- Boris Miranda (@ivanbor)
- BBC News Mundo
As Signal and Telegram see record numbers of new users, WhatsApp is at the center of criticism for changing its terms of service and privacy.
The messaging app announced last week that it will share various user data with its parent company Facebook, and that it will be able to do the same with its Instagram and Messenger platforms.
Amid questioning, WhatsApp backed off and delayed implementing the new terms of service until May 15, claiming they were misunderstood.
“We want to make it clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of messages users share with friends and family,” the platform said in a statement released Monday.
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She added that some of the questions raised are “rumors”.
Despite these arguments, the long debate over which instant messaging service is the most secure has been revived since the change to WhatsApp.
And while they may seem similar at first glance, the three apps have a few important differences that we cover here.
The data collected
The first thing to know is that among the three messaging platforms that have been talked about the most in recent days, there are different levels of data that are collected.
And this is a central question because this is the information that WhatsApp can share with Facebook and the other apps that the company owns.
“WhatsApp has a lot of metadata, that is, the information obtained from any message we send, like the brand of the phone, the time of the message, your location and others. It lets you know about it. a lot about your users, ”says Cristian León, innovation program manager for the Argentina-based civil organization Asuntos del Sur.
The digital rights expert tells BBC Mundo that this messaging app, which is the world’s most popular, has a closed programming code and therefore has little transparency over what it collects.
WhatsApp’s website details what data it collects and what information a person provides when agreeing to its terms of service. Besides name, phone number and contacts, there are details about platform usage (time or performance, for example), app transactions, device brand and model or the type of connection, among others.
Telegram and Signal, says León, collect much less data.
The first requires the phone number, name and contact list of its users.
Signal simply asks for the phone number and adding the name is optional.
Both have open programming codes, so it is possible to control the data collected and its use.
The big concern: the messages
Since the expansion of mobile messaging applications started around the world, the big question was and remains the security of the messages being exchanged.
The platforms have evolved in this regard and it was only a few years ago that Signal and WhatsApp established end-to-end encryption as the default feature for all conversations of their users.
This is a kind of lock that only the sender and recipient of the message can open.
In theory, even the applications in which the exchange took place cannot access the content of the chats.
“Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read your messages or listen to the calls you make with your friends, family or colleagues on WhatsApp. Anything you share will remain between you,” the platform said in its statement on Monday.
Telegram seems to have a downside in this regard, since end-to-end encryption is only enabled when using “secret chat” mode, but ordinary conversations do not have this feature.
All three also offer an increasingly popular mode called “temporary messaging” in which text, photos, places or documents shared in a conversation self-destruct after a certain time.
The difference is that in WhatsApp messages disappear within seven days, while in Signal and Telegram the time can be set so that there is no trace of interactions after a few seconds.
Another difference is that the app owned by Facebook does not have the ability to block screenshots of conversations, while its competitors do.
While it makes sense that most people limit themselves to using these apps to keep in touch with their acquaintances, various controversies have arisen in recent years.
For example, it was discovered that Telegram was being used as a medium for disseminating Islamic State propaganda.
The extremist group recruited from there and took advantage of the encrypted group chats to maintain communications and broadcast videos of their actions.
And as of last year, it’s known to be one of the platforms that right-wing American groups use to spread their messages, though most of them use other apps that allow anonymous interactions to appeal. to their activities or disseminate conspiracy theories.
WhatsApp has also had problems and in 2019 decided to delete hundreds of thousands of accounts suspected of using its service to distribute child pornography.
The company has a zero tolerance policy for the sexual exploitation of children.
The application, according to various analyzes, has been reported as being, along with Facebook, one of the largest channels for disseminating fake news during election time in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia or the United States.
Signal, which has fewer users than the previous two, has not yet been denounced as a channel for recruiting or disseminating false information.
However, she has been seen amid some political controversy, such as when it was reported that this was the request that former Catalonia regional government president Carles Puigdemont used to communicate with one of his allies during of his attempt to declare the independence of this region.