Why is Signal Safer than WhatsApp?

WhatsApp vs Signal Signal is an instant messaging application, similar to WhatsApp, Telegram etc. Signal is getting more attraction now due to the concerns over WhatsApp and their data sharing.

To understand more about data privacy and security, let’s divide these into two categories – 1) Non – Technical 2) Technical.

Non-Technical factors

This is more about the company, their aim etc. First, we need to understand who owns the platform and what is their revenue model.

WhatsApp is now owned by Facebook and as we know, their revenue comes from our data.

  1. Facebook/WhatsApp/Google/TikTok and similar companies gives us free service
  2. When we use their service, we are giving them our data. If they provide more interesting/useful features, our usage will increase so they will get more data. With more complex artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytics, they will be able to know more about us and will be able to predict and even brainwash us.
  3. With the power of data and technology, companies can show the advertisements accurately and make users buy a product or book a flight ticket etc. 
    1. One of the main reasons for blocking all the Chinese apps like TikTok is this – With the data they collect, they can understand the user behavior and they will be able to change it by showing targeted content. For example, based on the usage, they can easily identify users who are supporting/against different religions. Then they can show more content to make them against other religions. How? If you are part of Religion X and you are frequently seeing the content in which Religion Y supporters are talking against Religion X, then knowingly or unknowingly you will feel bad and angry against the Religion Y. It is like injecting poison slowly. This can easily lead to communal riots.

You can see that if Facebook get more about you from WhatsApp, then they can understand more about you because most of the people have WhatsApp, even if they don’t have a Facebook account. So, Facebook can create a social network graph and strength more easily, understand our usage, communication with business and show more accurate advertisements so chances for clicking that ad and buying the product/service showing in the advertisement is high. Due to this, companies will start using Facebook more for showing advertisements and doing business.

So, from this, you can understand why Facebook wants to collect as much data as they can and share at least with their group of companies.

Now, coming to Signal, it is owned by  Signal Foundation, an emerging 501(c)(3) nonprofit created and made possible by Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, to support, accelerate, and broaden Signal’s mission of making private communication accessible and ubiquitous. Acton left WhatsApp in 2017 and donated $50 million to help fund Signal. So,

Signal is managed by a nonprofit organization. They get the money via donation, grants etc. and not by ads or selling the data. Signal is free and open source.

Now you know their aim, how they generate money etc. and you are clear that Signal is not for profit generation and there’s no financial incentive to sell any data.

Technical factors

Now let’s talk about the technical factors and understand whether it is in line with their aim, policy etc. and how secure is the platform and our data.

Actual message (text, video, call, photo etc.)

Personal message – Both WhatsApp and Signal use the same encryption – open-source Signal Protocol to provide encrypted end-to-end communication between users. End-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read or listen to what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp/Signal. This is because with end-to-end encryption, your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them.

Business messaging – This is not possible in Signal, so Signal users don’t have to worry. In the case of WhatsApp, business messaging is available. This means that any company with a business account can contact you via WhatsApp and share information. This message is also encrypted like a personal message, business/company can decide how to save the received message and process it. Based on their policy, they can share it with any other companies for further processing. In a way, this is similar to person to person chat as the other person can copy the message you send and use it as he requires. But usually we trust the other persons else there will not be any communication possible. Anyway, in the case of WhatsApp, they clearly say “Some businesses will be able to choose WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, to securely store messages and respond to customers. While Facebook will not automatically use your messages to inform the ads that you see, businesses will be able to use chats they receive for their own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook. You can always contact that business to learn more about its privacy practices.”.

Metadata – data about your data and other information: This is as powerful as your actual data.

Signal has only your phone number, date of account creation and the date of last use – not user messages, groups, contacts, profile information, or anything else. They are not even saving who is the sender/receiver or any other information.

But WhatsApp is collecting and sharing too much information – They are not reading actual messages but almost everything else is collected. This includes who is your contact, what are you doing, how often you are contacting, your IP address, phone info, OS, mobile network etc. This is shared with other Facebook groups of companies and it is used for marketing and all the other requirements which are mentioned in their privacy policy.

Data Backup – WhatsApp allows users to backup the messages and media and this is not encrypted. So, if you/your contact backup the conversation history to Google Drive etc, and if that is compromised, the attacker can read the data. In the case of Signal, they are not allowed to back up the message to Google Drive and restore in another phone. If you have your old device, you can transfer the data, but if you lost your phone or cleared the data on your phone, or changed your number, then chats cannot be restored.

There are many other security features in Signal which are not available in WhatsApp. I am not going to cover all those as my aim is to talk about the core privacy and security feature.

Overall, in the case of WhatsApp, they are not reading the actual message/content but they are collecting and using all the remaining data which is good enough to identify you, your social graph, any many other things. But in case of Signal, all your information is within your device so even if the attackers get access to the Signal server, they will not get any information about you/your contacts or anything. So, if you are looking for a secure communication platform, you can consider Signal. It may not be feature rich as other apps but features are increasing. Also, all your contacts may not be available in Signal now but people started moving so you can expect many of your contacts available in Signal very soon. When the number of users increases, I hope Signal will get more funding and they will add more useful features. You can also donate by visiting: https://signal.org/donate/

Can we completely switch to a single messenger app? I doubt that. WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal have some unique features. For example business via WhatsApp is increasing, we are getting order info and many other communication via WhatsApp. Telegram is now more used for bigger group communication, downloading files etc. And now Signal – for secure personal messaging. 

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