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Facebook bought WhatsApp. Now that we’re over the shock of that news, are you worried about your data privacy? If you are, these four WhatsApp alternatives 6 Secure iOS Messaging Apps That Take Privacy Very Seriously 6 Secure iOS Messaging Apps That Take Privacy Very Seriously Don't fancy your messages being read by unwanted parties? Get a secure messaging app and worry no more. Read More can help ease your mind.

Facebook isn’t exactly known for its information privacy successes — in fact, its security gaffs have been some of the biggest tech news over the past few years, and its arcane security settings are infamous. We had to write a guide to help you figure them out The (Very) Unofficial Facebook Privacy Guide The (Very) Unofficial Facebook Privacy Guide Time to lock your Facebook settings and private profile information. Facebook doesn't make this easy, however; features are constantly added and the default for each new one seems to favor transparency instead of privacy. Read More .

Fortunately, if you no longer feel comfortable sending data through WhatsApp, you have some secure alternatives.

Wickr

A self-destructing message app Self-Destruct: The Future Of Personal Communication Self-Destruct: The Future Of Personal Communication This message will self-destruct in five seconds… Who would have thought that today, what was once in the realm of fiction is now reality? Read More , Wickr aims to transform control of mobile messaging from receiver-based to sender-based. This means that you get to decide how long your message sticks around — before you send it, you can choose a self-destruct time ranging from a few seconds to more than five days. Once the timer runs out, your message will be erased from the recipient’s phone.

wickr

The user interface is quite simple — when you open a new message, you just tap the lock icon to open the message and start the self-destruct timer. Each message has a live countdown so you know how long you have until it disappears. Your messages can contain text, images, video, audio, or files. Wickr includes convenient integration with Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive, so you can send files directly from your cloud storage.

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Wickr searches your contacts for people you know that also use the app and automatically adds them to your contacts list. However, you can open a Wickr account without a phone number or e-mail address, and one of your contacts hasn’t added this information, you’ll have to add them by their username.

wickr-settings

The app offers 4,096-bit RSA encryption, an extremely secure protocol; the app actually exceeds the NSA Suite B Compliancy guidelines, which means that its encryption actually complies with needs for top-secret communication! That’s some serious encryption. It also deletes all all meta-data from your messages, like date, time, location, and device information.

Even with this level of security, messages are encrypted and sent quickly—in my testing, it only took a few seconds to encrypt a text message with a 2MB photo, and it was delivered just as fast.

Download : Wickr for iOS / Android (Free)

Threema

If you want to send text, images, and video, but don’t care about audio or documents, Threema is a great choice. One of the cool features of the app is that you can send your location — tap on the “attach” button and you’ll send a geographic marker to your recipient. Once they receive it, they can just tap on it to get your location on a map. This is great when you’re trying to meet up with someone or describe where you are.

Threema isn’t free, but at $1.99 it’s still very affordable, and there’s no subscription fee. According to the Threema website, they have no plans to introduce ads or start charging for use, so you don’t have to worry about the app changing once you buy it.

threema

Although it doesn’t have quite the polish of Wickr, the user interface is still quite nice. It’s simple and clean, and looks a lot like any other text-messaging app. It also provides clear read receipts, so you know if your message has been read.

Threema provides true end-to-end encryption; your message is encrypted right on your device, and only the receiver’s device can decrypt it — the decryption key can’t be accessed by the company’s servers. Threema uses Elliptical Curve Cryptography, which is equivalent to 2048-bit RSA encryption. For further security, you don’t have to link your phone number, e-mail address or anything else to the app. You can also add a PIN lock to the app — even if someone gets into your phone, they’ll still have to get past that to get to your messages.

threema-pin

Another cool feature of Threema is that it provides you with information on how sure you can be that the person who sent you a message is really that person. If you add a contact by entering their username, that contact will have a red verification level. If Threema syncs with your contacts and pulls a username from its servers using SMS or e-mail validation, that contact will get an orange verification. To get to the green verification level, you’ll have to exchange keys with them by scanning the QR code on their device.

Messaging on Threema is quite fast; simple text messages are sent in a matter of seconds. During testing, it took about 30 seconds to upload, encrypt, and send a 3.9-MB photo from Dropbox.

Download: Threema for iOS / Android ($1.99)

Telegram

Telegram offers support for text, photos, videos, and documents, though it lacks the ability to share audio. You can set a timer for your message to self-destruct, erasing it from the receiving device, but this is optional, which is a nice feature. Two big advantages of Telegram are its open-source and entirely cloud-based nature, which means developers have been able to create desktop clients for the service. Even if your phone isn’t working, you can still access all of your data from your computer.

telegram

Like Threema, Telegram just looks like a text-messaging client with read receipts, though it’s a bit more stylish than Threema. You have the option of changing the message background to inject some variety into your messaging, as well.

