Aishwarya Ramesh

Demystifying the buzz around WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram

WhatsApp has been in the news recently because of an update to its terms and conditions. But what does it mean for users and rivals alike?

In the 21st century, privacy is a hotly debated topic. Social media platforms have access to a myriad of data that can help build specific profiles for marketers. If you are a 25-year-old single woman living in a metro city with a pet dog, you will be shown ads about dog food, stress relieving yoga classes, or even makeup/fashionable dresses.

If you’re a man in that same age group, you may be exposed to ads that pertain to beard/moustache grooming, cars/bikes, and so on. This profiling is what marketers and companies alike use to target the consumers. They (the companies) show them (the consumers) relevant ads that make the latter interested in buying their products.

However, an area where privacy is expected to apply 100 per cent is with end to end encrypted chats. WhatsApp has been facing an array of issues ever since it announced an updated privacy policy recently. The app is currently witnessing a mass exodus of privacy concerned users after it released an in-app notification forcing users to accept its revised privacy policy by February 8, 2021, or stop using its service entirely.

A WhatsApp blog notes that this is not the first time the instant messaging app has changed its privacy policy to facilitate sharing of data with Facebook, its parent company. At the time when Facebook was in talks to acquire WhatsApp in Februrary 2014, privacy activists tried to warn individuals about the potential data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook.

Keep in mind that social media giant Facebook spent nearly $22 billion to acquire WhatsApp. On its blog, it mentions that WhatsApp must receive or collect some information to operate, provide, improve, understand, customise, support, and market its services.

The blog also mentions that the types of information WhatsApp receives and collects depends on how the user utilises the services. WhatsApp’s services have optional features, which require the company to collect additional information to provide certain features. The company can’t read WhatsApp messages - this is emphasised upon, in the terms and conditions of the new update.

However, the users will be notified of the content collection, as appropriate. If users choose to not provide the information needed to use a feature, they will be unable to use the feature. For example, you can’t share your location with your contacts if you do not permit the company to collect your location data from your device.

The above meme is a tongue in cheek reference to the people migrating to Telegram after WhatsApp announced the new round of terms and conditions.

Recently, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said how dangerous the new WhatsApp policy is, for Indians. CAIT demanded that the “government should immediately restrict WhatsApp from implementing the new policy or put a ban on WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook.”

When PTI reached out to the company over email, a WhatsApp spokesperson said, “To further increase transparency, we updated the privacy policy to describe that going forward, businesses can choose to receive secure hosting services from our parent company Facebook to help manage their communications with their customers on WhatsApp.”

“Though, of course, it remains up to the users whether or not they want to message with a business on WhatsApp.”

Elaborating on the statement, the spokesperson said that the update does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook. It also does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family (wherever they are in the world).

“WhatsApp remains deeply committed to protecting people’s privacy. We are communicating directly with users through WhatsApp about these changes so that they have time to review the new policy over the course of the next month,” the spokesperson added, as reported by Financial Express.

Let's not forget that encrypted messaging app Signal has been seeing an unprecedented rise in popularity, thanks to its billionaire CEO Elon Musk tweeting, asking smartphone users to 'Use Signal'.

WhatsApp’s messages are still encrypted, so a third party can’t read them. But with the new data policy, WhatsApp knows who you’re reaching out to and which accounts you’re interacting with.

Signal is being seen as a 'safer' alternative to WhatsApp. It is an encrypted app that allows users to send messages and make calls with the help of the Internet.

What caught the Internet's fancy - Signal's USP - is its focus on privacy. The app supports group chats as well as video calls too. Signal is an open source and its code is peer-reviewed, which means that its privacy and security is regularly checked by independent experts.

Apart from Signal, another app touted as WhatsApp's replacement is Telegram. It is a free, instant messaging app that places focus on speed and security.

A user can utilise Telegram on all your devices at the same time, and rest assured that the messages will sync seamlessly across any number of phones, tablets or computers.

Telegram allows you to send messages, photos, videos and files of any type (doc, zip, mp3, etc.), as well as create groups for up to 200,000 people or channels for broadcasting to unlimited audiences. A user can also write to your phone contacts and find people by their usernames.

What this means is that Telegram is like an SMS and email combined. It is able to take care of all your personal or business messaging needs with end to end encrypted voice calls.