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In the Ring: WhatsApp vs. Telegram

10th of December, 2015

Telegram has recently emerged as a formidable opponent to Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging platform. Telegram’s growth has been exponential; in the three months spanning May to September 2015, the messaging app has grown fivefold, from two billion to twelve billion messages sent each day, with similar trends in terms of active users and users signing up per week (their latest update suggests a least one million new users/week). They are likely closing in on 100 million active users. However, if the user experience and interface (UI/UX) are nearly identical between these two apps, and Telegram has spent no money on advertising since their August 2013 launch, why are people switching to this new service en masse? We here at Privacy Snapper have four reasons for you:


1.Telegram is more Private and Secure than WhatsApp


In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, consumers have been increasingly conscious of ensuring that their private conversations stay private. Telegram uses a custom security protocol called MTProto, which quickly and efficiently encrypts messages and information before leaving the program, travelling through their servers in order to reach the recipient(s). Locally, Telegram offers the option to lock your messages behind a passcode or fingerprint authentication, setup two factor authentication and can hide message contents when it appears in your notification centre or while switching apps. They store your messages encrypted in the cloud, with the keys stored in a different data centre such that an employee or government would need to have access to more than one data centre to decrypt your information. WhatsApp, on the other hand, only encrypts between the app and their server; it is well known that they have decrypted these messages and have previously handed over information to police and spy agencies. When WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook in February 2014 for $19 billion USD, over 8 million users switched to Telegram because of privacy concerns.


Still don’t trust sending and storing your completely secure message through Telegram’s servers? The messaging platform offers the option to send messages & media as a secret chat, which is entirely peer to peer (P2P); they’re only sent and stored directly between the two devices, never touching Telegram’s servers, and can be set to self-destruct. Besides uploading your contacts to their server to discover what friends also have the service, this second messaging option that Telegram offers is referred to as zero-knowledge, a level of privacy that neither WhatsApp nor Snapchat’s faux self-destructioncan claim with their current apps. In fact, Telegram is so confident in their messaging system that various monetary bug bounties have been offered since their launch for anyone who can hack their system and access a message sent daily between the two founders.  


Telegram is standing by its privacy promises. As Pavel Durov, co-founder of Telegram has stated, “Our right for private communication and privacy is more important than the marginal threats that some politicians would like to make us afraid of. If you get rid of emotion for a minute and think about the threat of terrorism statistically, it’s not even there. The probability that you will slip on a wet floor in your bathroom and die is a thousand times higher than the probability of you dying as a result of terrorism… Through over two years of our existence, we haven’t disclosed a single byte of data to third parties, or even governments. And it was not easy”.


2. Telegram is Free, Transparent, and Open


Many not-for-profit or community oriented organizations like Telegram have popped up, gaining more popularity as a result of Snowden’s disclosures. Unlike WhatsApp, Telegram’s front-end clients (and hopefully soon it’s back-end code-base) are open source, which means that their claims of end-to-end security and privacy can be easily confirmed by anyone who can code. This is critically important for anyone who wants to have peace of mind. Despite WhatsApp’s announcement of a partnership with Open Whisper Systems (another not-for-profit endorsed by Snowden), because WhatsApp’s code base is closed source there is no way to confirm the quality of their implementation of OWS’s encryption or if they still have access to users’ messages. It has reported that the features WhatsApp borrowed from them are currently available when communicating with two Android phones.


Interestingly, WhatsApp has started rolling out subscription fees, even for users who have been messaging with the app for over a year (no telling how much they’ll raise the price in the future). In comparison, Telegram is completely non-profit, free for users, and ad-free with claims that they will always remain so. They rely on the Digital Fortress fund set up by Nikolai and Pavel Durov, the founders of Telegram (and Russia’s most popular social network, VK), user donations, programming contributions, and eventually optional, non-essential paid in-app features (such as premium stickers).


3. Telegram is Fast, Efficient and Convenient


Telegram is near instantaneous, thanks to its custom security protocol. This is particularly impressive considering you can have group chats with up to 1000 people, do broadcasts, and upload an unlimited amount of files that are each up to 1.5 GB in size. WhatsApp’s platform does not offer the option of sending documents or large media files. With Telegram using a cloud-based syncing service, you can access your files on all your devices, whereas with WhatsApp, access to files can only be done through your phone that you have logged in.


4. Telegram is on Almost Every Platform


As a result of their community oriented approach, in addition to their own developments, quite a few of their platform apps have been made by passionate users, and then refined and released as official apps. Many more have been released by other users, making Telegram available on all major browsers, mobile, and desktop operating systems. For example, the founders of Telegram held a $50,000 competition for programmers to create a native app for Blackberry World so that they could continue focusing on expanding their service offerings. WhatsApp in comparison is only available on Blackberry, Windows, Android, iOS, and Symbian.


Download Telegram today, and encourage your friends to also switch from WhatsApp & Snapchat, if you would like to start having more secure conversations.

About Ian Strasser


Ian is an Electrical Engineering student from the University of Waterloo. When he isn’t in school, Ian works on various electrical and software projects. 

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