and switch to other services.

SRF 4 News, January 12th, 2021, 10:22 am

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