Because the group behind Telegram is a non-profit organization, the app costs nothing and is ad-free. Their website says that they’re  “building a messenger for the people,” and that if the group runs out of money, they’ll add a link to the app for donations or create some non-essential paid options.

telegram-secret

The level of encryption used in Telegram is hard to determine. Telegram.org says that messages are “heavily encrypted,” but doesn’t give details on what that means. The method of encryption, however, was created specifically for this project, and is open-source. If you want to read more about the protocol, check out this page on MTProto. Telegram offers the ability to start “secret chats,” which use full end-to-end encryption, aren’t stored on the Telegram servers, and self-destruct after a set time for sending extra-secure data.

This encryption doesn’t slow down the sending of messages, though—when testing the app, messages that I sent were transmitted almost instantly, making it a great IM-like client. Uploading and transmitting a 1.5-MB document took a big longer: around two minutes.

Download: Telegram for iOS / Android (Free)

surespot

Currently, surespot supports text, image, and audio messages, but the development team is working on adding support for encrypted file transfer How to Send Sensitive, Secure Emails, Passwords, and Files Without Fear How to Send Sensitive, Secure Emails, Passwords, and Files Without Fear So, here’s a common case: You need to share a password with someone, but if you just email it to them, it’s going to languish in their inbox and be exposed to any future hacker... Read More , video messages as well and group chat as well. Audio messages require paying $1.99 to unlock the voice feature. surespot gives you the option of deleting messages that you’ve sent, which will remove them from the receiving device, and doesn’t require setting a self-destruct timer.

You can add other users by searching for their usernames or scanning the QR code on their device; accounts aren’t linked to phone numbers or e-mail addresses, which is great for privacy, but not so great for finding contacts. There’s no option to sync the app with your contacts, meaning you’ll have to exchange usernames with your friends.

surespot

The user interface is bare-bones and there’s not a whole lot to the app, which makes it very easy to use but means it lacks the polish of other apps in this list. I also found the interface to be somewhat unresponsive at times while it was loading, though generally it worked well. Like Telegram, surespot is open-source, so you can expect some user-generated innovation in the future.

surespot-voice

surespot boasts 256-bit AES-GCM encryption with keys that are generated on your device, meaning that only you and your recipient can decrypt your messages. Even with this level of encryption, messaging is very fast and there’s no considerable lag between sending and receiving text messages.

Download: surespot for iOS / Android (Free)

Which is best for you?

All four of these apps are great options for replacing WhatsApp if you’re worried about information privacy. The organizations behind them are committed to security, they offer high-grade encryption, and you maintain full control over who sees your information.

apps

Wickr stands out to me as the highlight of this group. In addition to providing NSA top-secret-grade encryption, it also takes several steps to prevent people from looking over your recipient’s shoulder and snooping on your messages. It removes the meta-data from your messages, transmits very quickly, and syncs with your contacts list.

The only downside of Wickr is addressed in Telegram: the inability to send messages without self-destruct timers. By allowing you to choose whether or not to set a timer, you can treat messages accordingly based on how much security you want. Though Telegram is a bit slower on the encryption side, its message transmission is still fast. If you’re sending information that really can’t fall into the wrong hands, and you’re concerned about identity verification, Threema has your back.

What do you think? Does Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp make you nervous about data privacy? Will you be switching to another messaging app?

Photo credit: she spy by Kangrex via Flickr

  1. DubbaThony
    October 18, 2016 at 9:55 am

    I daily use surespot as thats messanger that I can trust. For sure.

    Sure it has some issues, like it sometimes struggles a bit, ocasionally I cant connect to server easily (happens very very rarely) and once for like load of time (it happened to me 2 times and I started to use it looong ago) it may forget keychained password, but it may be just my android fault. has multiple id's. go ahead, be 10 diffrent unconnected together persons, its allright!

    it dosent beg you for phone or contacts or mail... like wickr (which actually annoys my privacy OCD extremly badly). AppOps I guess?

    • Dann Albright
      October 21, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      Glad you're finding surespot useful! I think a lot of people have switched to Telegram since this article was written, but there are still a lot of other great options out there.

      • Dubbathony
        October 22, 2016 at 5:08 am

        Im wondering about wick as alternative for those who are scared from barebones interfaces (my favourite ones!) but its not open source.
        I love it has desktop client, no need for droid4x though as i mentioned.. Not open source..

        Its like.. Hey you can trust us and everything buut we arent open source so not quite

        • Dann Albright
          October 26, 2016 at 9:22 pm

          I can't cite any specifics about Wick, but they seem pretty reputable, and have been around for a while now. You'd have to dig into their privacy or tech information to really find out, if they make any of that information available.

  2. FairyMary
    June 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Another alternative is Sicher (http://www.sicherapp.com), a new free Germany-based messenger available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Sicher has true end-to-end encryption of both text messages and file attachments.

    • Dann A
      June 21, 2014 at 5:48 am

      I hadn't heard of Sicher, but it looks pretty cool! I like the file encryption capability, and the fact that none of the message content is shown in push notifications (I've set Telegram to do the same thing, and it definitely feels more secure).

