Posted on February 25, 2020
CREDO Tip: 5 secure messaging apps to keep your conversations private
“If I’m not breaking the law, why do I care if someone reads my messages? I have nothing to hide.”
We’ve heard a lot of versions of this conversation here at CREDO. And the reality is, even if you’re not doing something illegal, you should care about surveillance.
With an authoritarian in the White House — who has every tool of mass surveillance at his disposal — all bets are off. Even if you’re not Muslim or an undocumented immigrant, or have family in another country, or are a Black Lives Matter activist or an investigative journalist, or just an ally of progressive causes, you should care.
Let’s ask this: Would you let the government place cameras or listening devices in your home? That’s the equivalent of digital mass surveillance. And we know that the government, with help from major telecom companies like AT&T — considered the NSA’s “most trusted partner” — has been engaging in illegal mass surveillance operations.
That’s why we think it’s probably a good idea to consider protecting the communications on your phone if you share some of these concerns. Here are a few apps you can use.
The best messaging apps use end-to-end encryption, a method of encoding the message so that only the sender and the recipient can read it, even if the data were intercepted en route. And Signal’s end-to-end encryption is one of the best: its engine is open source, which means the code is continuously reviewed for bugs and loopholes. It’s sort of the Linux of the secure-messaging world. Signal is supported by grants and donations, which means the app has no ads, no affiliate marketing, and no tracking. Its security platform is used by WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Signal is free and its interface is refreshingly simple. A great feature is the ability to set a timer on messages so they disappear or “self-destruct” after a period of time. Signal is the favorite messaging app of Edward Snowden, who knows a thing or two about security. And when WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton quit Facebook in protest against Facebook’s plan to put ads on WhatsApp, he joined Signal.
Here are two tutorials for using Signal from our ally and grantee recipient the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world, used by over 1.5 billion people every day. It’s free and available to Android and iOS users. It provides end-to-end encryption by default – you don’t have to turn it on, it’s always there. You can back-up your messages to Google Drive if you choose, so you can restore them on a new Android device.
WhatsApp is, however, owned by Facebook, which has a disturbingly poor record on privacy. Facebook also had planned to monetize WhatsApp with advertising, raising significant privacy concerns for an encrypted messaging service, but recently scrapped those plans for now.
Like Signal, Wickr is another open source messaging app with end-to-end encryption that allows you to set up self-destructing messages and group chat rooms for secure collaboration.
Unlike Signal, you don’t need a phone number to register, which could have some benefits, especially if you want to communicate with the public in a secure way without having to publish your phone number. The company also claims to not have the keys to decrypt your private messages so once your messages are deleted, law enforcement, the government not the company can retrieve them.
Telegram is a cloud-based app, which brings advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, it delivers messages very quickly (faster than any other secure-messaging app, it claims) and allows you to share an unlimited number of photos, videos and files, including .doc, .zip and .mp3 – up to 1.5 GB each.
On the downside, cloud storage means Telegram does not offer end-to-end encryption by default. To get it, you have to turn on Secret Chats in the app’s settings. All Secret Chats are device-specific and never enter the Telegram cloud. Messages in Secret Chats cannot be forwarded, and when you delete messages on your end of the conversation, they will also be deleted at the receiver’s end.
Telegram’s code is open source. It’s free, serves no ads and does not push in-app purchases.
Viber, which is used by close to 1 billion people, is used in over 190 countries and provides end-to-end encryption by default. It’s free and available to Android and iOS users. Viber does come with ads and in-app purchases. It also leans toward the young user, offering a large library of stickers (some free, some not) directly on the interface. Which is cool if you’re a sticker fan but distracting if you’re not.
In addition to its Secret Chats feature (which makes messages disappear after a set time), Viber also lets you manually delete messages you’ve sent – from your own phone and also from the phones of the people you’ve sent it to. The company is owned by Japanese e-commerce and internet giant Rakuten and based in Luxembourg.
CREDO Mobile and Privacy
Here at CREDO, we take privacy very seriously. Respecting our customers’ privacy rights is a core mission of our company, we have a long history of fighting for it — and we’ve consistently been recognized for it.
Unlike other carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, who sell their customers’ private data for profit – your data is not for sale at CREDO. No amount of money will ever change that. We were the first carrier to issue a transparency report in 2014 and we now issue quarterly transparency reports detailing requests by the government for customer data.
Learn more about how CREDO fights for our customers’ privacy rights.