      I see that there's a self-destruct timer in Sicher—can that be turned off? Or do messages always self-destruct?

  3. Horace C
    March 7, 2014 at 6:09 am

    Heml.is is also a private chatting application that is in WIP right now. Could show some potential when it has been finished.

    • Dann A
      March 7, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      I just looked at their website, and it looks pretty sweet! It looks like it'll be a replacement for SMS; as far as I can tell, there aren't any extra features. But that could actually be an advantage; if it's easy to use, it'll be easy to widely adopt. Also, I like how the user interface looks—some of the apps I looked at looked like they had been put together as part of a university course. I look forward to testing this one when it comes out.

      Thanks for posting!

  4. Dana
    February 27, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    I am a Wickr user, and I have the self-destruct timer on a default setting of 5 days. You do NOT have to set a timer each time you send a message. This way it operates just like any other text messaging app. Very simple and fast to use.

    • Dann A
      March 4, 2014 at 8:15 am

      You're right, Dana—I didn't really specify that very clearly. A self-destruct timer is set every time you send a message, but you don't necessarily have to do anything; you can just leave it at the default length.

      Thanks for pointing that out!

  5. Stephan H
    February 26, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Why is ChatSecure not mentioned?

    • Dann A
      March 4, 2014 at 8:14 am

      I thought about including ChatSecure on the list, but after trying it, I felt like it didn't quite have the same purpose. It's really nice being able to send messages to anyone with a Google or Facebook account, but it's more chat-focused. I like the idea of using ChatSecure to supplement one of the above-listed messaging apps.

  6. satish
    February 26, 2014 at 6:47 am

    Please check out how many users of BBM has stopped using BBM and switched over to whatsapp in last two years. (Many)
    Hardly anyone you can find other way, that is quiting Whatsapp and going to BBM.

    That means BBM is not alternative to Whatsapp
    whereas newly entered Apps can challenge the old players
    based on features / facility. I personally think TELEGRAM can be good alternative to whatsapp. only depends on how many of my friends join this platform.

    • Dann A
      July 18, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Satish, I'd say that just becuase an alternative is less popular doesn't make it not an alternative.

      Anyway, how is your quest to recruit people to Telegram coming along? I really like Telegram, but there's only one person in my entire contacts list that uses it, where as a lot still use WhatsApp.

  7. Sam
    February 26, 2014 at 3:56 am

    why isn't there a mention of TextSecure any where? I think it does a pretty good job of handling your privacy.

    • Dann A
      March 4, 2014 at 8:17 am

      TextSecure is another good option; it's just not one that I tested. I'm starting to think that I should write another article called "4 MORE WhatsApp Alternatives"! :-)

  8. Gangai Victor
    February 25, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Why not consider BBM?

    • Dann A
      February 25, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      As you'll see from my comment above, I wasn't even aware of BBM as a competitor in this market. Now that it's been brought to my attention, I see that it's a significant one! As I'll be continuing to research secure messaging, you might see it appear in an article in the future.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Krishna P
      July 17, 2014 at 11:40 am

      BBM is really not the alternative to WhatsApp Messenger, you can once include the Desktop version of WhatsApp as its best alternative, which I found here WhatsApp for PC

    • Dann A
      July 18, 2014 at 10:04 am

      I do know a few people who use BBM, so I'd call it an alternative. It serves the same purpose.

      Also, the desktop version is WhatsApp definitely isn't an alternative. It's just using the exact same app on a different platform. For something to be an alternative, it has to be different.

  9. Matthew H
    February 25, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Nice article, Mr Albright. I'm personally quite partial to a bit of BBM myself. Point to point encrypted, and based in Canada. :)

    • Dann A
      February 25, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Thank you, Mr. Hughes! To be completely honest, I didn't know that BBM was as widely available as it is. What sort of features does it offer? Can you self-destruct or remote delete messages? What about sending audio / video? Is there desktop access, by chance?

    • Hildegerd
      February 26, 2014 at 10:21 am

      BBM FOREVER

  10. Pattaya Rag
    February 25, 2014 at 2:32 am

    Messaging apps normally require extensive access permissions for all info on a phone.

    It would welcome a review of messaging apps based on permissions to see which is the least intrusive.

    • Dann A
      February 26, 2014 at 8:48 am

      That's a great idea, Pattaya. I know this isn't much of a substitute for a full-fledged, article-length comparison, but I looked at the permissions for each of the above four apps on my Android phone. All of them, as you said, require extensive permissions, including "test access to protected storage," which I had never noticed before.

      Out of all of these four, however, Wickr has the fewest permission. While it's tough to say which of them requires the most, I'd say it's probably Telegram. It had "draw over other apps," which none of the others had. It also had more account-related permissions than the others.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • DubbaThony
        October 18, 2016 at 10:40 am

        protected storage is preety much requirement for saving safely passwords!

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